Over mij

Welcome to the new and improved Free MMO Überlist. For years I have been keeping track of free MMOs and this is the place I have decided to collect them. The goal of this page is to make people aware of these games and to give everyone some sort of clue on what games to avoid and what games might actually be fun. My descriptions of games are often patently wrong, biased, incomplete and ridiculous, this is mostly for my own amusement. If you feel a description is wrong: please let me know and I'll write a slightly less wrong entry.

donderdag 16 februari 2012

Let's not have raids.

Massively's Karen Bryan recently talked about raiding. She is very happy about improvements on the "playing together with actual humanoids" front and I couldn't agree more. In many MMOs it is so much easier to play group content. In fact: we are so used to LFG-tools, remote queuing and global chat channels that Star Wars: The Old Republic is now an outdated game.

"What do you mean, I have to run my character to the actual entrance?? We're not at mo-fuckin' Disney Land."

Now I started raiding in World of Warcraft's Molten Core. A raid that required 40 people, most of the time the fights were complete no-brainers for all but 3 or 4 of the players. One of the hunters told me that he once cleaned out the dish washer while his character was fighting an eldrith horror from the very core of Azeroth. That's where we're coming from, people.

With improvements in MMOs developers have ditched the requirement for very large groups of people to cooperate. This choice is is given in by the sheer fact that a lot of customers do not have the time and/or patience to get 40 people together. This is an understandable solution to the problem: lower the warm bodies requirement and you will improve the percentage of customers who will play the content you develop for them.

So now you have raiding in the Lord of the Rings Online that requires 12 people, Star Wars has raids for 8 people and I'm sure there's plenty of other games with different numbers for stuff that is called "raid" by the developers.

But how are we defining a raid anyway? I can identify two different explanations:

1. Very tough group content.
2. Content that requires more players than all other group content.

The first explanation is silly: some group content that only requires 2 or 3 people can be a lot tougher than stuff you're supposed to face with 40 folks, this is entirely in the hands of the developers. Why does the toughest content even have to be for larger groups only? Maybe me and my buddy want to be challenged without having to team up with people we don't know.

The second is so broad it becomes useless, yet this is how raids are usually explained to the uninitiated: "so we are playing this game together with other people and when there's only a few of us we call it an "instance/flashpoint/dungeon" and when there's more of us we call it a "raid""

When [potential] customers demand "more raid content" they could mean one of two things. They might want more challenging content: when you've been playing the same MMO for more than 40 hours you have become quite competent at it and many players will want to see the difficulty of what the game throws at them ramp up. Or they might want more challenges that require a larger group of people to participate. When you're playing with 5 friends and every instance is made for 4 people, you will want stuff that will allow you to go with all of you. Same goes for larger guilds: it's nice to have a chat room for everyone, but when you've got enough people together, it would be fun to play the game with all of you.

Neither of these demands require "raids" to be made in the way we're seeing them in now. If players want more challenges they could get tough solo/small group challenges just as easily and when people want to do stuff in larger groups it does not automatically have to be the toughest content in the game at the same time. They're not a two-for-one deal.

While we are at it: we can do away with the MMO logic that the more people there are playing together the better the loot should be. The best rewards should be offered for the biggest challenges and there is no reason this should be the content you are required to play with the most people. Why not give awesome rewards for challenging solo challenges? What's stopping developers here?

Not every game has to be the same, but it would be very refreshing if developers took a step back and think about how they want to provide challenges and large group content without automatically ignoring the fact that challenges and group content can be two different things entirely. It's OK to move away from raids and provide desired content to your customers in other ways.

zondag 13 november 2011

The Players and Joining a Guild

Free MMOs are filled to the brim with the following types of people:
Those who are too young to pay a monthly subscription
Those who are too cheap to pay for a monthly subscription.
As such, the community in free MMOs is, on average, horrible. This is why I advice you play these sort of games together with friends or people you've played other games with. These games can get boring very fast when you play alone, you need others to have someone fun to talk to and do stuff together with.

Now there are plenty of decent human beings around. People like you who want to know if a game is enjoyable before jumping in and people who are invested in the game and want to have a good time with other people. If you want to find more of those you should join a guild, nearly any guild will do. It often takes serious effort or a bit of cash to start a guild in a free MMO, so there is that bit of investment in the game that makes people behave better. There certainly are a lot of shitty guilds in MMOs in general and it's no difference in free ones, but on average you will at least get to talk to or play with actual humans.

Picking a good guild is tough and shopping around is not shameful. Here are a few tactics I employ:

  • Read that guild name: mature guild names include proper spelling.
  • Check the official forums: what guilds have threads on there? What are they talking about?
  • Pay attention to who you are grouping with. Notice anyone you think you might like (either because of what they write or how they play)? Shoot them a whisper asking about their guild.
  • Get in touch with an officer or guild leader and ask if you would fit in. Most guild leaders are desperate to get more members, but a decent one will answer your questions while a bad one will just dodge them or spam you with invites without replying.
Once you are in a guild you might not get the welcome you were expecting. Some guilds are very social and you will get a "welcome!" from everyone currently online, other guilds you won't get a reaction This might be because the guild leader has been spam inviting people. In general it pays off to strike up conversation in the guild chat. Ask about where people are from or how long they have been playing. I always ask if the guild has a Ventrilo or Teamspeak server, talking to people in person might be scary, but it's a great way to get to know them. If the guild has a forum or a thread somewhere, introduce yourself there as well, it's your way to say "this is who I am".

If a guild sucks you will find out soon enough. If no one is talking or people are constantly arguing or new people join and leave your guild all the time you know you are in a bad place. Leave and find another one, provided you still enjoy the game in the first place.

maandag 31 oktober 2011

How do big budget Free MMOs become profitable?

How does a free game make money? Sounds like a dumb question, but it deserves an answer because it leads to a lot more interesting questions down the line.

A free game makes money by selling products and attracting advertisers, whereby the former generates a lot more revenue than the latter. If only because in-game advertisement is difficult to cram in a fantasy setting ("ye olde coca cola castle"?)and it has a bad name.

Free MMOs can sell all kinds of content, but it can be divided in three categories:

1. vanity items (makes you stand out in a crowd, but serves no other purposes)
2. useful items (exp boosts for grind MMOs, more inventory space, run speed buffs, stat increases... it's a broad range of items that go from "kinda useful" to "game-breaking" with shades of grey in between.
3. actual content (quest packs, access to extra zones, new characters, instances)

All three of these categories are worth delving into. In the coming weeks I will write short articles about: pay to win, freemium, how much is your entertainment time worth? and exactly how terrible is it that there are cash shop lotteries? I might add more subjects to this list as we go.

In this article I would like to talk a bit about an interview with APB: Reloaded on Gamesindustry.biz (Massively's article about that article (it's articles, all the way down) can be found here).

It's this specific quote that interests me: "Free-to-play games can hit their peak revenues 1000 days from launch," Bjorn Book Larsson explained. "Which puts us at the beginning of year four. That's stunning when you work for a traditional publisher. This model is built on creating long-term sustaining gameplay, which is not an easy task."

How much money are we talking about anyway? Most MMO publishers won't be caught detailing exactly how much money they're making, for understandable reasons, but a quick Google search comes up with a $ 1.6-$2.0 billion figure for the total MMO market value. While a different source  gives a ballpark estimate of the US+UK+Germany+France+Belgium+The Netherlands of 2,980,000,000 (ie: almost 3 billion). The problem with these figures is that they are [1] estimates, [2] do not take into account the non-Western market and [3] the actual reports are locked for people not willing to pony up cash (me).

So lets ignore the numbers, but lets assume we're talking at least 7 digits, here. Numbers so big we're talking about investors, year reports and people in suits. It's not very indie, at any rate.  How can you even get investors interested when you have to tell them that everyone can play the game for free. No simple "x customers=x money" equations, but one gamer might spend 50$ while another spends 0$ and yet another is planning on spending 100$, but is first going to play the game for free for a year.

This brings me to the main point I want to make here: most big F2P titles started as P2P and most F2P titles are either small projects or imported from Asia (where the game economy functions very differently). It seems like the big projects got their investors by pitching a P2P game and after it failed to make a profit/attract enough customers they rebranded it as F2P to either recoup their losses or get a bigger profit margin going. When Lord of the Rings Online went F2P it had already received two expansions and roughly 14 big patches, would it have worked if it started out as a F2P game? I think it would have never been released that way. Sure they are now one of those F2P games I can recommend to anyone wanting "something like WoW, but free".

Is F2P a sustainable business model? There have been free games online for forever, but this is the first time big companies are heading in this direction. At the moment it appears to be very successful for a few of these games, while a few other P2P-->F2P titles have failed miserably (Chronicles of Spellborn, Fury,...).

One solution a lot of big companies are going for is "freemium", which I will discuss in more detail soon. What it boils down to is that you take one or more important parts of the game out of the free part of the game and sell it in the cash shop instead. I don't think it's very elegant, but it gets the job done and it opens up a lot of quality titles for us players. It seems to be the only way big budget Free MMOs can even exist today.

Discuss this article in the thread here: http://forums.penny-arcade.com/discussion/144525/the-free-mmo-ueberlist-exciting-news-and-dead-games-unrelated or leave a comment here.

zaterdag 29 oktober 2011

Anti-cheating software

Big developers put their anti-cheating software in the game software itself. Small developers usually do not have the resources for this and buy a license on existing software. It's par of the course for most games and it can be quite annoying as this software can take a long time to load, can soak up more resources than strictly needed and can sometimes block perfectly legal actions. Sometimes the software does not get deleted when you uninstall the game, it can lay dormant on your hard drive for ages and god knows what it's up to.

However, what are you going to do about it? Not much, eh? Keep in mind that with the way free games are becoming more respectable, this side of the industry is on the up and up as well. A few years ago I was warning people against games that use it, but since then I haven't heard many complaints about it.

Still, it is something to always be wary of. There aren't many ways to completely protect yourself against the dangers of the internet, but here's three tips:

1. Trust your gut: if something looks fishy: cancel. More fish in the sea.
2. Trust your virus scan. Unlike your news feed, virus scans get updated all the time and will have some form of protection against new security threats before you read one of those "millions of computers infected with..." articles.
3. Do not play games I give the "avoid" or "AVOID AVOID AVOID" tag. They are most likely not worth your time in the first place, but they are usually also run by people/companies I do not trust. Don't worry, I only apply these tags if stuff is really bad and I will always explain myself somewhere in a news post. Normally a quick glance on their homepage is enough to understand my reasoning.