Microcosms: Three to Play – The New What’s Next

The bulk of the summer convention season is finally in our rear view mirrors as our intrepid team begins their trip home from Deutschland. It seems every convention this year had some sort of exciting announcement in regard to free-to-play MMOGs, which marks a definite change in attitudes from the developerÂ’s side of the equation. While Western players donÂ’t seem to have fully bought into playing games for free, itÂ’s only a matter of time. PAX and BlizzCon are still on the horizon and I am hoping both will feature some exciting free-to-play reveals, but I will keep that mostly under my hat for now.

I don’t think most gamers really appreciate the opportunities this form of entertainment provides. Could you imagine if other sectors incorporated the free-to model? I was recently walking out of a very hyped, but very disappointing, movie and I lamented not only the loss of precious hours of my life that would never be returned, but also the 20 bucks I had dropped on a couple of tickets. What if I could walk in for free, then pay for my popcorn and beverage if I felt inclined to do so? Then, what if, at the end of the flick, I could simply pay a fee if I really enjoyed it and get treated to outtakes, deleted scenes or any of the other “extra” features that are typically bundled with a DVD, or just walk away if the movie blew chunks?

I think most movie studios would scoff at that idea, since they get to have their cake and eat it too. While patrons of feature films would probably kill for that privilege of attending a movie free and paying only for the extras they wanted, gamers have that option every day and most simply ignore it or openly ridicule it. There are three games coming out, or removing their subscription barriers, that will hopefully change our collective misconceptions once and for all. Read on to see what this trifecta of gaming goodness is in this weekÂ’ s Microcosms: Three-to-Play.

There have been several major paradigm shifts when it comes to MMOGs in the past decade and we stand on the precipice of the next one as 2010 nears the fall season. The first shift occurred when the longstanding belief that gamers would never pay a monthly fee to pay a game was challenged by Meridian 59 and Ultima Online. The second major change in our collective point of view came when EverQuest shattered the notion that one of these pay-to-play games could attract and sustain a large audience. The last major shift, of course, happened when Blizzard unleashed its powerhouse and removed the final barrier for the genre by proving that MMOGs werenÂ’t just reserved for hardcore gamers and long time RPG players by delivering its game to the masses.


EverQuest changed our way of thinking - we would never pay to play a game before it.

This new shift is one that has already occurred in several other markets, but has been slow to take hold here in North America – that players will embrace free-to-play MMOGs and accept microtransactions as a major source of monetization. Had SOE launched EQ1 as a free-to-play, and had other devs followed suit, our current line of thinking would probably be, “Who in their right mind would pay a monthly subscription fee?” While we can’t rewrite history, we can embrace the inevitable change and stand up and demand quality games that warrant our time and money. Luckily for us those demands are being met as more and more titles are released that offer amazing gameplay and real value. This week we look at three of them-- two existing franchises that are being converted and one brand new title with high production value.

EverQuest 2 Extended

EverQuest 2 had the unfortunate circumstance of being launched directly against the snowball turned avalanche that was World of Warcraft. As someone who beta tested both games I was sure that, while WoW was immensely fun and a solid game, audiences would quickly grow tired of it and look to a game with more depth and content. History shows that I was wrong and EQ2 was overshadowed by BlizzardÂ’ s powerhouse. The game wasnÂ’t forgotten however--it has maintained a solid player base and many of its innovations have been incorporated in other popular MMOGs.


Come see why the people that make the game you play are 
playing EQ2

While EQ2 wonÂ’t be converting its existing live game to free-to-play it will offer players a dedicated server for both new character creation and existing character transfers. SOE has already proven capable in the microtransaction business with their Exchange servers and Station Shop both being run well. EQ2E players can expect fair pricing and a commitment to keeping the game balanced for paying and non-paying players alike.

Featuring amazing graphics, a huge world, 19 races, 24 classes and depth in every aspect of the game, EQ2 is as complete an MMOG as you will find anywhere. New players will benefit from 5 years of development and expansion as they explore the impressive world of Norrath.

Lord of the Rings Online

Basing an MMOG on an existing intellectual property has proven a risky venture as games like Warhammer, Age of Conan and Star Trek Online have struggled to find their footing in an oversaturated market. Lord of the Rings Online has always had a rabid and fiercely loyal group of subscribers, but it has never quite achieved the level of success that a game with so much critical acclaim should have. Turbine hopes to change that with this free-to-play conversion, the company is no stranger to the process after the smashing success of Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited. Lord of the Rings Online should easily replicate that success and will most likely eclipse it as it opens it doors to an even larger pool of players.

Black Prophecy

Immerse yourself in Middle-Earth with LotRO.

Set in the Middle-Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien, LotRO is an episodic style game that allows players to relive the classic stories while inventing and contributing their own. Mirroring EQ2 in many ways, it is one of the deepest titles on the market, with extensive character customization, robust crafting, a huge world filled with content and customizable player housing. Another strong suit of LotRO is itÂ’s variety of playable classes that offer unique experiences and dynamic group composition. Taking high fantasy to its rightful place of epic battles, breathtaking scenery and rich lore, LotRO is a must play for any fan of the genre.

Black Prophecy

Black Prophecy is the lone new title on the list, and its space themed, ship-based combat is generating a lot of buzz. This German import has been on our collective radar here at Ten Ton Hammer for a long time now, and we get more excited the closer it gets to launch. Originally envisioned as a pay-to-play  title, the gameÂ’ s developer, Reakktor Media, was forced to delay launch when their original publisher, and parent company, 10tacle studios, went bankrupt. New publisher Gamigo Games has put it back on track and changed it to a subscription-free model.

Graphically stunning, Black Prophecy is a faction-based game that puts the emphasis on fast-paced combat and infinite customization. With both PvE and PvP aspects, Black Prophecy puts you in control of a modularly upgradable spaceship in a battle for survival and domination over both your rival faction and the hostile alien forces of The Restorers. Crafting is well represented as player made enhancements for both ships and clan owned space ports will be highly desired. Combining twitch-based combat with full-featured MMOG functionality should make for a deadly combo. But make sure your machine is up to speed before you blast off;, Black Prophecy will test your systemÂ’ s limits for sure.


Stellar graphics are but one of Black Prophecy's strong points.

The vision of Black ProphecyÂ’s 26th century is an exciting one that should have no trouble capturing the imaginations of space combat fans and will probably succeed in converting many fantasy fans who are looking for something new. 

Fall and winter have always been kind to gamers as developers and publishers release some of their top titles in conjunction with the Christmas shopping season. Free-to-play players will finally get to join in that time honored tradition as several top notch titles go live, but unlike our AAA counterparts, we wonÂ’t have to pay a thing to start playing.

 Modular space stations replace the traditional guild hall in Black Prophecy.

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