Free for All: The second annual Frindie Awards

Frindie Awards logo
It's time once again for the Frindie Awards, my attempt to shine some light on the best indie, browser-based, free-to-play, and unusual MMOs that are all-too-often ignored by press -- and players. This one is for the little guys! Well, mostly. It's also for those games that seem to have passed under the collective radar of Massively readers or that seem to be very misunderstood.

Picking the winners this year is just as hard as it was last year, maybe even harder. 2012 was an incredible year for MMOs, so I would rather have just put together an article that highlights every single favorite. In the end, it's more helpful to make myself pick out a winner. It's a rare thing for some of these games to even receive a nod on a major website, something I still can't figure out. Either way, it's best to think of all of the MMOs on this list as my favorites from 2012.

Anyway, let's get to the awards!

Best Browser Award
Ah, the browser. It's still my favorite delivery system, and I have been predicting for a while that it will be the number one spot for getting our MMO fixes in the near future, if it's not already. Add up the millions who play games like RuneScape, Club Penguin, Habbo Hotel, Castle Empire, Forge of Empires, Travian, Drakensang Online and literally scores of others and you will likely dwarf the numbers of most client-based MMOs. The browser continues to mature into a sophisticated yet almost invisible all-in-one entertainment tool.

Winner: RuneScape. This title is so full of content and fun that it reaches well outside of the confines of the browser. It's possibly one of my favorite titles of all time.

Runners-up: Glitch, Nadirim, MilMo, A Mystical Land

Arcane Legends award
If one delivery system will give browsers a run for their money, it's mobile platforms. Smartphones -- and the games we play on them -- are spreading throughout the world faster than many of us thought they would. As tech becomes cheaper and faster, companies will see new opportunities to make more money. Rising middle classes will ask for these phones and for games to play on them, MMOs included.

Winner: Arcane Legends. This was a tough choice, considering the rest of the group, but I think Arcane Legends is just an all-around quality product. It offers something for almost every type of player, and Spacetime Studios' multiple-platform identity is refreshing.

Runners-up: Life is Magic, Deepworld, The Missing Ink

Vanguard award
I'd love to say that we all root for the underdog, but the general gaming populace only roots for the underdog if it has heard of the title. An underdog is a game that is rough around the edges, beat up by sometimes years of mismanagement or neglect, but it's one that continues to offer something that no other MMO does. These are the games we should be pulling for.

Winner: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Ah, my old friend Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. I've probably put more hours into this game than almost any other title, and I am so happy to see that it not only survived but seems to be thriving... finally. We all heard about its rough start, but now the game is free-to-play and seems to be receiving regular updates. This game packs in a huge, immersive world, some beautiful graphics, wonderful lore, and some of the most unique systems you'll find in the genre.

Runners-up: Istaria, Salem, Alganon, Ryzom

Second Life award
The sandbox is one of the most misunderstood and often silliest genres around. On the surface, it might appear that the sandbox is only for the big kids, for those brave enough to face the unknown and the potential danger that comes with it. In truth, a sandbox is as limited as any other MMO, but in different ways. There is linear progression, strict player recommendations about how to achieve perfection, and usually the same weak, immersion-breaking death penalties. To stick out as a sandbox you truly need to be different... and so very few are.

Winner: Second Life.C'mon... as if I could have picked any other game virtual world besides Second Life. There is nothing more sandboxy than Linden Lab's darling, and it continues to be an innovative tool for anything you can dream up. Sure, it's had some rough moments in the past, but the game is what you make of it. Second Life is the essence of sandbox.

Runners-up: Mabinogi, Wakfu, RuneScape, Ryzom, Salem, Wurm Online, Glitch

Glitch award
It's hard to surprise me. No, really. it is. I've seen so many space-themed MMOs with the same awful UIs and similar combat, so many bloated "AAA" adventures that are just a hamster-wheel with updated graphics, and so many wonderfully promising browser-based worlds that are literally one-click Festivals of the Bland. Seriously... developers can be very unimaginative. That's why I am so thrilled when a game surprises me, when it makes me feel that awesome feeling I felt when I first played MMOs.

Winner: Glitch. Although this game crashed and burned, I can say that it was the most wonderfully surprising thing I played all year. It would appear that many gamers were surprised by it or its unique delivery method. Many gamers who had never truly appreciated what the browser could do loved Glitch, and many players who never touched a sandbox enjoyed the world. It's too bad; this one will be missed.

Runners-up: Star Stable

There award
This is a category that is very particular to my experience, and these games might not matter at all to anyone but me. Still, I wanted to point out a few titles that seemed to be at the brink of destruction, only to fall back onto solid ground.

Winner: There. There was one of my very first MMOs, and was the very first social MMO I played. It closed its doors a few years back, only to silently return this year. I have even been able to resurrect my old character, the same one I played with so many years ago! It gave me such a good feeling to see a favorite world of mine reappear. Hopefully we'll start seeing more games come back to life. *cough* The Matrix Online *cough*

Runners-up: MilMo, Asheron's Call 2

Second Life award
There are so many wonderful games that could do so well or be so unique if only they had a budget or a team of developers who would take their heads out of the coding cave long enough to get a PR person.

Winner: Second Life. Again, this was a no-brainer. There is no other game or world or experience out there that allows real people to hang out with each other in a grand, never-ending virtual world. Just popping in to the game for a few minutes can feel overwhelming because there is so much to do and see. If anyone tells you the game is nothing but virtual sex, you can guarantee two things: That person participated only in virtual sex or never explored the world. At all.

Runners-up: GameGlobe, Ryzom, Wurm Online

Bestest Ever award
Winner: Wakfu. I had so many wonderful games to pick from, and so many that would work as my pick of the year. In the end I had to stick to the game I voted for in the Massively official vote. While Wakfu does have a few issues -- namely, the controversial cash-shop and often head-scratching gameplay -- the game is doing something completely unique. It offers a massive sandbox experience in a world with a rich, player-driven ecosystem and game-impacting weather effects, plus intriguing lore, wonderful artwork, ease of use, the ability to run on a basic computer, and so much more. It gets my vote because it represents what I would love to see other developers attempt to make: something different.

Runners-up: RuneScape, Ryzom, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Wurm Online, Glitch

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!

This article was originally published on Massively.