MMObility: Finding the fun within the browser

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MMObility: Finding the fun within the browser
RuneScape screenshot
Fun is an odd thing to define. I have to be honest and say that I don't often have fun when playing MMOs. I don't. I enjoy myself, sometimes to an amazing degree, but I don't have what I would call "fun." When I play a game like Wurm Online or Parallel Kingdom, I am not having fun but am having something closer to the feeling you get when you read a good book. You know the feeling: You're breathing deep, lying on the bed, possibly, very relaxed. OK, I understand how dirty that sounds, but you know what I mean. Playing a good MMO is often like playing chess. It's not really fun, but it is still a very good thing.

Browser-based titles can often be enjoyable, but the normally limited graphics and sometimes click-and-wait gameplay means that I get more of a scratch-my-chin sort of feeling when I leap into Illyriad or other games. Of course, in-browser graphics are changing and becoming more and more like standard client-based MMOs. Thanks to Unity and other engines, we can play in immersive, three-dimensional worlds in our browser. Smartphones are becoming more tablet-like, and mobile games are quickly becoming more like standard gaming as well.

So what do we play when we want to have simple fun?

Die2Nite screenshot
I'm going to start off with a game that I absolutely adore, but it's one that skirts the edge of what MMO means. I'm normally such a stickler for using the correct terminology when it comes to covering games, so I'll try to at least explain why I talk about this game. Die2Nite, a zombie-apocalypse game from Motion Twin, works by inviting players to participate in 40-player towns in the hopes of surviving daily zombie attacks. Basically, players are given a number of action points, and these are used to perform different tasks around the towns. I can spend six points to go out into the desert to scavenge for goods, spend another six to return home, and maybe six more to help build something in town.

The 40-player towns are limited, acting like an instanced dungeon in a way. How is Die2Nite an MMO? Well, the basic design is "MMO" with a cap on player numbers. Technically there would be nothing stopping the developer from allowing 1,000 players to build a town. Within that town and the outside area are persistent factors. Players also have a persistent character (a "soul") and player actions have an effect on the rest of the town. A player's character also has an effect on the rest of the town after the player logs off, making for another layer of persistence. So really, Die2Nite is an MMO, just one that supports smaller numbers. It's a stretch, but the game is a blast to play.

"You can find strategy and chin-scratching depth in a world like the one Jagex has created, but you will probably be too busy enjoying yourself to get very serious about it."

Despite the fact that I might log in to the game for only a few minutes a day, it is still firmly within the "fun" camp. Strategy MMOs like Illyriad, Travian, or even different titles like War of Dragons offer that same gameplay that happens in spurts, but Die2Nite fills my head with such wonderful images and keeps me on the edge of my seat until the next invasion, something that equals large amounts of fun. There is definitely strategy in Die2Nite, but it's on a smaller scale. I don't picture massive armies or sweeping story-arcs while I'm playing. This pocket-sized adventure is fun as heck.

RuneScape is another fun title. Why? Well, any MMO that allows a player to log in for as little or as long as he or she wants is fun. Within just a few minutes, I can locate and complete some activity. I can access the game from even my netbook, and the sheer variety of activities in the game makes it a really fun game. You can find strategy and chin-scratching depth in a world like the one Jagex has created, but you will probably be too busy enjoying yourself to get very serious about it.

The fun factor is ramped up because Jagex is dedicated to updating the game. Every week there is something new, a pace matched by only a few other MMO developers, like Artix Entertainment. Every time I log in, there is a new quest, bit of lore or video that sucks me into the world. If I feel like min-maxxing my character or trying to get in a really long play session, I can, but generally my time with RuneScape is spent in these fun spurts of play. Playing is like visiting the toy store. I might not be there for long, but when I'm there, I'm all smiles.

Battlestar Galactica Online screenshot
BigPoint's Battlestar Galactica Online is another good example of a browser-based MMO that brings the fun, big time. PvP, in general, can be a lot of fun to participate in, but flying through space and destroying enemies is particularly hilarious. The twitch-based space combat is closely related to a first-person-shooter, so you have to stay on your toes and hardly have time for smack-talking. Traditional client-based MMOs have always been harder for me to enjoy when it comes to PvP simply because there are more opportunities for out-of-character chit-chat. In BattleStar Galactica Online players exist to fight and to take over territory. If you have time to fire off one-liners, you have time to die.

The game looks great as well, thanks to the Unity engine. While it does look better as the graphics are cranked up, it can run on even a basic PC or netbook. It also features offline skill training that helps semi-active players avoid feeling as though they are being left out of the action. Even when I am offline, I am participating in the game by making my character smarter.

It might be surprising to hear, but I would not put some of my favorite browser MMOs like Glitch into the "pure fun" category. Glitch provides moments of sheer joy, but generally I log into the game to craft or to tune my character's look. It's not the "Wheee!" sort of fun; it's closer to my earlier example of a good book. I'm not saying that Glitch or other games are not fun, but they are a different kind of experience. A visit to the local game shop will illustrate how differently people enjoy themselves, even within the confines of a single game. Watch a Magic: The Gathering session and you will see someone who is dead serious, others who think it is silly fun, and a few who think that the game is aggravating but continue to put money into it.

For me, browsers are not always where I go to have moments of fun. I go to the browser for strategy, depth, and accessibility. The games I mentioned are my go-to games for giggles and smiles, however.

Do you have a favorite fun browser-based game? Do you participate in different titles in different ways?

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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