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Massively multiplayer games branch out

Jennie Lees
Jennie Lees|January 25, 2006 7:00 PM
There may be some exciting-looking original games coming to a platform near you this year, but what about that clichéd of genres, the massively multiplayer game? When you think of MMOs, three things spring to mind: elves, dwarves and monthly subscriptions, and the success of World of Warcraft hasn't helped defeat any of these stereotypes.

Today's Wall Street Journal features a piece looking at MMOs that are venturing into non-traditional waters, focusing on two examples in particular. Firstly, NCsoft's upcoming title Auto Assault manages to shatter almost every MMO cliché--it's set in a post-apocalyptic world and most combat takes place in heavily armoured vehicles with big guns attached. No cloth-wearing spellcasters in sight.

Secondly, Sony Online Entertainment will be testing out new revenue models later this year with a free-to-play title that uses micropayments to attract customers' cash. Not much information has been released by SOE on this strategy, but games like Anarchy Online have seen increased users since becoming free to play.
With other games like Second Life and PlanetSide offering a free basic account, consumers' expectations may shift away from the monthly payment model and towards a free subscription. This is more complicated for MMO designers, as they'll have to incorporate a real-world financial model into their games as well as engineer ingame economics, but the ability to "shop around" is becoming crucial to MMO consumers.

As well as Auto Assault, the upcoming MMOFPS Huxley will attempt to break the fantasy mould and offer new settings for adventurers. While some games that venture into new genres have done reasonably well--such as another NCsoft title, City of Heroes, as well as SOE's Star Wars Galaxies--the juggernaut that is World of Warcraft has a lot of gamers locked into a world full of trolls and orcs. Add this to the fact that some previous attempts to branch out have failed to meet expectations, such as Motor City Online and The Sims Online, and it remains pretty likely that we'll see plenty of elves and fantasy-themed games in months to come.

If you fancy escaping into the world of Auto Assault for the weekend, NCsoft and Penny Arcade are currently running a beta weekend; get your key by clicking the "Read" link below.