Top Ten Free-to-Play Games - Zerging the Market

December is always dominated by the holidays here in the United States. People are so busy making wish lists and crossing off shopping lists that they give little thought to anything else. Some people prefer to receive several small gifts while others prefer getting one really grand gift. I tend to prefer the grand gift over several decent ones, much the way I prefer one great game over several so-so ones. That's the modus operandi of the average MMOG subscriber, right? A gamer finds the title that suits him best and plays it for as long as possible. What about us F2P gamers? Is it better to get one very solid title or several games from a developer?

Ralsu enjoys DOMO, but other offerings from Aeria Games have not been as fun.

More is Better. If Not, It's at Least More.

In "Dancing with Demons," I discussed how the Shin Megami Tensei series gives me hope that Aeria Games will deliver a F2P MMOG that is different. I also noted that Dream of Mirror Online, which has been among my favorite F2P games for a long time now, had a sound translation while Shaiya suffered from a shoddy translation. The only other title hosted by Aeria Games that I have tried is Cronous, which had poor graphics and super-slow performance that caused me to uninstall after just five minutes of play time.

Aeria is actually an example of a very successful F2P company that keeps adding titles to its network (they're up to twelve now according to the website). Without playing them all, I'll go ahead and make the prediction that none of them will challenge the average subscription game anytime in the near future. Even so, Aeria's goal (I assume) is not about making it big with one title but succeeding on a small scale with multiple titles.

Tired of elves and goblins? Try Twelve Sky, their martial arts game. Want high speed action that makes your heart thump? Try Project Torque, the racing game. Bored in general and want something completely different? Meet Richman Online, a board game played on a massively multiplayer level. If Aeria makes enough games, surely they'll develop a core of fans that like their work and try all their titles. And just maybe they'll appeal to a broad audience. With so many choices, everyone has to like one, right?

Speaking of Casting a Wide Net

Another company that offers a variety of titles is Internet Gaming Gate (IGG). The best I can tell from their homepage, IGG is up to nine games announced or already live. Some of the games look similar to others. Many share nearly identical interfaces. On the other hand, some are quite different. The only one I have ever tried is Wonderland (see closed beta previews here and here), and I saw enough to get a feel for what I believe IGG aims to accomplish.

IGG games seem to use simple but colorful graphics (pics or it didn't happen) and focus on pushing players to explore adventurous urges. The vibrant colors are a tip off that the games are designed to catch the attention of a younger audience, and the haphazard translation tells me emphasis is placed on quickly producing a large quantity of titles appealing to different tastes rather than riding on the success of a single title. When players get bored or frustrated with one IGG game, they will find another waiting for them or in development to release soon.

I had fun with Wonderland the two times I played it. But it didn't hold my attention long. To keep me interested, I need a higher quality game with plenty of solid game mechanics.

Runes of Magic is not the only game Frogster produces.

Does Anybody Make Just One Game?

When I really stop and think about it, I don't know very many development teams who make just one F2P game. As much as I have praised Atlantica Online, the strategy game from NDOORS is just one of their properties. And while the quality of Atlantica is very high, I can't judge the value of other NDOORS productions, which are mostly played in Korea, based on my favorite F2P game.

Frogster Interactive has me pretty psyched about Runes of Magic, but the German company already has Bounty Bay Online (download it from Ten Ton Hammer) and Stone Age 2 going with The Chronicles of Spellborn in the works.

NCsoft makes several games besides Dungeon Runners, some free and others not. NEXON has more than Mabinogi. Goldcool Games does more than Magic World Online.

Only a couple of games on my last Top Ten are the only games currently in operation for the companies who own them: Wizard101 from KingsIsle Entertainment and Warrior Epic from Possibility Space. The makers of Wizard101 are already at work on their next project if you believe their website. Meanwhile, Possibility Space always claimed to be trying to build a network of games starting with Warrior Epic.

Doing One Thing Well

It seems that the climate of the F2P arena pushes companies toward making or publishing multiple games so fans can play a new game every day. I think of their process being like underwear with the days of the week written on the tags: safe, comfortable, and not too flashy. I crave something with more depth and long lasting appeal; I want that one pair of silk boxers that I can wear on the nights I plan to get lucky. My wife, on the other hand, says F2P games are like pulp fiction (like Harlequin romances): they're cheap, they're quick, and they have little lasting appeal. Like me, she'd like to see a company take the time to make the New York Times best seller of F2P games. It doesn't need to be a timeless masterpiece; it just needs to be good enough to earn some acclaim.

Of course it makes sense for companies to branch out and build off of success. Gravity Interactive made Ragnarok II because the first one was so popular. Still, if I had any say in the matter, developers would put effort into making each release a quality title. It is my sincere belief that a handful of single-A or double-A titles would do more to promote F2P gaming than a heap of B or C games will do by flooding the market.

Shopping for Everyone's Wish List

If you need to find that perfect gift for the gamer in your life this holiday season, you can follow Savanja's advice. Generous types can donate some money to help buy toys and clothing for the children of good people of Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment, who have not been paid in quite some time according to our sources. If I could have my holiday wish, it'd be for F2P developers to make one very good game at a time. I know the industry is brutal and investors want immediate return, but the time of the F2P game is coming. Let the average joes produce multiple mediocre games. The dominant team will make the best games.

The Top Ten

Continue to page two to see Ralsu's latest Top Ten list.

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