Thoughts on Browser-Based and Free-to-Play MMO’s

This is somewhat in response to Aaron’s recent post about getting different people playing online games (beyond those of Bejeweled and Diner Dash, etc.) It’s basically a mish-mash of ideas I have about browser-base and free-to-play games and their future (in my opinion.)

I came into work today and noticed that another person I worked with was playing Runescape. He’s a high school student, so still pretty young, but before I saw this, I would have never expected to find him playing an online fantasy-based game. I’m sure that he wouldn’t be willing to pay to play a game such as EQ2 or WoW, but even with the somewhat poor graphics, the game is interesting enough for him to play it. This really got me thinking about the endless possibilities for browser-based games.

The glory of browser-based games is that they of course don’t need a client to run, meaning you can log in and play on virtually any computer. Furthermore, they are usually free. This means that for younger people who don’t have access to a credit card or for older people who aren’t willing to give it out right away, can give it a shot without getting too invested in it.

While there are definite graphical limitations with a browser-based game, a good number of the people playing them aren’t really going to be graphics snobs. They either won’t know any better (being the younger crowd) or they won’t care, because they enjoy the game play enough (older crowd) and they haven’t really seen how good a full-fledged MMO can look. Furthermore, even if they know there are games with better graphics out there, they expect this because the game is free, and they understand that that for the most part means something has to suffer, and better for it to be graphics than game play.

SOE seems like they are trying to get their foot in the door with this market with their new game coming out later this year. While I’m not sure that FreeRealms (a free-to-play game) is going to be browser-based or run from a client, the idea behind FreeRealms running straight out of the browser would be brilliant. Have a quirky, witty persistent world with a wide variety of mini-games to hop into seems perfect. John Smedley said his goal is that parents as well as their kids will be able to enjoy this game. This would mean that not only could parents watch their kids play without being bored out of their skulls, but possibly even play alongside them. If they can create a game that can capture the attention of both parents and children the number of accounts would be unimaginable, especially if a client isn’t required.

Areae also seems like they plan on toying with web 2.0 rather than just another standard MMO, so it will be interesting to see whether they try to hit up this market. I believe Raph said they aren’t really aiming for the typical MMO audience, which leads me in this general direction, making a far more approachable game for the average person. After all, their “mission statement” is,

Areae, Inc. is a company dedicated to taking the tired old virtual world and making it into something fresh and new. Something anyone can jump into. Something where anyone can find something fun to do or a game to play. Something where anyone can build their own place on the virtual frontier

While I can’t be sure that they are going with a client-free game, or that it’s a F2P game, I think they pretty much go hand-in-hand with their goal. Furthermore, I’m not even convinced that this will be simply a game, but rather more of a world where you can play games if you choose, while doing a lot of real-life things as well… a Second Life 2.0 kind of thing in my estimation.

Most of the time browser-based online games either have an item mall or an upgrade option. I’m sure Runescape has a payment option of some sort. Adventure Quest has a Guardian membership for $20 that gives you access to more items, gear, locations, quests, etc. but you don’t have to if you just want the basic game. While I think $20 is a little steep (especially since it’s only for one character, and not the whole account) for a child to convince their parents to pay for, this system is pretty intriguing. A one-time fee and you can play the game on any computer with an internet connection since it’s Java-based. FreeRealms is going to have an item mall to purchase certain items while making the game itself free. Nearly every Korean F2P game follows this model, and it seems to be pretty successful. This is a great way to get some funding for the game while making it free for the majority of players to enjoy themselves.

While I don’t know if this would in turn bring more players to the style of MMO’s we play now, it will definitely make people more aware of them (although WoW did a great job of this already) and it will reduce the stigma associated with online games (especially adults who play them.) I’m really surprised that the bigger players haven’t really tried to tap into this market already, but it definitely won’t be long before it happens, in fact it is starting to happen — there’s simply too much money in it not to.


P.S. This is probably my longest post yet, and not revised and edited as much as it should be, but hopefully its understandable and thought-provoking anyways J Also, as Areae has been really close-lipped about their new project, almost everything I’ve described is speculation and simply what I think they are going to try to do, so take it with a grain of salt.


4 comments so far

  1. Sue Baskerville on

    There’s no actual evidence to suggest that Areae exists, is there?

    Have any coders or graphics designers or any personnel other than Raph Koster been identified?

  2. kanthalos on — John Donham is the VP there with an unbelievable number of games he’s worked on for more than a decade. Also Cuppycake recently got a job there as community manager (or something like that) so there is plenty of evidence to show that they are working on something, they just haven’t said what exactly.

  3. Raph on

    Oh, we exist, and in fact we’re fully staffed. 🙂

  4. Bildo on

    My guess on what it is? Telletubbies Online… am I right, Raph? Shhh… I’ll keep your secret.

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