I have seen a few posts from various bloggers about how bad 2009 was for MMOs. Personally I do not quite agree. For me personally there were more interesting new titles released in 2009 than in 2008. But also considerations for a good/bad year should include existing games as well – new expansions and changes, different price and payment models etc.
Thoughout 2009 I have played/tried a few different MMO or MMO-type games:
City of Heroes/Villains, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, Runes of Magic, Jade Dynasty, Project of Planets, Zero Online, Vendetta Online, Pirate Galaxy, Champions Online, Saga of Ryzom, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Fallen Earth, World of Kung Fu, Twelve Sky 2, Age of Conan, EVE Online, Shin Megami Tensei, FusionFall Online, GhostX – perhaps a few others also that I have forgotten about. Some of these would be an emphasis on tried rather than played though – for various reasons I barely completed the tutorial on some.
While otherwise limited in content updates, I loved when NCSoft/Paragon Studios released Mission Architect for City of Heroes/Villains. A really great feature! It was however plagued with being exploited by some and also in a sense too successful – too many story arcs and less than adequate search tools initially caused some trouble. While it is used by players today, it has perhaps not created the subscriber success that some may have hoped for. Still, it is an important step in making an innovative approach to MMO content a reality. I think that was one of the major milestones of 2009.
With the exception of Guild Wars, most of the fantasy titles I only played for short periods of time. Sometimes a bit grindy and with no special love for the fantasy genre, I gre tired of most of them quickly. Guild Wars has been lots of fun though – partially because it is a good game, but also very much due to the people of Tuesday Noob Club. Not played much lately though and the combination of real life schedule and lack of excitement for fantasy titles has contributed to that.
Just as I managed to totally avoid Warhammer Online last year I also totally avoided Aion this year, and World of Warcraft as usual. There simply has not been any compelling eason to consider playing either of the games.
Champions Online has received the bulk of my play time lately and for good reason – it is an excellent and fun game if you just want to mess around a bit, blow off some steam and get your mind of real life issues, just for a short bit. It is a good complement to other games or other activities.
I think most of the games I have played or tried I have not written much about – which is not to say that there are bad games. Sometimes it has just been bad timing, or some technical issue. I am glad that I have at least tried a fair number of games and see more of what is out there, rather than just focus on a few new Western subscription-based titles and live on the hope that the next big title with be it.
I think it was either The Chronicles of Spellborn or Saga of Ryzom that were among the first of the subscription-based MMOs to offer free trials which were not limited in time, but rather how far you can get into the game. This approach has then been picked up by Warhammer Online, Age of Conan and Champions Online.
One thing that these games all have in common is that they are not really fighting in the absolute top with regard to subscriber-numbers, so understandably they have to do more to entice people to play. But some of them are still not going the path of “free-to-play” model and some of them keep the same subscription fees. Is an unlimited free trial enough?
In Ryzom you are restricted to the tutorial area, which you can spend a few hours. Age of Conan is limited to the Tortage area, which is also a number of hours, although a bit different game from what is outside Tortage. Champions Online is restricted to the Millenium City crisis zone (the tutorial zone), where someone typically would spend their first 5-6 levels, but in theory possible here to stay until 15. I do not know what the restrictions are for Warhammer Online, have not tried that game.
I guess it is a sign of the times that it becomes more difficult to compete in the MMO space – go back a couple of years and many MMOs were probably doing ok financially even if there were not big blockbuster successes. In the last 2-3 years it has been more of a mixed bag, at least that is how it appears.
I would not be surprised if we relatively soon will see that almost all games will have their first part “free” in some way and unlimited in time, to get people to try it.
Instead of a games I play I wanted to do a games I pay, which are two different lists – only one game is currently overlapping those two, barely.
- Saga of Ryzom
Paying the subscription fee for this game, although I have barely logged into to it in the past 2-3 months. I like a number of things about this game, but it has not been the right environment for me to disconnect from the real world in. Besides, it is a bit too much fantasy-like and I don’t really appreciate anything fantasy-like at the moment. But I do wish to encourage small developers like WinchGate, so I am happy to continue pay regardless of whether I play it or not.
- City of Heroes/Villains
This has been my primary MMO since spring 2006, but lately I have been slacking in this area in terms of playing. Paragon Studios have added some neat things in updates, but seem to focus on the upcoming expansion Going Rogue, which looks promising. Paragon Studios itself is not huge, but is still part of a somewhat large MMO company – NCSoft. So I am not paying because I want to support a small developer – instead it is to support a studio that make a good team-encouraging casual MMO with good stories. They also do seem to want to go in a bit new directions even after 5+ years with the game, as the expansion indicates. I simply like their ambitions and that they also seem to be reasonably good in execution, although not quite the top-notch that they used to be when they were a smaller group. I am happy to support them even though I do not play much at the moment.
- Champions Online
This is definitely the MMO which I think has the most fun combat and is the MMO I mainly play if I get some spare time. I even like the PvP in the game, at least the types of PvP I have tried so far (Zombie Apocalypse, Hunters vs werewolves, Stronghold Apocalypse).
I do not pay for a monthly subscription with this one, since I bought the lifetime subscription back in August. I have paid a little bit afterwards using the Cryptic shop to buy some costume pieces and a character rename. So I do pay here, but not at regular intervals. The reason for buying the lifetime subscription was simply a longterm investment in that I believe to be Cryptic’s ability to create MMOs that I like to play. Champions Online has not disappointed me; but I do think Cryptic has been a bit sloppy in some areas of execution and the game still needs more good content – but which PvE-oriented MMO doesn’t?
It is a game that works well to have in a mix of other games; but probably not something for those that want to focus on one single game for many hours per week over many months or years. For my casual approach it works fine.
- Fallen Earth
I like the post-apocalyptic setting and the scavenging/crafting type of gameplay clicks with me here. The combat sucks IMHO, but thankfully this does not seem to be something that I have to endure too much. Again, this is a game from a somewhat small developer; I am quite ok with paying for this to support a small developer doing a non-fantasy and a bit sandbox:y game, even though I do not log in and play that often. More of those games.
I have played and play some other MMO games which do not require me to pay a regular fee; but that is for a different post.
MMOs change over time; that is in their nature. But we who play those games, the players, change as well over time. I do believe that an MMO only need to be good enough in itself for us to play it – the rest depends on the players’ situation and it may very well be a matter of timing of a game works out for us. Old games may become great choices rather than always expect the good stuff to come from the new and shiny pieces.
The Saga of Ryzom is a game that I have jumped in to multiple times over the years; but it has only been with the most recent visit that I actually headed off past the newbie area. To a large extent that was a matter of timing rather than any severe flaws with the game. This time I have started to explore more of the “real” world of Ryzom and so far I like it.
The people behind Saga of Ryzom has announced a Ryzom summer coding contest. The idea is to build interesting/smart/innovative/useful pieces of software using the Ryzom API an in that also of course generate some more interest for Saga of Ryzom. First place wins 3000 Euro (4200 USD) and 2nd and 3rd place also get monetary rewards.
The API is a web-based interface, calls are done by submitting an HTTP request with a certain URL for each API call. So the type of applications that they primarily seem to be aiming for here are those that probably are hosted on some website and possibly with a web/HTML output to the end user.