Posts Tagged ‘MMO’

Sony’s free-to-play Free Realms now open for Beta signups

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

The great promise of free-to-plays making their way to a console near you is about to be delivered.  The long awaited project signals a new branch for Sony.  While not quite as high profile as The Agency, this AAA title is aimed at teen fantasy MMO players, while incorporating the whole free-to-play, microtransaction based economy.

The Free Realms website received a huge update a few days ago, and new includes videos screenshots and write-ups about what to expect, and what developers hopes for the game are.  Beta keys are being given away to hopeful participants at the site directly.  SOE is predicting an extended beta period (with my guess being a public release on or before the first of the 2009 year), culminating in a ‘service-style’ launch, one you’d see more in a traditional ‘boxed-game’ environment, rather than a digitally delivered free-to-play title.  A wise move on SOE’s part, as even the release must be a psychological factor in gamers overall opinion of the title (think WoW’s midnight store opening release parties scheduled around the world).

While Free Realms is technically an MMORPG, SOE hopes to attract users and differentiate itself by adding more social and casual gaming elements to the title.  Again, another wise move here, as introducing a ‘traditional’ RPG in a free-to-play format on a console might be a bit of a hard sell.  Conversely, those that are already familiar with casual games (think facebook) are already predisposed to the concept, and can now extend that form of play to their console experience.  Toss in a buck here and there via microtransactions, and it looks like Free Realms could just be the surprise hit of the year.  Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch, but they’ve certainly done their research, and are targeting a market segment that is already familiar with the concept.

Regarding content and gameplay, directly from Chief John Smedley via the stationblog:

You can pick from a lot of different kinds of activities to engage in… including combat, raising pets, playing all kinds of mini-games such as racing, Destruction Derby, soccer, and many more. It’s pretty cool to be able to put your racecar driver outfit on and take your car for a spin on the track, or walk up to a soccer field and just start playing with your friends.

We’ve really built a game that is aimed at bringing in an entirely new audience into MMO’s… and best of all you can play for free if you want to.  We have put significant effort into making a lot of the content in the game completely free.

Free Realms is ground breaking for a number of reasons, least of which is traditional gaming firm Sony Online Entertainment branching out into what is rapidly becoming a very valid business model even for the big boys now.

For screenshots, videos, more information and beta registration, visit Free Realms as: www.freerealms.com.

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Tandem Games launches free-to-play browser based Domain of Heroes

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Hailing from the hot bed (literally) of gaming development, Austin, Texas based Tandem Games has recently launched a new browser based free-to-play MMO titles Domain of Heroes.  Latching on to the growing trend of ‘play it anywhere’ browser based games, Domain of Heroes is designed to be played at work (think alt/tab and/or minimize), school, or home.

Self described as a simple enough to play while working, yet deep and story-driven enough to captivate the most hardcore RPG fans, Domain of Heroes is aimed at appealing to a wide range of gaming fans.  The title is a text based game, therefore making it more like a choose your own adventure, ever evolving book, rather than a video game.  What?  No rich, stunning 3d graphics you say?  While it’s true, you’re not going to get any 3D blood flying by at a high frame rate, I personally think that’s what makes it a great game to play in the background while at work, or even while playing other games.

What’s quite interesting to note about Domain of Heroes is the community interaction.  Tandem Games has taken a massive step forward in listening to their customers by quickly integrating features and game play as suggested by the community.

“We have a program called Community Heroes where the community proposes ideas on the forums and those get filtered by other players and then added to the game quickly,” said Aaron Murray, Technical Director and co-founder of Tandem Games. “Over half of the game has come directly from ideas from the Beta players, and the next big updates are ideas from the community as well.”

A simple 2 minute signup process is all that’s needed to enter the world of Dohria and being playing Domain of Heroes.  Players have the choice of creating a character from 30 different races and 27 classes.  There are 150 skills to master as players explore the massive world of Dohria.  While solo play was quite enjoyable, pvp battles in a text based MMO while riding the subway home from work was really quite fun.  Since it’s playable in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera browsers, I was able to accesses the game via my iPhone and experienced equally fun gameplay on both laptop and iPhone.  This free-to-play MMO features guild creating features along with aforementioned pvp battles.

Domain of Heroes is free-to-play, and Tandem Games is seeking to monetize the title via microtransactions.  Currently, the game supports player character customization via an in-game currency called “Wishes”.  Each player starts off with 2 complimentary “Wishes”, usually spending the first on a mule (the ability to carry more loot), and the second to create a custom name for your character (the default name enters you as Newbxxxx).  Additional wishes are available for purchase at $0.99 each, or a bundled option is available pricing some wishes as low as $0.49/wish.

Domain of Heroes is currently open to the public, and as mentioned works in almost every popular browser client (IE, FF, Safari, and Opera).  Sign up and give it a whirl at www.domainofheroes.com.

 

Burda:ic flings the doors open on free-to-play Florensia

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Munich, Germany based publisher of online games Burda:ic has announced that they’ve officially opened the doors to their newest offering: Florensia.  The new MMORPG has already received over 250,000 registered players during the open beta, and Burda:ic has already doubled server capacity to deal with new registrations.  No new comer to the market, Burda:ic is the driving force behind Ragnarok Online and Hello Kitty Online.

Developed by South Korean firm NetTimeSoft, the fantasy MMO is based around a maritime theme and features a wide range of high seas advertures.  Players choose one of four classes, from a swashbuckling Mercenary to the spell casting Noble, players slug it out with a massive inventory of weapons and magic spells as the explore underground dungeons and uncharted seas.

In addition to doubling their server capcity, Florensia now features French, Portugese, Italian, and Spanish (in addition to their English, German, and Turkish) language servers.  The official opening of the game also introduces a Sealed Item System.  This system dictates that all equipment pieces found now have a number of unique seals that may be released by specific Non-player Characters.  Think built in enchantments to weapons that are just waiting to be released by specific NPCs.

“We are convinced that Florensia will give fans a terrific gaming experience”, says Ingo Griebl, Managing Director at Burda:ic.“And we are already excited about doubling the server capacity again in the future.”“Although we offer Florensia free-to-play, the support by our team will be the same as for any pay-to-play online roleplaying game– that means customer support as well as the numerous expansions”, reassures Achim Kaspers, Managing Director at Burda:ic.

Again, Florensia is free-to-play, with a high amount of customization available via microtransactions.  Visit them at: florensia-online.com

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Free-to-play Empire of Sports in ‘Private Launch’

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Sports MMO’s seem to be one of the newest and fastest growing trends in the virtual world, and developers F4 and Infront are soon to be tossing their entry onto the playing field.  Officially billing itself as a non MMO, Empire of Sports is an errr… non- massive, multiplayer online game focused on and around, you guessed it, any and all things sports.

Players start their non-mmo adventure as a rookie, and level up skills through a variety of entry-level sports: Soccer, Tennis, Basketball, Skiing, and Bobsledding.  You may also choose to participate in a wide variety of training exercises.  Word on the street is that Empire of Sports has a few goodies still up its sleeve and plans on introducing Track and Field events into the game in the near future.

An interesting and ‘real world’ touch to the experience gaining process is that each sport has a number of skills attached to it.  Training exercises can be done in single player mode that increases your general skills (think balance, reaction time, muscle structure) and you can practice specific skills to increase your ability in individual sports.  In other words, it’s a whole lot like being a real world athlete – you can go to the gym to pump some iron, thereby increasing your overall athleticism, or head off to the green ‘bounce back’ wall and work on developing that killer backhand.

As you train and gain experience in particular sports, you gain a competitive advantage over opponents.  You may also purchase in game equipment to give you some extra pwnage power.  Items can be acquired in three different ways: some are earned as a reward for winning a particular tournament or match, some are purchased with ‘won’ in game currency, while the others, and perhaps most important, can be purchased via an in game mall with microtransactions.  According to F4 and Infront, the microtransaction gear is not meant to provide über status in the game, and should not provide an unfair balance to the competitive non-MMO.  A nice balance considering the game should attract a wide variety of players, some with massive amounts of time on their hands, while others would still like to have some nice gear, but don’t have hours and hours on their hands to win the appropriate cash and/or tournament(s).

As with 99.44 percent of all (non) MMO’s, Empire of Sports supports guilds, aiding in quickly and easily finding others that have a similar play and/or time schedule.

Empire of Sports is currently in ‘Private Launch’ at the moment, which basically means you’ll need to fork over an email address to get playing….but other than that, you’re in like Flynn.  Empire of Sports is free-to-play with microtransactions supporting the continued development and support.

Give them a visit at www.empireofsports.com

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Combat Arms set to take Europe by storm

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Nexon Europe Limited, the European branch of top free-to-play publisher Nexon recently announced that they plan on launching ‘Combat Arms Europe’ via a closed beta test starting in late October of this year.

Combat Arms is a multi-player first person shooter that has already received praise far and wide, and features non-stop action in various battlefields where players engage enemies in different game modes.  Not just your typical FPS, Combat Arms takes the genre to a new level by allowing for massive character customizations, as well as a weapon modification system.  This modification tool allows players to attach various enhancements to their weapon(s) of choice including, scopes, silencers, and extra ammo.  Combat Arms also features a unique backpack system which allows players to combine various sets of weapons, thereby creating their own customized bringer of death.

My own personal experience with Combat Arms matches up with company jargon – it is rather easy to pick up and learn the basic and more advanced controls, thereby allowing just about anyone to have a fair chance at fragging goodness.  Racking up some in-game spendable cash is easily obtainable, but also providing a decent challenge.  Experience points and cash are handed out based on the number of victories and kills shots made.  Once accumulated, these cash points allow players to rank up and acquire mounts and new weapons and equipment.  As with most MMO’s, Combat Arms features a full clan system, allowing players to recruit, manage, and communicate with other clan members.

“The FPS genre is traditionally an area for hardcore gamers with a steep learning curve, but Combat Arms takes it to another level, offering a low barrier of entry with its free-to-play offering and low system requirements,” says Sung-Jin Kim, Manager of Europe Business Team at Nexon. “Yet, the sophisticated graphics and in-depth gameplay mechanics do not fall behind the FPS titles that are out in the market, and can therefore accommodate beginners as well as hardcore gamers at the same time. The response to Combat Arms in the North American region was huge, and we have experienced a great demand from the European audience to set up a service for Europe. Now we are happy that we are just about to bring the title to the European continent, starting with the closed beta in late October”.

Nexon’s Combat Arms is free-to-play and financed via various cosmetic microtransactions.  If you’re living in North America, or don’t mind a bit of lag with your frag, you can pick up the combat arms client at: http://combatarms.nexon.net/.  The client is currently available only to PC users, but runs just fine in either Parallels or VMWare on Mac.

While most of Nexon’s titles focus around ‘fun’ and ‘play’ offering a first person shooter is certainly a great way for Nexon to expand it’s portfolio and start bringing in a completely different type of gamer.  Response thus far as been mostly positive, from an often skeptical target audience.

 

MMO Perfect World opens the beta doors

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Perfect World Co., Ltd. announced yesterday that they are opening the beta doors to allow more players to experience the gripping action of their new free-to-play title: Perfect World.

An interesting point to note is that Perfect World was originally developed with a subscription based budget in mind including all the features one would expect from an MMORPG: guilds, crafting, mounts, etc.  Since flipping the switch on the free-to-play model, Perfect World has increased the player base to number in the millions across 10 countries.  The former subscription based business model could also herald a new standard for free-to-plays as the 3D gaming engine and graphics are of a quality not normally found in a free-to-play title.  In other words: Perfect World is raising the bar.

The official full release of Perfect World is slated for later this fall, complete with international servers (localized specifically for American audiences).  The launch will also feature several already released expansion packs, mirroring the current state of play in the Chinese market.

“I am very pleased by the successful closed beta testing in North America, and we are excited to introduce ‘Perfect World International’ to more online game players,” said Mr. Alan Chen, Senior Vice President of Perfect World and Chief Executive Officer of PWE.  “I believe that the efforts we have devoted to the localization work and our execution ability will enhance our position in North America.”

“Our progress in North America again evidenced our commitment to executing our international expansion strategy.  I believe the launch of ‘Perfect World International’ in North America marks a key milestone for us and helps us further position Perfect World as a leading provider in the global online game market in the long-term,” added Mr. Michael Chi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Perfect World.

While the game only features three races (Humans, Untamed, and Winged Elves), with two classes per race, the customization levels are where players can really dig deep.  Other features include guild vs. guild wars, territory wars (up to 80 vs. 80 for land and monetary rewards), crafting, world events, and an in-game marriage system.  No MMO would be complete without a decent land and air mount, and Perfect World doesn’t disappoint.  Instead of an overall general mount, Perfect World features race specific mounts.  Humans ride something akin to a broomstick, but in the form of a massive sword, while Untamed can rise from the ashes and fly their phoenix.  Speaking of mounts – PVP players should be happy to know that mounted combat is possible.

To give Perfect World a go of your own, head on over to the website and download the client (2.32 gb).

 

Three top VC’s weigh in: Free to play the way to go

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Wagner James Au from Gigaom recently talked with three top VC’s about the gaming industry.  His goal?  To find out what the people with the money are looking at, and where this rapidly changing economy is headed.

The quick and dirty shakes out like so: Free or alternate funded games (i.e. microtransactions, in game advertisement, etc.) are poised for explosive growth, and a top-to-bottom transformation of how games are played, developed, and deployed.  One VC in particular takes an alternate look at the casual gaming market and predicts an imminent backlash.

Mitch Lasky of Benchmark Capital (Second Life, Gaia Online, Red 5, Vivox, Riot Games and JAMDAT) says in an email to Wagner, “I’m sensing that we are on the verge of a casual games backlash.  The space is so ridiculously over-funded, the barriers to entry are so low, and the media models require such high traffic to generate meaningful revenue, that I think there has to be a shake-out. I think the sites with traffic, like MiniClip, will benefit, because everybody is going to be buying referrals from them.”

While Lasky gives credit where credit is due, he also sees top beneficiaries of the non-casual gaming market as middlemare producers.  “I read a recent analyst report that showed almost 90 MMO’s, virtual worlds and online game services scheduled to come to market in the next 18 months,” he said. All that activity is “going to benefit the platform companies — we’ve been seeing tremendous customer growth at Vivox, for example, which provides high quality voice services to online games.”

Speaking to non-casual games, Lasky also added, “I’m increasingly interested in more gamer-oriented online games, not based on subscription billing models. Our investment in Riot Games grew out of this thinking. We’ve seen strong evidence that this combination works in the Chinese and Korean markets, but it’s been slow to take off here. It is going to take the right game to unlock this market, but it could be huge.”

Lightspeed Venture Partners Managing Director Jeremy Liew confirms Lasky’s opinion about the rise of free-to-play.  He’s predicting a massive shift away from the subscription model, echoing developments in Asia.

“Free-to-play gaming and virtual worlds (monetized through up-sold virtual goods and subscriptions) are gaining increasing traction in the West,” he said in an email. “Companies like K2, Nexon, Gaia, Habbo, Neopets, Runescape/Jagex, Gameforge, Eve/CCP and Bigpoint all doing revenues now in the tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars. But gaming, like media, is not a winner-take-all business, and there are many up and coming companies building free to play experiences and growing fast.”

In Liew’s view, companies that can help with player acquisition, billing, fraud and player management/game mastering are those poised to profit the most.

Liew’s not only in his thinking, as Susan Wu a former VC at Charles River Ventures agrees.  “With the death of retail and the greater accessibility of games in the hands of an order of magnitude larger audience, free to play with some premium components becomes the most logical conclusion. Then of course with alternate billing models comes alternate payment systems.”

Wu is now in the drivers seat at what she terms “a groundbreaking, stealthy new online gaming company.”   While Wu’s no newcomer to the party, she sites Susan Choe’s Outspark, Acclaim, and Nabeel Hyatt’s Conduit Labs (Loud Croud) as projects she’s followed closely, and sees them as integral parts of a netwide transformation.

While Wu notes that the web has always been changing, she’s quite surprised at the rapid pace of change, particularly accelerated by the acceptance of social networks as entertainment platforms.

In addition to this acceptance, technological innovations and game development abilities have jumpstarted this change.  With flash becoming a viable platform for games (think iPhone), and even industry giant Blizzard producing hardcore games (and likewise devoted followers) despite super flashy graphics.  Wu also takes a step back to view a psychological factor as game industry driver.  “With social relationships as primary catalysts for game playing; we’re moving back to the playground where games reinforce and create social bonds.”

So while one VC sees an impending backlash verging on the horizon, all three separately agree that the age of subscription is a dying breed, with free to play titles gaining more and more ground each day.  As Lasky points out, with over 90 MMO’s, virtual worlds, and online game services coming to market within the next 18 months, this is bound to become an increasingly competitive space.  Bringing the product to market quickly and effectively may be the winning strategy for developers.  Wouldn’t it be a shame for them to have a great title, but be weighed down by their own development of primary and secondary economies?  Enter stage right…..fatfoogoo.

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Fraud and how MMO’s are dealing with it

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

As the MMO industry continues to develop and grow, sadly some of the ‘darker’ aspects of economies rear their ugly head.  Credit Card fraud has become an increasingly hot topic of debate, with a number of specialist firms engaged in spotting, reacting to, and deterring future fraud in the MMO world.

Chargebacks from fraudulent credit cards are a growing problem for MMO publishers.  Chargebacks are the process by which credit card sales are refuted by the holder of the credit card.  Gamesutra recently sat down with Gene Hoffman, Chairman and CEO of Vindicia, a billing an fraud management company for a Q&A about the state of fraud in the MMO industry.  Hoffman’s views prove to be very interesting:

…. micro-transactions do seem to work fine in, say, Korea!

Gene Hoffman: Americans love “all you can eat”. Even the mobile phone companies have really evolved to all you can eat. We always challenge people to name the bill they get every month or year that isn’t in actuality all you can eat.

Outside of government granted monopolies, most people know what they are going to pay. That said, using a base plus metering can make a lot of sense. It allows you to then offer more subscription tiers that allow your best customers to pay you a higher base and less variable – again much like the plans and pricing that the mobile industry has evolved.

do you have any response to the MMOG Business Models: Cancel That Subscription! article we recently ran?

Gene Hoffman: Business model flexibility is the key issue for all the various games, and the dynamics of the game itself should drive pricing strategies. When game developers are approaching a more casual market it certainly makes sense to give more access and time to get buy-in and adoption.

It follows something we tell lots of our clients, which is “don’t be afraid of giving away what is free to you to acquire more customers and keep them longer.”

That said, we think that it is better to give people larger doses of time to create a base subscription service using tools like “payment method required free trials” and then stack additional micro-payments on a base of something more like a $5 per time period price. We see a lot of game developers and other merchants being too shy about the value of their game which leads them to under-price.

As virtual economies and the games they serve continue to evolve, so will the criminals trying to fraud the publishers.  Luckily though, through articles and interviews with industry experts like Hoffmann, we all benefit by increasing the visibility of security features on the backend that must be closely monitored and continually improved.  At fatfoogoo we’ve tested, developed, and are continually improving and updating our fraud detection methods, thereby giving the publisher one less thing to worry about.

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Wicked Interactive launching Korean free to play titles in North America

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

More and more North American publishers are beginning to realize the benefits of free to play, micro transaction or ad supported business models in the North American market.

Venturebeat’s Dean Takahashi reported yesterday on Wicked Interactive, a Toronto, Canada based company that will shortly be launching new free to play titles in the North American market.  Wicked Interactive will publishing a number of popular, free, ad-supported games from South Korean online game publisher Yedang Online.  Wicked’s chief executive, Stanley Yu said that his company has private funding from angels and institutions, and has 15 staff members.  Prior to Wicked, Yu served as the head of TrekLogic, a Canadian information technology outsourcing firm.

Wicked plans on publishing three of Yedang’s top titles; “PristonTale”, “Priston Tale 2”, and “Ace Online”.  Priston Tale 2 already has 1.5 million registered users in Asia, and was developed over 4 years at a cost of $10 million.  While Yu acknowledges this growing competition in the free to play market, his hope is that Wicked will differentiate itself from others by delivering high quality free to play titles.

While Yedang’s most popular game “Audition,” a dance title with over 100 million registered users worldwide will not be in Wicked’s lineup, Yu said that the company is working on additional licensing agreements over the next few years.  To put Audition in perspective, one of the world’s most popular MMO titles, World of Warcraft, has just over 10 million subscribed users.

Wicked and company face a growing number of competitors, with Outspark’s growing catalogue of free to play titles, along with OGPlanet importing and modifying popular Korean titles for the US market.

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There’s room for both Micro-transactions and subscriptions

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Micro transactions vs. subscriptions continues to be a hot topic of debate in not only the MMO world, but RTS and FPS fans love to weigh in as well.  While certain types and profiles of gamers my prefer one method above the other, it has become quite clear over the past few years that micro transaction based titles aren’t going anywhere soon.  As the ‘standard’ style of play in most Asian markets, the free to play concept originated in Korea with Nexon’s titles first offering players (all players) a chance to play, with available upgrades at a small cost.

While there are a number of offerings that micro transaction titles can offer; casual gamers can play whenever they want, and not be bound to a ‘time based’ subscription, players may choose to upgrade their equipment at a small cost if they so choose, games are not pirated.

Derrick Schommer of Gaming Podcast recently published an article with similar thoughts.  Highlights of Derrick’s thoughts include:

The micro-transaction concept could still help pay for all the overhead of running an online gaming business because gamers tend to be over-enthusiastic about their great addictive games. If you build a game with excellent content, replay value and strive for a community atmosphere a micro-transaction title can work just as well as a subscription based game.

One beautiful aspect to micro-transaction models is paying for content when you’re willing to pay. This includes cosmetic character alterations, basic needs items (health potions) and other products to enhance the playability of the game without requiring the gamer to do so. There will be some gamers that use this as a “free ride” and never buy anything while other gamers spend way too much because they have expendable income which helps balance out costs.

The trick to a micro-transaction game balance is allowing players to enhance their experience without taking away or crippling their game to force a micro-transaction. You do not need a “fire enchantment” which causes a bit more damage and looks really cool, but it can make your character look more sinister and provide slight benefits to battle.

Wouldn’t this make the rich more powerful than those without a lot of cash? It might might them moderately more powerful and definitely more pretty to look at, but it also allows players who would never be able to experience any of the game a chance to play. In some ways, the level ground is already broken in MMO’s like World of Warcraft based purely on game experience… a player who’s been playing for three years and has a level 70 character will dominate a person with casual gaming habits. Nothing in the world is fair, at least this gives lower level characters a chance to spend some cash to get their character on par when they’ve not got time to work through the game with hours of time investments.

Couldn’t have said it any better myself.  Read the rest of Derrick’s article at gamingpodcast.net.

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