The Launch That Faced Thousands of Ships

As a member of the media, it's very rewarding when my ideas see the light of day, and it's doubly rewarding when they see success. Of course, Fogster Interactive didn't release retail boxes of...

As a member of the media, it's very rewarding when my ideas see the light of day, and it's doubly rewarding when they see success. Of course, Fogster Interactive didn't release retail boxes of Runes of Magic (RoM) because I suggested F2P publishers should look into it as a way to build support, but the fact that RoM just topped World of Warcraft in the European under 30 Euros sales chart certainly validates the potential of the idea.

No sleight of hand here. RoM is casting a real spell over Europe.

In just under two weeks since the official launch of RoM, Frogster's F2P title is shaking the industry. Even if you normally dismiss F2P games, you have to take notice of RoM because it does so many things right. I won't rehash it all here because my review will be along soon enough. The major points to note are that the title offers a dual class system, raid content, crafting, and all the other extras of a standard MMOG. The big deal is that RoM delivers all of the features well. The game doesn't try to add in features to check off items on a list; each component is carefully designed to add value to the entire product.

Frogster also handled beta and launch well to properly market its game.  The closed beta was an exclusive affair aimed at getting dedicated testers who cared about making the game better. Open beta served as the more traditional F2P marketing event. Then Frogster displayed even greater savvy, revealing that the launch would come with the release of new content that had been held back and refined during Open beta. In this way, Frogster avoided the flaccid launches that embarrass other games.

The retail box, which Frogster's Axel Schmidt had told me about some time ago, continues to fly off the shelf in Europe because the publisher did it right. Even though everyone can download the client for free, the box sitting in the stores ads extra marketing punch for the game. Its bargain price means people are more likely to take it to the checkout as an impulse buy. Finally, the in-game items packaged with the box provide incentive for current players to go buy a copy and support continued development of RoM.

Will more F2P publishers follow the example set by Frogster?

The full impact of Frogster's choices will be difficult to measure for a while yet, but the sales charts don't lie: there is room for success in the West if a F2P game is built well, handled properly, and marketed wisely. In the short term, the first dent into the armor of F2P skeptics is here. In the long term, I expect to see more hybridization of revenue models from MMOG. Gamers can expect to see more companies use the plans like Dungeon Runners that allow people to play for free forever but also offer a subscription and/or a box sale. SOE's Free Realms is the perfect example of a future title that will likely have all the polish and shine of RoM and use a mixed method of generating future development dollars.

In the meantime, Frogster will need to continue building on its early success. The next steps will be to convince the group I call the "P2P snobs" that RoM is selling hats rather than lemons in its item mall (convenience items only, in other words), to rediscover the lost art of developing raid content that will appeal to the hardcore gamers with a lot of play time, and to find the right balance of content updates to keep the game feeling fresh. All the while, the team has to answer the masses about why bigger is not always better in gaming worlds and resist the urge to zerg the market with the next title.

Parting Thoughts

Admittedly, I wasn't taking any more of a risk when I predicted Runes of Magic would "be a huge success...and...grease the wheels for microtransactions in the West" than I was when I said BioWare would win the New Space Race. So far, Frogster is proving almost all of my hypotheses correct. Hopefully others will follow their example and start making better quality and lower quantity F2P games.

It was a weird news week in F2P gaming. ArchLord announced the return of its "flesh sac" monsters while Combat Arms unveiled the new "nut shot." Aiming slightly above the belt, CABAL Online revealed its expansion, Lost World. Like the Pioneers of Iria expansion Nexon recently introduced for Mabinogi, ESTsoft is packing in as much content as it can for CABAL fans. CABAL spent a brief time in this Top Ten list, and the expansion is a sign of the game's popularity.

Meanwhile, Nexon might just be the next company I praise for following the suggestions I have made for chipping away at the Western distrust of F2P games. Ten Ton Hammer's Cody "Micajah" Bye has scored an interview with Nexon that emphasizes a new approach of focusing on delivering fewer titles at higher quality. I won't spoil the whole interview (look for it soon), but I strongly encourage all developers to follow suit. If the economy continues to make money tight for everyone, F2P gaming stands to see an influx of players. As I have said before, resist the urge to pump out games like an Alien queen drops eggs; make sure you support the games you have on the market and you'll draw more long term customers.

In other news, Warrior Epic released some new screens at GDC. Some people will be pleased with the hand drawn backgrounds and oversized armor while other won't. In particular, I like the shot of a warrior and a spirit that we snagged. Normally, a picture is worth a thousand words, but it's go time where Warrior Epic is concerned. The fan base needs to see the next stage of beta begin soon before their confidence and patience wear thin.

Moving ahead, look for further discussion about the hybridization of revenue models in MMOGs next week and what that means for this column.

Top Ten Free-to-Play Games
March 30, 2009
Rank Game


Last week: 1
Atlantica Online - (

Atlantica is a squad-based fantasy strategy game that breaks the mold. Players can control up to nine characters at once in fast-paced turn-based combat. A lot of the systems in Atlantica are different from the standard fare on the market.


Last week: 2
Mabinogi - (

Mabinogi provides so many things to do that it earns its self-appointed moniker of “A Fantasy Life.” Players can farm, play music, hunt, craft, go to school and more in this fantasy land. In Mabinogi, combat is not the only way to advance.


Last week: 3
Runes of Magic - (

Runes of Magic is a traditional fantasy game that uses a Dual Class system to inject a little strategy into character planning and a lot of flexibility into grouping. RoM has all of the features gamers want in a subscription-based game, but they’ll enjoy them for free here.


Last week: 4
Dungeon Runners - ( NCSoft

Dungeon Runners is a hack and slash fantasy game that infuses every aspect of gameplay with humor. DR makes fun of other games, the genre, and even itself. This is the perfect game for a player looking to blow off steam after a rough day at work.


Last week: 5
Requiem: Bloodymare - (
Gravity Interactive

Requiem: Bloodymare is a horror-themed game that blends the traditional elements of MMOGs with the visceral feel of a gore film. Requiem is worth a look because of its fresh take on setting in MMOGs.


Last week: 6
Dream of Mirror Online - (
Aeria Games & Entertainment

Dream of Mirror Online puts the player in the starring role of a classic Chinese myth. The eastern-based lore provides a refreshing twist on MMOGs, and the multi-class system makes character development in this fantasy game fun.


Last week: 7
Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine - (
Aeria Games & Entertainment

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online brings the popular RPG to life in the MMOG sphere. Players can use friendly persuasion or aggressive coercion to get demons to fight by their side. The dark subject matter and modern setting of the game is a welcome contrast to the enchanted glens filled with pixies we often find in MMOGs.


Last week: 8
Neo Steam - ( Atlus Online

Neo Steam is a steampunk game set in a world where warring factions compete for a limited supply of the resource Neo Steam. It was above average in most categories during closed beta for the US, but it had multiple translation problems. Atlus Online should iron out the kinks.


Last week: 9
Free Realms - ( Sony Online Entertainment

Free Realms is a a 3D fantasy world designed to encourage exploration and support casual play. With graphics similar to WoW and all the gameplay of a standard MMOG, Free Realms could appeal to adults. Its many minigames and events are designed to please teens.


Last week: 10
Warrior Epic - ( Possibility Space

Warrior Epic is ready to begin the next round of closed beta soon. It provides a fantasy hack and slash dungeon crawler experience with some very innovative features, including the ability to choose different character classes for each dungeon and a Warrior Hall that grows with the player.

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