Free for All: Ten tips for the virtual traveler

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Free for All: Ten tips for the virtual traveler
This week I decided to take a break from analyzing cash-shop models and theorizing over what players might consider "nickel-and-diming" (hint: it doesn't exist) to bring you some frequent MMO traveler tips. Now, if you are the type who enjoys playing one game for years and years or who doesn't have any interest in most any other game, this is not for you. These are a few tips that I have learned from covering games over the last years of my life, especially during my time with Massively.

Since I have been here (it will be a year in March, if I recall) I have been embarking on a journey across all types of MMOs, one MMO per week. I might not remember everything I have done, but I do remember how to make sure that I feel satisfied after spending only a week in each game. Granted, many of the games I have played have stuck around for a long, long time, some of them becoming favorites. Recently, though, I put so much more into playing the current game that I have to let it go in order to put that much into the next one.

How do you live this virtual vagabond lifestyle and still feel good about yourself? What about the golden rule -- a week isn't long enough to get any ideas about an MMO? Well, click past the cut and I'll try to explain.

1) First, you must consider all types of games. If you see a screenshot that sort of turns you off, look at a few more. Maybe shelve the game for the moment and come back to watch videos. Take your time with your decision and trust your gut but also take chances. If I were a snob about graphics or trailers, I would skip half of the wonderful games I have played. That's bad. I have to be willing to jump into any game I find, unless it poses some sort of health issue (for example, MUDs are very hard on my eyes. Seriously. I have bad eyes).

Again, if you are the type of player who plays mainly one game for years at a time, this isn't for you. In fact, players like that aren't really gamers but game-players. They play a game. There's nothing wrong with that, but there is a difference between a guy with a favorite restaurant and someone who spends his time trying new restaurants.

"Next, if you need to put a credit card in to register for a trial or something similar, write it down on a Post-it and stick it to your monitor. Trust me, you can and will forget."

2) Once you find the game, take a moment and check the system specifications. If you have an older machine, don't try to run that state-of-the-art CPU-heavy clunker. There are a lot of games out there for people with older machines, laptops or netbooks. Yes, I mean fully functioning MMORPGs. Heck, if you have a smartphone, you have a game machine. Still, if you want to roll the bones and see whether the game will run, go for it. You can always uninstall it. Just be aware that running a game that beats your system to the ground will only leave you feeling, more than likely, a little unsatisfied.

3) Next, if you need to put a credit card in to register for a trial or something similar, write it down on a Post-it and stick it to your monitor. Trust me, you can and will forget. Remember also that a cash-shop based, true free-to-play game will never ask for any type of credit card information up front. Never. If it does, it is not a free-to-play game.

4) Once the game is downloading, do not look up class guides, walkthough videos or recruiting guilds. You are not a settle-down-in-one-gamer, you are a traveler. There is no rush. The world is not going to end if you do not hit max-level (if there are levels) within your time there. If you are going to do this, you are going to be walking the lesser-known path. Take your time, enjoy it. See all that pretty scenery? Someone worked his tail off to make it.

5) Once in game, take the time to read all the tutorials, quest text, or other information. While you might have a good idea how to move and attack, taking the time to read the pop-ups or to go through a tutorial is part of your gamer training. It will almost physically prepare you for slowing the heck down. After a while, going at your own pace will be second nature.

6) If you do meet a guild or friendly players, be sure to let them know what you are doing. It's a great ice-breaker and might even encourage them to do the same sometime. Remember that this prepares both your new friends and you for your possible and eventual goodbye -- at least from that particular imaginary world. Set up an anonymous email address or bare-minimum Facebook page to hand out to possible future friends. (Tumblr is a great free site for quick travel blogs!) After all, traveling can truly be worthwhile with a friend.

7) As you play, try a little bit of everything. If you are normally a dungeon-grinder, take some time out to attend a roleplay event or to explore. Maybe spend an hour or two reading some lore or asking players in game to explain it to you. The idea here is to break out of your old habits and to replace them with a new habit of having no habits. You will not find anything new in life or in gaming if you do not step outside of your normal boundaries.

8) Do not ever, ever let someone convince you that playing this way will mean that you never "get anything done." If you feel yourself getting down because your character will not grow into some sort of superhero, take a moment to punch yourself in the nose. Wake up! The joy of massively multiplayer gaming, especially in this day and age of wonderful technologies (many of them free) is that we can virtually explore different places, meet new people, and have some adventure along the way. If you are approaching this lifestyle as though it is a job at the post office, you're not getting the idea. You leave work at the end of the day for a reason; don't turn gaming into work.

"Of course, many of these games now have cash shops as well, so drop a few bucks in there. If you do decide to come back to the game, your character will still have the item."

9) When you finally leave the game due to a trial end or another new game on the horizon, take a moment to send the developers some cash. More than likely you will be in a free-to-play game, so dropping a few bucks in the donation box called "the cash shop" is easier than usual, but if you are on a time-based trial for a subscription game, the choices are more limited. I would recommend finding the game and buying it, but of course write down everything and stick it on your monitor. Many sub games now have cash shops as well, so drop a few bucks in there. If you do decide to come back to the game, your character will still have the item.

I imagine at this point some of you are gasping and thinking, "Does he really expect us to buy a box just to say thank you for two weeks' playing time?" No, I'm not saying that exactly. I'm saying that if you had a good time and you are leaving the game without paying a dime, it's not a bad idea to find a way to pay the developers something. Heck, if you don't have money, simply tell your friends about the game. Word of mouth is free advertising. Yes, I'm very serious; go now, tell your friends.

10) After all that, be sure to say your goodbyes and hand out email addresses or blog site information to your new friends. Along the way, you will meet some great people, so staying in contact, even if only occasional contact, is easier than ever these days.

Have fun, take a chance, and try something new. Remember, if anyone gives you a hard time for not "achieving" something in these games you are visiting, ask him exactly what he expects you to achieve. Do not punch him in the nose, though.

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!
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