There is so much to be excited about in the MMORPG world that I am always perplexed when someone claims lack of innovation in the market. I tend to think that this comes from an inability to play more than one game, or to support more than one idea in gaming, rather than from the actual state of the market. The fact is that there is so much happening in the world of gaming, and specifically free-to-play gaming, a player should feel almost overwhelmed.
I wanted to point out three games now in development (or very close to release) that I believe will do very well. Think of this as a list of predictions -- in fact I am going to have some fun with it and predict just how well these games will do. I have always enjoyed testing my gut. Concerning these three games, my gut is very, very excited. So, let's get right to the list.
Nexon America is doing very well, thank you. The company is proof positive that free-to-play not only works, but also can truly stay free. Nexon maintains a balance with cash-shop offerings, a large variety of gameplay, and a steady stream of development. So when I first heard about Vindictus (known as Mabinogi Heroes then) a long time ago, not only was I excited, but instantly turned into a fanatic. Emerging gameplay videos and teaser trailers have only served to whip up the froth even more -- I am in fanboy heaven. Vindictus plays intuitively, runs beautifully on different setups, and makes you feel very, very powerful. I can only imagine the chaos in the larger battles of the game, judging by the level of action built-in from the beginning.
Prediction: According to Nexon vice-president Min Kim, this game will change what people think about free-to-play. I agree with him 100 percent, and I will even take it a step further to say that this will be the game that will officially break the stereotype of the boring, grindy, cartoony free-to-play import. For the record: many games should have already done this, but instead they just contributed to the pile of straw on the back of the camel (which is still an important role). Vindictus will be the sexy, slick, and daring game that challenges the "AAA" market, a market that has, for years, been filled with copies of copies. It's time for something new, and Vindictus will prepare Nexon to be the premiere free-to-play developer.
Prediction: Call this one a true gut feeling, but Prius Online will quietly do very well. gPotato is no slouch in the free-to-play market and has been providing us with entertainment for years. Some of my very first free-to-play games have come from this publisher, and recent mega-budget beauty Allods Online ramped up the variety and quality of gPotato games. Prius Online will take over as gPotato's biggest hit, and will serve to further the idea that "cash shop" or "free-to-play" do not mean "low-quality."
If you're like me, you fell in love with the Clone Wars animated series almost immediately. With so many animated series being done with an over-the-top Anime style, it's wonderful to see a series that takes itself seriously and actually features content suitable for adults. I saw the toys and longed for the DVD sets, but I really didn't think that any type of MMO could be pulled off. Of course, I didn't think of SOE and the Free Realms engine -- perfect partners to bring the Clone Wars Adventures MMO into reality. The graphics fit so well that I almost think that the Free Realms engine was made specifically with Clone Wars in mind, but that would be impossible.
Prediction: Well, being that I spent a while playing the game already, I can say that it is definitely a "kids game," in the same way that Free Realms is. Of course, that never stopped millions of adults from playing Free Realms, nor will it stop millions of Star Wars geeks from playing Clone Wars. The minigames are simple to learn and play but fun. The customization promises to be crazy, and the settings are near-perfect. I would like to see more "open" style gameplay, but it is too early in the life of the game to say exactly how development will go. I imagine SOE has learned from its hits and misses with Free Realms, so Clone Wars should go much more smoothly. It will gather the same millions-strong playerbase that Free Realms claims to have. Of course, I would love to see a more "adult" version of a Clone Wars MMORPG, but the journey has just begun. A humorous side-note: As I played through the space-battle minigame in Clone Wars, I couldn't help but imagine that the reported on-the-rails space combat of SWTOR will feel the same way. I chuckled, at least.
Remember these predictions once these games are released. If they fail miserably, you can point at this article and laugh. I will also predict that, if these games do as well as I think they will, many players will nevertheless either consider them exceptions to the rule or discount them altogether in the grand scheme of things. I wonder how long this will go on until we all admit that free-to-play is neither dead in the water, nor a source of boring, grindy impulse gaming.
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 to! Have an idea for a subject, or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!