Microcosms Phoenix Rising: How Free-to-Play Will Save a Dying Genre
From the title of this weekÂs article the last thing you would probably expect to find in the opening paragraph would be a plug for a WoW addon, but itÂs not as strange as you might imagine. One of my least favorite aspects of WoW is the current trend which sees players defined by something as arbitrary as a gear score (an amalgamation of the total value of your equipped armor, weapons and jewelry based on an item level system), but this new mod brings a much needed depth to the equation. Like it or not gear scores, or some derivative thereof, are a part of the game and arenÂt going away. Ten Ton HammerÂs PlayerScore adds achievements, past experience and the ability for other players to rate each other, giving raid and group leaders a much clearer picture of the largely intangible factor of a playerÂs skill. If you play WoW, I recommend you pick up PlayerScore and read last MondayÂs Loading for even more commentary.
Last week also saw some innovations in free-to-play gaming as well. The recently released Allods Online patch has proven to be both popular and polarizing because some of its aspects have drawn the ire of players. Rather than simply shrug their shoulders and turn a deaf ear to the fans, gPotato recently invited fans into a discussion on how to improve the patch. Associate Producer Darren Allarde and his team took to the phones, ran a survey and even hopped on Ventrilo to chat with guilds in an effort to make the game better. The result is a region specific update to the patch that went live this week. Would your current gameÂs publisher do that for you? Keep in mind that gPotato isnÂt the gameÂs creator and it becomes even more impressive. That is going the extra mile for a player base that doesnÂt even have to pay for the product. My hat is off to them and I hope their efforts are rewarded.
World of Warcraft, which is credited with this unprecedented explosion in popularity, also be the cause of its ultimate demise? And if MMOGs really are on the verge of a decline, how could they possibly be saved by a segment vilified by the vast majority of players?
Prior to WoWÂs launch in 2004, MMOG players were a fairly unique breed, even in the already marginalized realm of PC gaming. While most dedicated PC gamers had an above average understanding of the inner workings of computers and had been forced to gain troubleshooting skills in order to play their games, by the end of 1999 the majority of PC games and the machines that ran them were stable and featured simple install instructions. The one area that still remained daunting to all but the most tech savvy was networking and games that required an internet connection. Popular video game reviewer Yahtzee once noted, ÂMMORPGers are the nerds that are to other nerds what nerds are to normal people,Â and that description was born from these early days.
Taking the genre mainstream may have never been the prime directive of the WoW team, but it certainly was the result. The explosion of popularity that WoW brought with it is undeniable and its level of visibility spans across all aspects of modern life. This heightened awareness allowed even more companies to sink even larger budgets into developing MMOGs and soon everyone was trying their hand at the newest fad in gaming. But something happened to the forgiving and patient crowd that once allowed this fledgling genre to blossom; it was invaded by console gamers and a new breed of PC owner that had little desire to give even an inch of latitude when it came to game development. ItÂs hard to fault them, though, because their past experiences were of products that were load and go, not load and hope.
An act of both brilliance and desperation to save a failing title has shown developers the key to saving MMOGs. Turbine knew they had created a great game in Dungeons and Dragons Online; not only was it innovative and fun, it was based on the cornerstone IP of all role playing games. While the court of public opinion may have ruled against DDO, its backers knew that if they could just get it back in front of the jury, the premature conviction would be overturned. In order to do that, however, they had to remove the biggest obstacle: the subscription fee. ItÂs a fact that people love to get things for free, and DDO would prove no different. The turnaround that DDO experienced has been unprecedented. That success will likely be replicated as two other critically acclaimed titles, Lord of the Rings Online and EverQuest 2, follow their lead. It isnÂt just existing franchises that are reaping the benefit of free-to-play, however; many riskier and more innovative ideas are now being brought to market based on these successes in games like Black Prophecy. Removing the up front cost factor and allowing a game to reap its rewards over time are the keys to long term health and survival.
The unrealistic expectations propped up by WoWÂs unprecedented success could have very well extinguished the flame of MMOGs just as it began to burn the brightest, but free-to-play gaming will be the spark that keeps it going. Remember to keep checking in with Microcosms, the weekly free-to-play feature here at Ten Ton Hammer for all the latest news, and be on the lookout for some exciting changes in the near future.
EverQuest2 Extended could be an even bigger hit than DDOU