Mythconceptions: Microcosms Dispels More Free-to-Play Myths
Welcome aboard, Champions Online, we have been waiting for you. I cant say I was completely shocked at the revelation that CO was joining the movement, but it wasnt one of the games on my radar. There are still a few others out there that I feel would benefit from the conversion, especially those that had rocky launches but have significantly improved, such as Age of Conan and Aion. Maybe one day they will join the fold as well and see the sort of renewed interest that The Lord of the Rings Online and EverQuest 2 Extended have enjoyed in the past few weeks. Update your wishlist in our forums and tell me which current pay-to-play titles you would most like to see make the jump.
The holiday season is in full swing in MMOG land and the free-to-plays thus far havent been disappointing; they have kept stride with the big boys pretty easily. Of course the most compelling events were in FreeRealms, EQ2X, LotRO and Allods the big budget games on the block. If my failure to include any of the Asian games caught your eye, its no coincidence; I do prefer European and North American bred games but Vindictus is quickly changing that preference. If you havent had a chance to check it out, you really owe it to yourself to download the client and give it a try.
We have broached the subject many times here in Microcosms: what does it take to get past the preconceived notions so many MMOG players have in regards to free-to-play? While it has never been easy to make the case that these games can give players the same experiences as their subscription counterparts, the argument is continually bolstered by AAA converts and big budget releases.
Myth #1 Free-to-Play Games are Graphically Inferior
Black Prophecy, from German-based developer Reakktor Games, may be the first title since Vanguard to prompt users to upgrade their computers to play it properly. While this strategy has proved risky in the past, it may work here as gamers have been very vocal in their desire for non-fantasy based games. Featuring ship-to-ship combat in the vein of Wing Commander or X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, Black Prophecy has more going for it than just slick graphics alone. Real time physics-based combat with realistic damage that allow pinpoint attacks to disable your opponents at their most vulnerable plus modular ship design give this game amazing depth.
EverQuest 2 Extended
When it was first released in 2004, EQ2 was one of the most graphically advanced games on the planet. Few could run the game at full quality then, and even now some 6 years later there are still a large number of machines that cant handle this game in its full glory. While stylized graphics may age more gracefully in many cases, the look of EQ2X is still awe inspiring from amazing textures to mirrored reflections and spell animations that are among the most detailed in the industry. You will be hard pressed to find a game that feels more alive and immersive than EQ2X, which has definitely helped elevate free-to-play with its AAA pedigree.
Myth #2 Free-to-Play Games Are Cheap Imitations
The spiritual successor to Mabinogi, Vindictus takes the notions of a traditional fantasy MMOG and kicks them squarely in the teeth. Nexons newest heavyweight could have easily led the graphical comparison section of this article with its stunning 3D world, but gameplay and combat are what really set it apart. Like Diablo on steroids, Vindictus uses a combination of mouse clicks and hotkeys to create a unique combat experience. Left click gives you a standard attack while right clicking your foe drops the hammer of a more fearsome blow. The addition of grappling, throwing and kicking via the keyboard take it to the next level, who knew three little keys could add so much kick ass? Like Mabinogi before it, Vindictus is steeped in Celtic lore and offers a fresh take on many of the standard fare fantasy elements.
Allods is a big budget affair that mixes elements of fantasy, sci-fi and steam punk in a faction-based PvP slugfest. Part of what makes it unique in the free-to-play world is its massive budget, which is said to be in the 5 to 7 million dollar range. Besides the large budget, there is a lush world to explore, a cast of interesting and unique classes to play and players have the chance to pilot their own starships through the cosmos. Another departure the game makes from the current crop of MMOGs is the lack of an auto attack option, which forces player into remaining engaged and active in combat. Despite a constant back and forth between the North American player-base and the Russian developers over death penalties and perceptions of forced item shop participation, Allods remains at the forefront of the free-to-play movement.
Myth #3 Free-to-Play Games are More Expensive
Its true that its easier to go overboard in a free-to-play game item shop than it is in a traditional game, but players with a proclivity to spend too freely can find an outlet for overspending in any setting. The data that has been steadily streaming out of the free-to-play market shows that only a small percentage of players spend regularly on their games. Sword of the New World boasts one of the most loyal and dedicated player-bases of any free-to-play, and it is also among the top in percentage of players who spend at a whopping 10%. Allods, whom many accuse of forcing transactions to play, is rumored to have a spending population of around 8% - hardly earth shattering numbers any way you slice it. It is unlikely that SOE or Turbine will release hard numbers in terms of percentages of players who pay. I would imagine that games that already had a paying population will likely benefit from greater penetration than their natively microtransaction-based counterparts.
In a recent edition of Microcosms I talked about cost myths and misconceptions and presented some hard numbers for how much one could spend per year in a free-to-play game, and what could be purchased for that amount, in relation to a subscription based game. The real benefit afforded to players is the ability to move easily between titles and pay as they play, without being bound by a monthly contract. That is the real power of subscriptionless gaming, giving players the freedom to explore as many of the exciting new worlds as they wish.
Not your father's free-to-play