Top Ten Free-to-Play Games - The Time is Now

We’ve all done the math. It’s no secret that MMOGs are a great
investment as far as entertainment goes. Once a gamer gets past the
initial expense of the box (generally $50 US), the monthly subscription
fees ($15/month US) are a bargain. I can watch only two movies per
month at that rate in my town. Or I could rent four new releases from
the video store. Or I could dine out one time. Spend even thirty
seconds considering it, and subscribing to one MMOG is a good deal,
even when the
economy is tough
. Still, the gamer down on his luck may find
himself cutting all unnecessary expenses until he resolves financial
problems, and MMOG subscriptions could fall on the chopping block. In a
time when the US economy is the worst it’s been in decades, I say 2009
is poised to be the year of the free-to-play (F2P) game.

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Ralsu loves
Atlantica Online, but he understands it
might be too
different to
appeal to the masses.

The unwritten caveat for my claim that now is the time for F2P
games to take off is that someone has to make a great F2P game. Due to
the fact that F2P games generate revenue through cash shops, developers
need to prove to the Western audience that it is possible to have a
cash shop that does not cheat players, unbalance the game, or charge
for features that should come standard. I’ve already declared that href=""> style="font-style: italic;">Atlantica Online
does this perfectly. It’s a superb F2P game, too, but it’s
different. Different is scary to many gamers, especially in a tight
market. Luckily, another top-tier F2P game that does not bend so many
rules has opened itself for public consumption recently: href=""> style="font-style: italic;">Runes of Magic. style="font-style: italic;">

Runes of Magic
(RoM) plays like the traditional MMOG, borrowing several of the best
gameplay systems of popular AAA titles already on the market. Despite
the elements it shares with its predecessors, href="">RoM is not
just a lazy copycat. It delivers a rich world that feels
complete and a story to link it all together. And like style="font-style: italic;">Atlantica, RoM does
not seem interested in fleecing players through its item mall. It
provides an experience that gamers can enjoy without ever spending a
cent, allowing those of us with more discretionary cash to finance the

I have href="">noted
and href="">maintained
that it would take a top quality game with a big name publisher to
overcome the Western prejudice against item malls, but maybe all it
will take is one developer that is really committed to making a great
game. As it stands now, RoM is free to download and free to play.
Gamers need not worry about falling behind their friends if they don’t
spend money while they pay off bills or look for a new job because the
merchandise in the item mall is 100% optional. Deciding not to spend
money on RoM will not deter their progression. The result is that many
people who subscribe to style="font-style: italic;">Age of Conan,
style="font-style: italic;">Warhammer Online,
or style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft
are giving RoM a try during server downtime or while guild mates are
visiting with family over the holidays. Most won’t give up all of their
progress and ties with a guild in a subscription-based game to switch
to RoM, but many will keep it installed and play it in short bursts.
Some will fall in love with it eventually and may choose to support the
title by making a purchase in the item mall.

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Runes of Magic can start building
a good reputation for free-to-play games and item malls.

Parting Thoughts

The reputation of F2P games increases as positive word of
mouth about Runes of
continues to circulate. Meanwhile, style="font-style: italic;">Atlantica’s five
servers are busy no matter what time of day I login to play. The change
that has been coming slowly is closer than ever now; F2P gaming has
almost arrived in the Western hemisphere. The intersection of quality
F2P games and market conditions is ripe for a new way of delivering and
supporting games.

I readily admit that it is hard to sift the nuggets of real
gold out of the glitter of the countless other worthless F2P games.
That’s part of why I chart my Top Ten Free-to-Play Games. I also
understand that some customers will never settle for a game developed
in a small studio on a lower-than-blockbuster budget; it will still
take a big name in the gaming industry to introduce microtransactions
as a viable revenue model for those gamers. Even so, the paradigm shift
has already begun with the invention of href="">Station Cash
for EverQuest and EverQuest 2. It is my hope that Frogster
Interactive can capitalize on the early success of style="font-style: italic;">Runes of Magic and
bring an end to the notion that F2P has to mean substandard. It is my
hope that Frogster can generate enough revenue from microtransactions
to expand the content of RoM and make it give subscription games a run
for their money. Finally, it is my hope that 2009 can be the year F2P
gaming becomes a legitimate force in the gaming market.

The Top Ten

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

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Runes of Magic Game Page.

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