Free for All: A game for every mood

At any given time, I have between 30 and 40 different MMORPGs sitting on my desktop, waiting for me to click their shortcut. There have been moments when I would stare at them while suffering from "gamer overload" and then end up getting up from the desk to go watch Adventure Time instead. Usually, though, I am making progress in a certain game or area and will log into that world to complete a few more steps or will log in to do some maintenance such as farming fields, pruning auction house items or loading AFK shops.

This lifestyle is not suited for the weak of wrist, or for those who want to do the same thing in the same game, over and over. It's also not for those who think that a monthly fee will somehow inspire you to play more out of obligation. Contrary to what you might think, this nomadic gaming lifestyle is not the result of too many boring games and one bored gamer, but instead is the result of too many fantastic games and one overexcited nerd. That's what I love about the world of free-to-play: the sheer variety and accessibility of so much great content.

You would think that this means that players like myself do nothing to help the financial well-being of developers, acting as some kind of transient con-man who sneaks into the borders of worlds while begging for gold. On the contrary, many free-to-play games are based upon this type of behavior by someone who wants to play the game as they see fit without the worry of a recurring, automatic subscription. The really successful cash-shops offer a huge variety of items from many price ranges to cover as many possible players as they can, and the faux-subscription sweet spot is there if you take time to notice.

It's actually a very simple financial plan. Instead of asking for your limited players to spend a set amount, you presume that the free nature of your game will draw in many more players that will average out to spending less per person. That average still adds up to a hefty sum.

To illustrate my gaming mood swings, here is a list of a typical day in my household:

  • Get up, make coffee
  • Check emails
  • Play Frontierville, scare off bears, farm
  • Load TweetDeck, catch up on Tweets
  • Load Fallen Earth, check auctions
  • Start Mabinogi on wife's PC, fill up AFK player shop
  • Play FrontierVille
  • Walk dogs
  • Spin the daily prize wheel in Free Realms, add the prize (housing blocks) to my house for a half an hour
  • Play FrontierVille
  • Have lunch with wife
  • Check farm in WURM Online, pull out weeds and talk with neighbor Merserie
  • Start rough draft for article
  • Load Fallen Earth again, scavenge for an hour, load auctions
  • Nap
  • Walk dogs
  • Cook supper
  • Load Hello Kitty Online, play until wife gets home
  • Play FrontierVille
  • Make coffee
  • Load Earth Eternal, play with wife and consider joining her guild
  • Edit article with the help of the Bob-Ross-meets-The-Terminator of the editing world
  • Play FrontierVille
  • Tell Twitter goodnight

You can take out many of the points of that list and replace them with several different activities from even more different titles. Generally, however, the repetition stays about the same. As you can see, I will maintain a subscription game alongside my free-to-play games. Contrary to popular belief, being a fan of free-to-play is not an exclusive relationship nor a religion, and does not forbid me from going to "the other side." I enjoy games, period, but have had to craft a mostly free-to-play lifestyle because of my preferred gaming habits. My job is to be as informed as I can be about the broader gaming world, another factor that has shaped my gaming. If Massively is the Travel Channel, I must be the bizarre foods guy.

If I were to make a similar to-do list of someone that is maintaining one or even a few subscription based games, it would probably look a lot like mine. Instead of different games being checked and loaded, however, you would have fewer titles and more time spent inside those fewer titles, while also repeating the same activities. This is only logical, being that if you limit your games you limit your activities. For the record, there are wonderful examples of players who really get their money's worth within one world.

"My job is to be as informed as I can be about the broader gaming world, another factor that has shaped my gaming. If Massively is the Travel Channel, I must be the bizarre foods guy."


To me, the ability to switch from game to game is the biggest selling point of free-to-play. It can actually be therapeutic. Last week I watched several hours of coverage of the BP oil spill disaster. I sat as politicians, hosts and newscasters all weighed in over horrible images of birds drowning in oil. Needless to say, it was quite depressing. I quickly logged into Free Realms and teleported to Seaside, ran to the highest point and watched the sun flicker on the water. The game was not just a game at that point, but an escape into an ideal setting. It felt good, and I am not embarrassed to say so. Free-to-play also does not mean that I am not loyal. Hopefully without sounding arrogant, I can truthfully say that my loyalty runs deep enough to cover many favorites. My pocketbook does, as well.

If this gaming style isn't for you, that's fine. We all shape our hobbies to fit our particular schedules and availability. Mine fits me perfectly, but only after several years of discovering these games and recognizing the possibility that I will never have the best gear or highest-level character. Fortunately, obtaining the best of the best is only one goal within thousands.

But I do have many memories and the ability to make even more, spread out amongst as many worlds as I care to visit. That's the nice thing about going where my mood takes me: I have optimized my fun and perfected my sense of wonder.

This article was originally published on Massively.