What is a Free MMOG?

Last week, I promised to examine the trend of hybrid revenue models in MMOGs and what it means for this column. The bottom line up front (BLUF we called it in emails when I worked for the US...

target="_blank">Last week, I promised to examine
the trend of hybrid revenue models in MMOGs and what it means for this
column. The bottom line up front (BLUF we called it in emails when I
worked for the US Army) is that the way games do business is changing
and so my Top Ten is going to need some adjustments either in criteria
or the games on the list. The long explanation…well, it’s longer. I
never gave it much thought until people started questioning my criteria
and games so much, but picking the best free-to-play MMOGs turns out to
be pretty nuanced stuff. I need to have a definition for what makes a
game MMO, what makes a game free, and what makes a game good.

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Is a lobby game like Exteel really

Defining MMOG

I’m not spending much time on step number one because I feel
confident that even the Ten Ton Hammer staff can’t agree on a
definition for MMO. The basic premise is that a game needs to allow a
large (massive, even) number of players to share the same space and
interact with each other. Lobby games complicate this quite a bit
(see  href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/108"
, a very good game from
NCsoft that can be downloaded and played for free), but at least they
allow the gamers to interact via chat.  href="http://ddo.tentonhammer.com/" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Dungeons and Dragons Online
takes it a step farther, providing a shared graphical chat room. style="font-style: italic;">

constitutes a massive number of people is sure to vary, as it what
constitutes a persistent shared space for interaction.
Regardless,  target="_blank">I decided to consider lobby games
as meeting the criteria so that I would not have to ignore a cool game
like Exteel
just because it uses a lobby. I still wrestle with the concept, but
let’s just move on.

Defining Free

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Wizard101 is free to download, but you'll
have to subscribe at least one month to finish the game.

If step one was complicated, step two is a disaster.  href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/1186"
is a terrific game that players can download for free and play for a
long while without spending any money, but the game ends at certain
zones for the freeloaders while paying members get more content. So, is
really free if I can’t play the whole game without subscribing?
Meanwhile,  href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/47"
is a very fun title that can be played
online for free indefinitely once gamers have bought the client. style="font-style: italic;">Guild Wars is F2P
after the initial purchase, more so than style="font-style: italic;">Wizard101 anyway,
but it’s not really free is it?  href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/110"
restricts some items for its paying
members only, which is technically holding players back from accessing
some content. Does that mean it isn’t truly free?

As I debate these issues, AAA publishers are busy introducing
real money transactions to just about every pay-to-play game on the
market. Sony Online Entertainment has done so with  href="http://eq2.tentonhammer.com/" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest II
and  target="_blank">Vanguard.
SOE is also hard at work on  href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/287"
, a game advertised as F2P but that we
have already discovered will have zones exclusive to paying

The longer I look at this problem, the harder it gets to
solve. Basically, a free game to me has always been one that costs
nothing to download or install (ruling out style="font-style: italic;">Guild Wars) and
nothing to access even end-game content (ruling out style="font-style: italic;">Wizard101). So long
as a piece of equipment is not needed to successfully complete end-game
content, I don’t consider lack of access to it without paying to mean
much (leaving Dungeon
in the mix). I want readers to not have to spend a
penny from beginning to the level cap to enjoy the games I recommend,
but who am I to define the end of the game? See, I told you it was

Defining Good

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We get it already. Ralsu drools over
Atlantica. Nice 'fro, by the way!

Identifying the quality of a game is the most elusive step in
building my Top Ten list. Gamers can often agree on universally good
games (like  target="_blank">World
of Warcraft)
or universally bad games, but
everything that falls in the middle gets muddy.  Do I rank
free titles only among themselves, or do I compare them to pay-to-play
offerings, too? For certain, picking good titles is a process
subjective to the gamer, and my opinion should never be taken as
scientific fact just because I have voice in a media outlet. Part of
the fun of gaming is debating the qualities of each title with other

To be completely honest, even I (a huge proponent of F2P
gaming and microtransaction models) find the quality of F2P games
leaves a lot to be desired. Atlantica
is far and away the exception to the rule, and the
title from NDOORS is good enough to stand toe-to-toe with P2P offerings
like  target="_blank">Warhammer
in my opinion. The gap between style="font-style: italic;">Atlantica and the
rest of the games on my list is rather large in my mind, and the gap
between my #4 (Dungeon
last week) and the next game is huge again.

By #6 (DOMO last week), I consider the games to be pretty
average compared to P2P titles. I frequently feel like swapping in and
out different #10s just because I don’t believe one game is
significantly better than another. This is why I so often focus on
upcoming titles ( href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/691"
, for instance) that promise to offer
something new. In fact, one of the primary reasons I am so enamored
with Mabinogi
is because of its quirky features, like farming and playing musical
instruments. Put Requiem
in the standard fantasy setting and it’s not nearly as impressive as it
is when its horror setting is taken into account. Defining good is
hard, especially with such a burgeoning format like F2P gaming.

What’s the Point? (Parting Thoughts)

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WoW is a P2P game, but players can change
the gender of their avatar or switch servers for a fee.

As the cost of producing quality games skyrockets, companies
will continue to investigate methods to maximize profits while
minimizing risks. That means we assuredly will see more P2P titles that
also adopt microtransactions for convenience items and services (like
character transfers). It also will mean more F2P titles will offer
bargain subscriptions and affordable box sales. I only see the line
between F2P and P2P continuing to blur. I have my own definitions for
MMOG, free, and good; still, I don’t want to try to define things too
rigidly and cause a gamer to miss a whole lot of fun.

I think maybe it is time for a change. My Top Ten list needs
to introduce readers to some free gaming experiences (at least
initially free) and then allow the players to define the rest for
themselves. Look for a name change soon; I’ll be talking about the best
free (to download) games I have tried, and I’ll trust you to decide if
it meets your criteria for being free-to-play. So long as I provide a
clear explanation about potential costs and restrictions, the most
important person, the reader, can define the free part.

Have a list of ten favorite free MMOGs you want to share? href="mailto:mailto:%[email protected]">Email
your thoughts or post them href="http://forums.tentonhammer.com/showthread.php?t=42165"
target="_blank">in our forums!

The Top Ten

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

As if I am not introducing enough changes this week, I am
bowing to pressure to stop referencing games that are not available to
download and play in this Top Ten. Doing so eliminates a few titles
from the list: Neo Steam,
Free Realms,
and Warrior Epic.
To replace them, I am moving in some old titles that had dropped off. I
think each is a decent representation of the potential of free
products, but they all miss the high standards set by numbers 1-5.

Instead of adding games closed to the public to the Top Ten, I
will be adding a mini-list of titles I have my eye on each week. You’ll
still find Warrior Epic
on "The Watch List" despite  href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/66112" target="_blank">a
recent announcement that the next stage of closed beta is
delayed until further notice. I have faith in that one, but I can’t say

cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">
style="text-align: center; width: 75px; background-color: rgb(114, 105, 62); font-weight: bold; color: white;">Rank style="text-align: center; width: 105px; background-color: rgb(114, 105, 62); font-weight: bold; color: white;"> style="width: 334px; background-color: rgb(114, 105, 62); font-weight: bold; color: white;">Game
colspan="3" rowspan="1"> style="color: white; font-weight: bold;">Top Ten
Free MMOGs

April 6, 2009


week: 1
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/38580"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="width: 334px; vertical-align: top;"> style="font-weight: bold;">Atlantica Online - ( href="http://atlantica.ndoorsgames.com/" target="_blank">http://atlantica.ndoorsgames.com/)


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.

style="font-weight: bold;">


week: 2
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/65242"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">Mabinogi - ( target="_blank" href="http://mabinogi.nexon.net/">http://mabinogi.nexon.net)


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 style="font-style: italic;">Mabinogi, combat is
not the only way to advance.


week: 3
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/36886"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">Runes of Magic -
( href="http://www.runesofmagic.com/">www.runesofmagic.com style="font-weight: bold;">)


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.

style="font-weight: bold;">


week: 4
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/33602"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">Dungeon Runners -
(http://www.dungeonrunners.com style="font-weight: bold;">) 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.


week: 5
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/34626"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">Requiem: Bloodymare - ( href="http://www.playrequiem.com" target="_blank">www.playrequiem.com)

Gravity Interactive

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

style="font-weight: bold;">


week: 6
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/32333"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">Dream of Mirror Online - ( target="_blank" href="http://domo.aeriagames.com/">http://domo.aeriagames.com style="font-weight: bold;">)

Aeria Games &

Dream of Mirror
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.


week: 7
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/49892"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine - ( href="http://megaten.aeriagames.com/" target="_blank">http://megaten.aeriagames.com style="font-weight: bold;">)

Games &

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. style="font-weight: bold;">


week: N/A
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/35119"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">Rohan: Blood Feud -
( target="_blank">www.playrohan.com style="font-weight: bold;">) YNK Interactive

is a traidtional fantasy
MMOG with deep lore and nice graphics. The world features intense PvP,
gambling, and a few creative systems for managing gear. The level curve
steepens midway through the game while the story diminishes.


week: N/A
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/47948"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">Exteel -
( target="_blank">www.exteel.com/us style="font-weight: bold;">) NCsoft

is a visceral PvP-centric game featuring mechs and beautifully designed
levels. Exteel
uses a lobby system to connect players, and people can upgrade their
mechs with resources found in game or purchased from the item mall.


week: N/A
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/41572/preview"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 100px; height: 100px;" alt=""
style="font-weight: bold;">CABAL Online -
( target="_blank">http://cabal.ogplanet.com/main.og style="font-weight: bold;">) ESTsoft

players in a brutal world where people are on the verge of extinction.
Combat is  pretty fast, and the difficulty level runs higher
the average game.  The game requires grinding or grouping from
early level because of abrupt shifts in the difficulty of mobs. style="font-weight: bold;">

The Watch List

This List

Please refer to the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/Top10F2P">Top
Free MMOGs Portal to find out how to get a game you
make or like on this list.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Guild Wars Game Page.

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