Top Ten Free-to-Play Games - Raiders of the Lost Art

In “ target="_blank">Video Killed the Radio Star,” the
UK band The Buggles chronicle the diminishing popularity of listening
to the radio with the advent of the music video. Music fans were
reluctant to return to the drab days of plain music when the option of
music plus images in the music video was so alluring.  Video
killed the innocence of many music fans; at the very least, it forever
changed their perspective. In a similar manner, metagaming has
fundamentally changed the nature of raiding in MMOGs. No longer are
gamers content just to see
a dragon. They need it to drop uber loot for their specific class when
they kill it. Battles of attrition are not as rewarding as they once
were because we all expect to need a strategy. The problem is that we
know we need a strategy. And we know one of the keys is timing of the
raid mob’s attacks, specials, buffs, debuffs, and “surprise” adds. We
already know about positioning to avoid lava splashes or tail swipes
that knock us off the ledge. Thus free-to-play games must solve the
raiding problem all MMOGs face in addition to the other obstacles they
must surpass to succeed in a very competitive market for a simple
reason: gamers know too much.

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A player
prepares for a raid. Or maybe that is a Special Forces soldier.

My Own Worst

Blink 182 wasn’t talking about raiding in href=""
target="_blank">their popular song, but they might
as well have been. Raid guilds these days are organized (almost to a
military standard), professional gamers. They play for long hours,
practicing strategies until they perfect them. They go into a new raid
encounter already assessing the situation for weaknesses. style="font-style: italic;"> Is there a rock our healers can
hide behind to be safe from AoEs? How many seconds pass between the
hits for 2K damage and the big one that does 4K? This
style of thinking turns raiding into a task to be accomplished rather
than a monumental community experience to be enjoyed. style="font-style: italic;">

course some people get a thrill from exercising operations with the
precision of a Special Forces unit, and I am not knocking those
players. Even so, the play style puts great pressure on developers to
churn out content to keep the game fresh and exciting. This pressure is
more than most F2P games can handle. While F2P games typically launch
with a fair amount of raid content (hey, it’s part of the package for
any MMOG, right?), my belief is that casual gamers are able to enjoy
F2P games more than their more serious counterparts.

Too Much Time on
My Hands

The result for the gamers with a lot of play time (like in href=""
target="_blank">the Styx song) is not
satisfactory. They burn through raid content very quickly, and F2P raid
content even quicker. When they pay a subscription for games like href=""> style="font-style: italic;">Age of Conan
or style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft,
these highly specialized gamers can expect the developers to be hard at
work building the next bit of raid content. After all, the raiders are
a major driving force behind the hype for a game prior to its launch
and for its subscriptions for the first six months as they race to
achieve server and game firsts. F2P games work a bit differently. The
casual players have a much greater influence on those games, so the
lower level content retains importance longer.

My theory is that the F2P player base is much more transient, trying
out new games more frequently because of the lack of initial cost. This
means that F2P gamers are mired in the lower levels for longer than the
average subscription game as they try out new classes and races and
just generally explore the content with friends. Meanwhile, the average
subscription-based game thrives on maintaining the same players who
gradually move toward the end content no matter their playing style. If
a pay-to-play game gets a new player, the challenge is to keep her. Why
else would EverQuest 2
so drastically
reduce the time
to level? The goal is to be able to lure in
friends and convince them that they can overcome a head start of months
or even years by their peers.

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Dalmarus is the one who said
World of Warcraft is
hurting games with a focus on raiding. Don't blame Ralsu.

Parting Thoughts

For now, it seems the biggest challenge for most F2P games is
to just keep players at all. Some more established games, like href=""> style="font-style: italic;">Maple Story
or style="font-style: italic;">Mabinogi,
can progress like a P2P game, but those instances are few and far
between. So while the formula for P2P games is to build up while
polishing down below, F2P games tend to build out more with a focus on
tuning existing content and offering choices on how to progress.

If a person’s pleasure with any subscription MMOG slowly fades
over time, I believe it wanes twice as fast in F2P games because of the
deficit of new content. I was pleased this week to see NDOORS roll out href="">a
major content update for Atlantica
that offers two new mercenaries, a level cap raise,
and new mid-level content that promises to be challenging. It seems my
favorite F2P game grew up and out while managing that all-important
polish mere weeks after its official launch.

In the end, I am not implying that raiding is killing MMOGs (though I
believe metagaming in general just increases the pressure on developers
and gamers alike). I wouldn’t want to incur the wrath of the readership
as Dalmarus did when href="">he
asserted that WoW is hurting MMOGs by instilling a desire to
rush to endgame content. All I am trying to say is that the gamers with
the most time on their hands (the hardcore, professional raiders),
won’t find much reason to love F2P games any time soon. It’s one more
hurdle to jump for the developers.

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latest Top Ten list.

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