Free to play MMOs

There seems to be quite a trend happening right now towards “free to play” (f2p) MMOs that are supported by micro-transactions. There is at least some evidence that this strategy works, since in one case the result was a five times increases in revenue over the game’s previous, monthly subscription based fee structure.

In general, what the games try to do is to hook you on the game first, and then offer a range of things that make your experience easier/more fun. What kinds of things? It’s a mix of…

  • removing limitations (e.g. more character slots per account, other character classes, more bag slots per character, extended character abilities, more bank space, etc.),
  • providing new kinds of gear, mounts, etc. that are not available otherwise,
  • and opening up new areas to adventure.

What makes or breaks these games is walking the line between making the game compelling to play for everyone, and making it obviously more fun for those who buy their way to happiness. The trick seems to be making it trivial (and cheap) to get things in game and obvious why you would want them, but not require that you buy them. If, in reality, you must buy some set of things in order to reasonably play, players will feel cheated.

Several of the games I have played (and paid a monthly fee for) in the past are now to f2p, so I figured I’d give them a try and see how the new payment strategy had affected them.

Dungeons and Dragons Online

Of the ones I tried, DDO has been f2p for the longest. The game is definitely playable, for free, for as long as you care to invest the time, and there is a wide range of items for purchase. On their wiki they have a page describing the kinds of things that are available and the cost ranges.

To test the system, I purchased the ability to build characters of class Monk; the process was easy, with the store tied directly into the character creation screen. There are a few places where the game seems a bit too eager to sell you stuff (e.g. every time you open your bank it offers to upgrade you to having shared (between your characters) banks slots), but in general that side of it is easy to ignore. The newbie zone even has a quest where you can earn enough points to buy an item from the store that is required to complete the quest, just to show you the process.

One of things that works well in DDO is the ability to purchase new in game areas. Dungeons and Dragons (the pen and paper game) has always had the notion of “modules” which you purchased, and the online equivalent seems quite similar to me.

Lord of the Rings Online

LotRO continues to be one of the most visually stunning MMOs available today. The visual design does an excellent job of capturing the feel of Tolkien’s world, and some of the in game vistas are sufficiently beautiful that it’s worth travelling to those spots just to see them. To give you some idea what I’m talking about, you can check out a previous post that showcased my main character’s in game house: Camile’s new home

Speaking of main characters, that’s another way these new f2p versions of the games differ. In some games, the old characters were wiped during the switch over or are simply unavailable without continuing to pay a subscription fee (an option, I believe in all of them). To me, LotRO has the best strategy for handling existing characters: all your existing characters are preserved, and the first time you log in, if you have more characters than there are (free) slots for, you are asked to pick which ones to make available.

This game also seems to be genuinely playable, for as long as you would be interested, without costing you anything.

Everquest 2 Extended

Now, we get to something else entirely. Rather than switch to a pure f2p strategy, what they have done in EQ2E is to offer an additional f2p mode, as well as their traditional monthly fee version. Their focus is clearly on “upselling” you the monthly fee version, as you can see from this chart: EverQuest II Extended Membership Plans. In fact, there is an in game nag screen that pops up every few hours if you haven’t upgraded to one of the subscription based levels.

I definitely found it quite challenging to play as a “bronze” member (but I have made it to level 15 already, so I know it’s possible). Almost every aspect of your character is very limited without, at a minimum, purchasing the one time upgrade to a “silver” membership. However, that’s still only a one time charge rather than a monthly fee, as the higher membership levels require. In any case, the differences between the levels are very significant: A fully decked out “platinum” member, at any level, can have twice the capabilities of a free player at equivalent level.

I don’t know if this is true in general or not, but in my case I was unable to access any of my existing EQ2 characters via the free to play option.

Realistically, I wouldn’t recommend this game unless your intent is to eventually pay the monthly fee, but at least the f2p option allows you try it out and see if you like it first. [Aside: Computers have finally caught up with the EQ2E game engine; the game runs quite well on my home machine.]

~*~

All of these games are fun to play for free, for a while. They vary quite a bit in how easy it is to play without purchasing anything, but in all cases I found it possible to treat playing for free as a challenge, rather than being simply frustrating (although in EQ2E it was close). In the long run, I’m just happy that I can now “take a vacation” into these worlds, whenever I want, without having to pay a monthly fee for the privilege. If you’re interested in trying any of them out, let me know, and I’ll come join you.

Prince of Persia

Deb and I went to see Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time on Sunday. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was great art, but it was everything it needed to be in a summer blockbuster: action, sexual tension, comedic relief, and a happy-but-not-trite ending.

The two main thoughts I had about this flick were:

  1. This was the best live action fantasy movie I’ve seen in quite a while. The lines were delivered with a seriousness that overcame their silliness, even if the lead couple did struggle with some of them. The special effects generally worked, and did homage to the game. Speaking of which…
  2. They really did an excellent job of capturing the gameplay. The Prince of Persia games are action platformers, with much climbing of walls, swinging from conveniently placed poles, and running along walls. This happened often enough in the movie to be strongly evocative, without getting tedious.

Capsule summary: Not a must see, but definitely fun.

Rating: 3.5/5

Classic arcade games aren’t.

At CES, Microsoft announced “Game Room for XBOX 360”, which is purported to “recreate the old school arcade experience for you (and your avatar)”.

Game Room presentation
(Image courtesy Engadget)

For Pete’s sake people, can we please stop finding yet another way to re-deliver games that we got bored of twenty years ago. If we ever want the world at large to treat games like a valid art form, we’ve got to stop glorifying trivial gameplay and graphics so stupid-ugly that they can be implemented by emulating the whole bloody machine in JavaScript.

Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

uncharted2Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the sequel to the 2007 game Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. At it’s core, Uncharted 2 is an “action adventure” game — think Tomb Raider — with all the standard features: run and gun levels, platforming, environmental puzzles, etc., but what really sets this game apart is the cinematic quality of the ultimate experience.

To give you some idea of what I mean, I can tell you that I happened to be watching the latest Indiana Jones movie on the day after I finished Uncharted 2. Hands down, the game beat the movie at every level — action, story, characters, even emotional impact.

This is a good game. It’s definitely the best PS3 game I’ve played in 2009, and I’d put it up with the “greats” like System Shock and Mass Effect in terms of how much I enjoyed the experience. If I had to complain about anything, I’d say that the strength of the story ultimately limits the replayability, but even at that, I suspect that I will play it again at some point.

Click the picture above to get to the official game site. If it doesn’t start automatically, check out the “E3 Trailer” to see what you are getting yourself into.

Summary: Get it.
Rating: 9.5/10

Capsule review: Torchlight

A reasonably good timewaster, for a reasonable price ($20 US), but not much more than that.

Torchlight adds a couple of minor additions to the Diablo formula but they don’t enhance the gameplay significantly. Graphics are definitely better than Diablo II, but are still stuck with the same isomorphic perspective. Finished in about 18 hours and, with no chance for multi-player, unlikely to have much replay value.

Summary: Don’t buy this, unless you need a Diablo fix.
Rating: 7/10, but it gets an extra point for being a budget title.

Champions Online… or not.

Like a whole bunch of other people, I tried to get into the Champions Online open beta tonight. After carefully pre-loading the files from FilePlanet at one point last week, I waited patiently for them to unlock today. Then started the launcher, and…

…was immediately told I needed to download a 3Gig patch. Apparently, the pre-load had put some of the files in the wrong place, and the launcher assumed it needed to download them all again.

Not an auspicious start.

It seems like they’ve got a new version of the launcher up that moves the files locally, but now that one seems to be constantly hanging while getting the content for the things that do need to be patched.

Anyway, it’s a beta, so you get what you pay for, but let’s hope they do better on launch day, or we’re going to have another Anarchy Online on our hands. Ugh.

Camile’s new home

Ken asked me to post some pictures of Camile’s new home in Lord of the Rings Online. Here they are:


Outside with the falls in the background
Outdoor shot with falls in the background
 
Camile by the fire
Camile practicing her lute by the fire

The house is very small inside — small enough that I had to decide between having a table or a bed — but it’s home.

What’s new — Omnibus edition

Lots of new stuff to talk about…

DS Browser
I picked up the Opera web browser for the DS a couple of days ago. It’s an odd mixture. I think they’ve done an excellent job of tuning the experience for the DS’s two small screens + pen. However, it can’t handle a lot of content (Flash, PDF, etc.) so it’s still closer to being a “mobile” browser than a real one. It’s no fun entering data on the tap keyboard either; I haven’t tried using the character recognition. Over all, it’s an acceptable tool for light browsing in the bathtub — yes, I do this — but that’s about all.
Level 70
Last night, while helping Heila grind some quests, I ding’ed 70. I’d love to say it was at the end of some extremely heroic effort, but it happened while killing yet-another-Ogre. Heila didn’t even notice until I pointed it out when we were logging off. 🙁 Oh well, time to start saving for my flying mount.
Missing Sync
I sprung for Version 6 of Missing Sync for Palm OS last night. It has a few nice tweaks that together added enough value to make it worth the upgrade for me. The highlights are mostly new features for Treos: video import and export, call logging and SMS message history. The biggest win for me is the new Notebook app, which finally gives us Note import/export on the Mac.
Parallels Desktop
I have been using Parallels at work for a while now, so that I can run Lotus Notes on Windows, but use the Mac for everything else. There’s a new version out which again adds some nice tweaks, plus one huge win: 3d acceleration. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but my friend Pookzilla has tried Half-Life 2 on it and claims very positive results. I’m going to have to grab some of my back catalog of old games and try them out; It will be interesting to see how compatible it is.