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Free for All

Free for All: Will there ever be another setting like Ryzom's Atys?

Sci-Fi, Screenshots, Culture, Game Mechanics, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Races, Casual, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Sandbox

Ryzom map
Ah, Ryzom. To this day it remains one of my favorite MMORPGs for several reasons. I was reminded just how much I still enjoy the game when I logged in to witness a storm rolling through the land, lightning sizzling from the sky, rain falling straight down on my character's head. The planet that Ryzom players find themselves on is called Atys, and it's no ordinary planet. In fact, it's not a planet at all. Instead, it's a giant rootball that floats in space.

Yes, a rootball.

I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure that a massive rootball is an impossible thing, but it doesn't matter. The game's original designers were French, and if you follow French MMOs, you know they always seem to come up with something completely unique. In this case, Atys is literally made up of a wad of giant roots and bark. I have to wonder: Why aren't there more unique settings like Atys in gaming today?

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Free for All: How a smaller workload affects my MMO playstyle

Screenshots, Culture, Game Mechanics, Free-to-Play, Casual, Humor, Free for All, Miscellaneous

Genia Brain Storm screenshot
As I'm sure you have all heard, we recently went through some budget and workflow changes here at Massively. For me, the revamp meant that I went from three columns, several livestreams, and the occasional news post down to a single column and an occasional stream or feature.

A strange thing has happened, but I can't say that it's uncommon in the industry: Once my workload decreased, my gaming MMO habits changed. I have been sort of reset to the position I was in before I worked so much for this site, back to when I was a silly blogger who wrote and played just for fun.

Allow me to explain.

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Free for All: Why developers need to stop apologizing

Culture, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Free for All, Miscellaneous

RuneScape screenshot
Remember the old saying "confidence is attractive"? Well, it is. It's possible that we've all been the victim of a confident person at one time or another, whether we're buying that extra add-on for our cable package or "investing" money into a Kickstarter. This is exactly why an MMO developer needs to be confident and keep the apologizing to a minimum.

Apologies come in many different forms. Over the course of our lives, we spend a lot of time giving and receiving apologies. It's not as sinister as it sounds; saying "sorry" helps cut down on confrontation and can even help to form new relationships. Unfortunately it's also very easy to apologize too much. In this age of indie development and crowd-funding, developers need to be aware of when they are saying sorry too much, and players need to watch out for overly apologetic people.

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Free for All: Five reasons to continue loving MMORPGs

Business Models, Culture, Game Mechanics, PvP, Opinion, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Free for All, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, MMORPG

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.

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Free for All: Villagers and Heroes adds bells, whistles, and more sand

Fantasy, Video, Expansions, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Patches, Previews, Endgame, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Hands-On, Casual, Humor, Free for All, Family, Livestream, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, Dungeons, Crafting, Housing

Villagers and Heroes screenshot
Villagers and Heroes is a favorite of mine, but let's be honest: The game looks old. When talking to Damon Slye, President of Mad Otter Games, I found that many people agree. According to Slye, it's one of the most frequent concerns he hears from potential new players. The engine that the game currently uses is old and needs to be upgraded big time. And that's just what the developers are doing with this large patch and expansion that should be due in early March.

I sat down with Slye, Associate Designer Cameron England, Head Writer Sarah Skibinski, and Head Artist Adam Alexander to discuss just how different the game will be once the patch goes live. I was given access to a test account loaded up on gear, cash, and other goodies. Even though I found my backpacks full, I mainly wanted to look around the game and explore. Fortunately, the difference between the original client and the new one is literally night and day.

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Free for All: What my Raptr stats say about my gaming style

Fantasy, Culture, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, MMOFPS, Free for All, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Raptr stats screenshot
I've had a love/hate relationship with Raptr, the free game tracking service and social network. I used it much of the time when it first came out but then fell out of love with it when it stopped detecting many of the indie and browser-based MMOs that I played. I picked it up again recently and have been attempting to keep it going any time I game. I like being able to communicate with people through the network, but I mainly enjoy looking over my stats as a gamer to see just how flighty I can be.

The system isn't perfect, of course. Either I need to set the app to start when my PC does, or I just need to get better at remembering to start it when I begin a gaming session. And even though I play many, many different types of games and MMOs, the network still doesn't automatically recognize many of the smaller titles I like to play.

So even though there are some gaps in my wall, I thought it'd be interesting to look at the info there to see just how much gaming I am doing.

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Free for All: Can roleplay rise above the sexy stuff?

Business Models, Culture, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Roleplaying, Free for All, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, MOBA

Velvet Sundown screenshot
Recently I logged some time in Velvet Sundown, a new pseudo-MMO that places players into small, instanced roleplay groups of 11 characters aboard a ship in order to solve a mystery or to otherwise "win" a roleplay session. It sounds strange, but it really is a very interesting idea. Each character has a different angle on the game, and depending on how that character interacts with the others, he or she also has many different ways of achieving goals. The game also offer a decent text-to-speech tool that gives more life to the characters.

I logged in and was assigned to play the character Malik, who was something of a wise man. My apparent goal was to find a spy, hire a thief to steal secrets, and look for other players who were from the same background. I was also assigned the task of blessing people in the hopes of gaining new disciples.

Excited, I logged in and approached a group of players. Almost as soon as I did, I was disappointed. Within minutes several players were talking non-stop about women's underwear. At first I thought it was part of the story, but then I realized it was simply another great roleplay opportunity taken down by a few jerks.

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Free for All: Thoughts on SOE's mass MMO sunset

Fantasy, Screenshots, Opinion, Vanguard, Free-to-Play, Casual, Free Realms, Kids, Free for All, Clone Wars Adventures, Wizardry Online

Free Realms screenshot
Sony Online Entertainment recently announced the upcoming closure of not one or two but four of its titles. Those titles are Free Realms, Clone Wars Adventures, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and Wizardry Online. The announcement hit most of us pretty hard, even those who weren't active or interested players. Four titles just feels much more like a move of desperation than one or even two games. And for players like yours truly, MMOs like Free Realms and especially Vanguard hold a very special place in our hearts.

Having said that, I will never wager solely on perception. It's my guess that SOE does indeed know what it is doing and that some of this is due to licensing issues, new games from similar developers, or an attempt to streamline an already fat lineup in order to get ready for one or two massive new titles. In other words, there is no conspiracy. It's most likely that this decision was due to boring old business.

I decided to break down what each game meant to me in the hopes that the confessional will get me ready for the upcoming sunsets. Here's to hoping.

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Free for All: My three favorite MMOFPS games have a shoot-out

Sci-Fi, Video, Culture, Game Mechanics, PvP, PvE, Opinion, War, Free-to-Play, Casual, MMOFPS, Humor, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Livestream, PlanetSide 2, Sandbox, Defiance, Firefall, Buy-to-Play

MMOFPS screenshots
I love a good MMOFPS or MMOTPS. A good one. Currently, I have three favorites: PlanetSide 2, Defiance, and Firefall. I have enjoyed other shooters in the past, games like Mechwarrior Online and APB: Reloaded and even a handful of standalone titles. There's something in a shooter that satisfies on a primitive level, some sort of textural quality that when done right can generate a good gaming session of zoned-out, open-mouthed pleasure. There's something even cooler about a multiplayer version of the same genre. I don't mind killing baddies alone, but blasting the face off of a monster is a lot more fun with dozens of other players around.

As you can see, I have a problem. Let's forget the fact that I play way too many MMOs as it is because between these three games I can easily kill a weekend and leave no room for games that I need to write about. That means I need to pick a favorite. Let this be a shootout to determine which MMOFPS will be my home. My awesome, loud, deadly home.

I've nominated three categories and will pick a winner for each. May the best shooter win!

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Free for All: An interview with Ever, Jane's Judy Tyrer

Betas, Real-Life, Trailers, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Previews, Casual, Free for All, Crowdfunding, Subscription

Ever Jane screenshot
Ever, Jane caught my eye as soon as I read about it. I wish we had access to more non-combat MMOs, or MMOs that attempt to do something so different that they are hard to categorize. I have to say that I had never read a word of Jane Austen -- the author whose books Ever, Jane is based on -- but I didn't care. If anything, the interesting gameplay described by Judy Tyrer, the creator of the game, made me want to pick up a book or two.

Of course, the game is barely in a playable state at this time and will likely be in development for a time longer. Still, the MMO genre needs games that takes chances, or we'll all find ourselves stuck on some hamster wheel of grind. I asked Judy a few questions and she surprised me with some of her answers. She's been making games for a long time, so hopefully you'll be hearing more from her here on Massively for a while!

Let's get to the interview.

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Free for All: The confused state of Firefall's first few hours

Betas, Sci-Fi, Screenshots, Game Mechanics, New Titles, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, MMOFPS, Humor, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Sandbox, Firefall

Firefall screenshot
As part of my research for an upcoming article about MMO shooters, I have been playing a lot of Firefall. There are definitely worse assignments in the world. I really, really enjoy the game; I love the fact that I can do almost anything I want even within a short play session and feel as if I accomplished something. Of course, the current enlightened state I am in does not reflect the game's non-newbie-friendly designs. As a matter of fact, the only place I was able to turn for reliable explanations and non-stop answers was a reader of Massively who recognized my name in the chat.

This reader and I have played together several times, and he went out of his way to answer all of the newbie questions that should have been answered by the game. I know that the developers have said (through Tweets to me and in other places) that a better newbie experience is on its way. There are also friendly little helper robots sprinkled throughout the game and a handful of helpful videos that can be found as well.

So why are so many new players still confused about Firefall?

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Massively's Third Annual Frindie Awards

Fantasy, Screenshots, Game Mechanics, Ryzom, Wurm Online, Opinion, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Browser, Mobile, Casual, Virtual Worlds, MMORTS, Free for All, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Frindie Awards
It's time once again for me to throw out my awards for the best of free-to-play, indie, and oddball MMOs, a real niche-within-a-niche. It might seem that I am assigned many of these titles as though I were some modern day Mikey, but the truth is that I get a huge thrill out of finding a new game but get even more of a thrill when I realize that no one is covering it. I had to really think hard about the criteria for the awards this year, mainly because "indie" is quickly becoming one of those often hard-to-define words, alongside "MMORPG" and "free-to-play." Fortunately, I think I know it when I see it.

I kept my choices to games that I have actually played this year. I wanted to avoid games that appear to be really cool. If you want a more broad batch of prizes, check out Massively's best of awards. (Side note: I voted for Defiance as my game of the year.)

These awards are for games that are being created on a shoestring or independent of massive budgets. Some of them are connected to some money, of course, but instead of trying to define "indie," I will only repeat: You'll know it when you see it.

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Free for All: Revisiting EVE Online's newbie tutorial

Sci-Fi, EVE Online, Culture, Game Mechanics, PvP, PvE, Opinion, War, Free-to-Play, Races, Humor, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Sandbox, Buy-to-Play

EVE Online screenshot
I might leave the EVE Online number-crunching and analyzing to Massively's Brendan Drain, but my personal history with the game is long, however, and I have proudly reactivated my 2004 account (complete with a 10 million skill point character) once a year to see how things are going. I generally spend several hours playing and getting used to the changes but end up playing other games for columns like Rise and Shiny.

This time around, I thought I would try something different. I was spurred into action by the recent Steam sales, one of them offering an EVE Online Starter Pack for something like two bucks. (Now it's almost $5.00) It comes with 30 days of time, some special newbie goodies, and a booster to help skills grow faster. Sure, I could have reactivated my old account for $15.00 (and probably will after this is over), but I wondered how making a new character now would compare to what it was like all those years ago.

It turns out that it's still pretty darn cool.

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Free for All: The rising cost of early access and exclusivity

Business Models, Culture, New Titles, Opinion, Free for All, Crowdfunding, Buy-to-Play

Aura Kingdom screenshot
Here I sit, waiting to log into Aura Kingdom, a new Anime MMO by Aeria Games. The beta I am going to log into is the Founder's Beta, an exclusive early-access pre-closed beta that had an entrance fee starting at $19.00 and topping out at $299.00. Yes, 300 US dollars. I'm not trying to appear judgmental in my emphasis, but I do think that this provides more proof to the theory that prices for virtual items are continuing to climb.

And why shouldn't they? I've talked before about selling power and how its slow climb will likely not stop. Just like selling exclusive or early access, selling powerful, useful in-game items most likely makes money. Something like a Founder's Pack offers useful in-game items and exclusivity, a very tempting concoction that many find too hard to resist.

Is it fair to offer early access for such a price, and will other titles have to respond to the success of such sales by creating their own?

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Free for All: Two weeks on a private Infestation server

Screenshots, Video, Bugs, Business Models, Game Mechanics, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Livestream, Sandbox, Buy-to-Play

Infestation screenshot
I remember when I first laid eyes on Infestation: Survivor Stories. It was GDC Online in 2012, and I did an interview with Alex Josef, Hammperpoint's PR consultant We made a quick trip to the press room, where he popped out a large gaming laptop to show me the game. I was really impressed with how simple its premise was: You're dropped in the middle of the wilderness, there are zombies all around, and you can starve to death. It felt great, as well, sporting realistic lighting effects and systems to simulate hunger, thirst, and sound.

So much has happened since that first meeting. I am very, very aware of all of the drama concerning the developers -- the name changes, the patches, the community issues, and so on. I am not writing this to discuss that part of the story. My specific goal over the last couple of weeks was to see whether playing on a private, paid-for server would give me a different experience than Massively's Mike Foster's. During his time with the game at launch he was, to put it mildly, miserable.

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