Free for All: Five reasons to continue loving MMORPGs

RuneScape screenshot

It's been all gloomy around here lately, hasn't it? Well there's a good reason for that, as you might know. Luckily I have survived the cuts that affected much of the AOL Tech network, although that means that Rise and Shiny and MMObility, my two other regular columns, will be consolidated into this one. While it might seem like less work for me, in actuality it means that I have less room to tell you, fair reader, about all of the fantastic MMOs that continue to come out.

Yes, I said continue to come out. It's easy to become a Seymour ("I hate my interests!") in these days of non-stop hype, but the truth is that the MMO genre has continuously pumped out content for many, many years and will keep doing so for some time. So to celebrate the fact that three of my columns are now coming to you in one megacolumn, I thought it'd be fun to remind ourselves just why we enjoy this hobby.

Free to Play plans

The value! Value! Value!

There's no greater value in gaming than MMOs. If we made a comparison, MMOs would still be cheaper than mobile games with their in-app purchases and definitely cheaper than console titles and their $60 price tag. While there could be an initial investment in the form of a gaming PC in order to access MMOs, players can find something to play on even the most basic of machines. I've even covered gaming on Chromebooks, some of the cheapest laptops on the market today.

The low price is not the only indicator of value, however. The MMO genre is full of free content in the form of raids, quests, social systems, immersive environments, and lore. I can't think of another genre that allows players to literally skip out on paying the check after delicious meals almost every time. The emergence of free-to-play meant that all of us now have more choice as to when and where we should pay for our gaming entertainment. If you think about it, it's harder for someone to name MMOs that require regular payment than MMOs that require none.

Variety screenshot

So much variety

In a typical gaming weekend I might access an MMOFPS, an MMORTS, a social MMO, an MMO that is literally all about exploration, a browser-based MMO, a mobile MMO, an MMO on my console, or an experimental building MMO that lets me to do almost anything I want. This variety means that a brave player can easily find himself a dozen different worlds to explore or live in. Of course, many players prefer to stand in one place for a long time, grinding out levels and content, but the point is that the choice is yours to make.

I realize now that MMOs are one of those massive genres that still remains a mystery to many outsiders. It's possible that the genre's sheer variety means that a newbie has no idea where to start. Unfortunately, this overwhelming choice will often result in that same player finding a home, settling into it, and remaining oblivious to the rest of what MMOs offer. It's the same action when we pick out a favorite entree at a diner. Luckily, those willing to take a small amount of time to investigate the genre further can find almost anything. Think I'm lying? Take some time and check out my retired Rise and Shiny column. Over the four years it ran, I covered nearly 200 titles!

PlanetSide 2 screenshot

Something for every playstyle

I tend to explore my MMOs. I like to open a new one, make a character (or whatever the equivalent is), and log in without worrying too much about what I am supposed to be doing. I might wander around, figure out what the locals are up to, and slowly make my way through the world. If an MMO is too restrictive with what it offers, it probably won't get much play from me.

Many players prefer to read up an MMO before they even touch the download button. Some players want to be completely convinced that an MMO will act as an adequate home before making an account. I know players who have to investigate an MMO's raiding or "endgame" before they commit. The point is that there is an MMO for all of these players. A really good MMO will offer not only an endgame but something for those who prefer to wander, roleplay, or play casually. In lieu of a game that provides all of these choices, a player can simply try different MMOs.

The West screenshot

They're accessible

When I say accessibility, I mean it in more ways than one. MMOs are accessible technologically. It's one of the only genres that allows players to access or even play their favorite games on the go or on different devices. As I mentioned earlier, the MMO market is filled with MMOs for people from all financial backgrounds. I often receive emails from members of the military or people who are moving or who have lost access to a gaming PC and simply need some kind of MMO to play. These people are often surprised at how much fun they get out of a game they might never have considered before, like a browser-based game that requires very little bandwidth.

MMOs are also accessible physically for people who might otherwise have an issue operating a console controller. Many MMOs use a classic control scheme that can be boiled down to a few clicks on the keyboard, and some can even be played with nothing but a series of commands, as in an MMORTS.

Second Life screenshot

They're social

I chuckle at recent console games bragging at hosting large PvP battles. Normally, that means maybe a few dozen people on the battlefield. In MMOs, PvP can mean literally hundreds in an immediate area or thousands on a server. MMOs are not only social spaces where we can meet, adventure, and discover; they are social spaces that are available 24/7.

Sometimes when I get a bit burned out on non-stop action, I log into Second Life or some other social MMO. Within minutes, I can locate an activity, like a poetry reading or book discussion, and spend the evening in a way that makes me remember just why the internet and MMOs are great. For one particular player I met years ago, her disability meant that she was unable to leave the house. To her, MMOs meant literally the difference between a life of loneliness and a rich life of friendship.

It's easy to see how MMOs continue to be a rich and interesting genre to invest in. I got into this hobby years ago because it offered something that other games -- and hobbies -- did not. Fortunately, while the game mechanics sometimes evolve, the ideas at the heart of MMOs have not changed much at all.

Every weekend, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, mobile, classic, 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!