Free to Play MMO

Alright, so it doesn’t quite exist yet, but in the past two years especially, free to play MMO’s have risen dramatically in popularity. With games like Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online and Sony Online Entertainment’s Free Realms, suddenly, western publishers have seen the light, and they’re embracint the free to play MMO, but what do they have to do to make the perfect one? A name brand license: Sure gamers will tell you they want something original, but the truth is that they’re referring mostly to original, fresh and innovative gameplay. Gamers don’t mind at all if that comes wrapped in a shiny Star Wars or Lord of the Rings wrapper, in fact, all the better for it, gamers love nothing more than the faithful treatment of their favorite franchises, a practice that’s sadly uncommon in videogame development circles.

The first truly major free to play massively multiplayer online game that looks to be powered by a solid brand name would appear to be Sony Online Entertainment’s upcoming family friendly MMO, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures. Here’s hoping it also fulfills the rest of the criteria on our list. Approachability: Don’t mistake this as a request for more casual fare. As most wow heads will tell you, World of Wacraft can be pretty hardcore, there’s tons of questing, raiding, and wow gold to be had, but what set wow ahead of the pack five years ago was how approachable it was. Free to play MMO’s are often tried out by folks who aren’t necessarily into MMO’s, because the barrier of entry is so low. It’s important of course to make sure first impressions are good, and scaring off prospective new players with a Ultima Online-esque death penalty is a no-no.

Free to play game world: We’re building a free to play game world remember? The majority of the world itself needs to be freely accessible to everyone, those who wish to pony up some cash for items, and those who are just looking around. It’s pretty much the theme park concept at work, if you have the whole park open, folks are more likely to come in, look around and buy a buy a ticket to more rides as opposed to charging for entry at the gate, thus making them acutely aware of how much money they’re spending. It’s for just such a reason that purchasing quest packs is becoming an increasingly popular option in free to play MMO’s. Micro transactions and real money trading: It’s a free to play MMO, so the economy, and largely, gameplay, are going to be driven and dictated by gamers purchasing quests, items, weapons, ingredients etc via micro transactions and real money trading. What is imperative, is that gamers don’t feel like they’re being nickle and dimed by the developers. Charging for stuff is fine of course, but exorbitant prices and asking players to pay for the bare necessities in an MMO would kill the game very quickly.

A good example would be player housing, basic lodging should really be free for everyone, with upgrades available should a player so desire. By reducing the initial outlay, everyone’s got a home, and more people are likely to want to spend some money on beautifying that home. Integrated with social networking: You’d think this one was a no-brainer, but a startling number of MMO’s are still operating with only the most basic forum support tying their communities together. You only have to look at the wild success of games like FarmVille to realise that integrating your MMO with social networking means that players more time playing together, and best of all, they bring their friends. Making it easier to share photos and stories is something that MMO developers need to concentrate on.

Mobile friendly: There’s no denying that World of Warcraft leads the pack here, but more is needed. Tying in with the point above, the world is becoming increasingly mobile at an alarming rate. Blackberries, Zunes, iPhones, iPods, iPads, you name it, we want to game on it and take it with us. What’s important is that the core experience of the MMO should still be tied to the PC platform, but we would still to be able to take the game with us, in some form or another. You can’t help but think that Blizzard is already exploring the possibilities of something like that. However, you can also bet that the convenience of taking your game with you is likely to carry an extra charge!