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Virtual Worlds

Free for All: Comparing the payment models of Second Life and Pocket Legends

Business Models, Opinion, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Free for All, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Second Life and Pocket Legends screenshots
Over the last few weeks I have been taking a look at different free-to-play payment models in the hopes of showing just how much variety there is in today's market. The term free-to-play is open to interpretation, and every time I become involved in a discussion about what the term means, I come to the same point: Show me the game and I'll tell you how "free" it is. While more titles than not can be enjoyed completely for free, it's important to note that every game needs to make money, so every developer hopes some players pay for something.

We also must note that the term "free-to-play" is almost like the term "rock-and-roll." It is a general term that can be broken into many sub-genres. In other words, don't be so uptight about the literal meaning of the word. If you are not sure, check out the game in question.

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Free for All: Old Second Life documentary still highlights truths

Real-Life, Video, Business Models, Culture, Opinion, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Virtual Worlds, Free for All, Sandbox

Second Life documentary screenshot
So I was working on this week's Free for All last night when a buddy of mine asked me if I had seen a certain older Second Life documentary. I didn't think I had before, but it turns out that my usual record of consuming everything MMO still stands, and it was fun to re-watch the older documentary again for several reasons.

One of the most important things I noticed about the film was just how universal to MMO gaming the documentary was. The issues it brought up are still issues, the problems with virtual worlds are still problems, and the fact that any technology older than six months looks laughable on film is still true. It was also encouraging to see how well Second Life has aged since 2007, but it's slightly depressing to see just how horrible MMO documentaries can be at showing the entire picture.

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The Game Archaeologist moves into Lucasfilm's Habitat: Part 2

Virtual Worlds, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

Last week on the exciting cosmic adventures of the Game Archaeologist, we uncovered the ancient civilization of Lucasfilm's Habitat, one of the early predecessors to graphical MMOs. While we talked about how it came to be and pondered just how much money we'd waste if game companies were still charging by the minute, we didn't have the time or space to cover the community and events that formed around this experimental project.

That day has come. Prepare your bladder for imminent release!

Giving a bunch of players tools to do every which thing in the game and turning them loose without strict regulation might seem like a recipe for an instant sewage pit of a game today, but our cultured, classy behaviors weren't quite trained into us in 1986. When players first set eyes on Habitat, they weren't thinking of min-maxing, kill-stealing, or raid progression; they were trying to make sense of a virtual world using the only frame of reference they had to date: their own lives. Out of a melting pot of ideas and objects came fascinating stories from one of the earliest MMO proto-ancestors of the modern era. Get your '80s on as we head back... to the future!

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Portions of Twinity virtual world taken offline

MMO Industry, News Items, Legal, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

Twinity - Avatars partying
Twinity users are experiencing a bit of lawyerly inconvenience according to virtual world blogger Tateru Nino. Portions of the Metaversum GmbH sim have been taken offline for unspecified reasons, and Nino speculates that "someone's team of undead zombie lawyers woke up and started asserting intellectual property rights and licensing restrictions."

The Twinity project makes use of both Google Maps and 3-D data to recreate cities like Singapore, London, Miami, and New York, but patrons will need to put their online party plans on hold for the time being.

Twinity's dev team posted a cryptic explanation, along with its intent to "try to reactivate the cities in the future."

The Game Archaeologist moves into Lucasfilm's Habitat: Part 1

Video, MMO Industry, Virtual Worlds, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

For some of you reading this, you may simply never have known a world before the internet existed by virtue of your age. It's not your fault, but as generational divisions go, this was a biggie. The internet saturates so much of our lives now that it's even difficult for those of us born prior to the '90s to remember how we functioned without smartphones, Google searches, and terabytes of cheap entertainment on demand. I think there were video game arcades in the mall or something.

Because of this, some of you will not understand the import of how it felt when technology advanced to the point that people could reach out online and interact with others, first through written communication and later through applications and games. What we take for granted in today's MMOs -- the constant presence of thousands of real humans interacting with us in a virtual space -- simply blew the minds of those who first encountered it.

And way back when, those encounters depended on the person and technology available. Some folks had access in the '60s and '70s to the early form of the internet and email in universities and government offices, but these close encounters of the virtual kind only started to make its way into households in the '80s (and even then, mostly to those plugged into the geek community). The developers of these programs -- the MUDs, the BBSes, CompuServe, etc. -- were truly pioneers forging a path while trying to figure things out on the fly.

So it amazed me to hear that I've been missing out on a key part of MMO history by overlooking Lucasfilm's Habitat, which wasn't quite an MMO by modern standards and yet created a graphical virtual world with many of the elements that were adopted into later projects. In our two-week look at Habitat, we'll see just how eerily similar this 1986 title is to what we know today -- even though it came out on the Commodore 64.

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Some Assembly Required: A virtual world roundup

Fantasy, Super-hero, Aion, Anarchy Online, City of Heroes, Darkfall, Dofus, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Fallen Earth, Final Fantasy XI, Flyff, Lord of the Rings Online, PlanetSide, Ryzom, Wurm Online, Opinion, Second Life, Star Trek Online, Ultima Online, Vanguard, RuneScape, Free-to-Play, Virtual Worlds, Mabinogi, Mortal Online, Wizard101, Runes of Magic, DC Universe Online, RIFT, Xsyon, Family, Post-Apocalyptic, Some Assembly Required, Sandbox, Origins of Malu

Some Assembly Required header
If you are perusing this column, chances are you are a fan of virtual worlds and the sandbox genre. Join the club! (Dues will be due on the third Tuesday.) The aspect that compels many aficionados to delve into a game is the ability to make an impact on the world in some small respect instead of making them into Hive Member 1593072 running a static, predetermined gauntlet. How that impact is accomplished, however, varies; there are multiple features that can facilitate it, and which ones are considered most important depends on the player.

With the loss of one of the best sandbox games just last month, some players may be feeling a void. Others still are looking/hoping for the "ultimate" sandbox that contains nearly every virtual world feature. Certainly, there are some upcoming games that make some drool-worthy promises, but what about playing something now? There are actually games out on the market that have at least one aspect of the genre, if not more.

To start off the new year, Some Assembly Required looks at some of the top features of virtual worlds and lists games that incorporate these features. While this list isn't exhaustive (considering the sheer number of games when you include all of the smaller free-to-play titles, I'd run out of column space!), it is a comprehensive enough overview to point you toward some games worth playing that perhaps you hadn't considered before.

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The Daily Grind: What's the coolest ride you've had in an MMO?

Culture, Game Mechanics, Opinion, The Daily Grind, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

Sure, it looks like a cool trip, but the insurance premiums are murder.
One of the universal aspects of MMOs is the fact that you have to cover some distance. And not just a few feet in any given direction -- no matter how instanced, you'll be getting from one end of the map to the other on a regular basis. In some games, such as Guild Wars, this is accomplished with easy teleportation, but most games give you some other way of getting from place to place. Sometimes it's a mount, and sometimes you ride a javelin from one point on the map to the next for a specific quest.

Maybe you think the coolest ride you've had has been a mount, perhaps a motorcycle or a ravenous beast. Maybe it's been a form of static transport, like an airship or a boat. Or maybe you thought the coolest ride ever was something unique to a given quest, like riding a bomb down to a new quest area. So what's your choice for the coolest ride to be had in an MMO?

Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!

Second Life rolls out Linden Realms publicly on December 1st

Culture, Game Mechanics, News Items, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Browser, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Next month, raid content.
Something very unusual is coming to Second Life on December 1st: a game. All right, that in and of itself isn't all that unusual, since the virtual world has long empowered users to create their own systems and their own games. But this is still something different because it's not a user-created game. Linden Realms has been developed specifically by Linden Lab, and as of December 1st all users will be able to experience what a first-party game for the virtual environment feels like.

Second Life content creators will, rather unfortunately, be facing off against an in-house project. Luckily, the tools used in the development of Linden Realms will also be made available to the community, giving everyone a chance to play with the new tools and improve upon gameplay experiences. Whether or not this is a good thing or not for the game's overall health remains to be seen, but it may well provide an interesting boost to the community's user-created content.

MindArk announces Planet Calypso land grab

Economy, Events (In-Game), News Items, Virtual Worlds, Planet Calypso, Miscellaneous

Screenshot -- Planet Calypso
MindArk's Planet Calypso is certainly one of the most unique virtual worlds out there, due in large part to the fact that the game's real estate is bought, sold, and traded for real-world cash. Land management, however, has generally been an activity for the ludicrously rich, with some properties costing as much as 500,000 USD.

MindArk looks to change that, however, by introducing a whopping 60,000 new plots of land (each measuring at 100 square meters) that can be bought for the (relatively) low price of 100 USD. Each deed that a player purchases "entitles the holder to a share of the 50% planet partner Gross Revenue generated by Planet Calypso." So if you've got a few hundred bucks to blow on virtual real estate and want a piece of the pie, head on over to the official site and sign up.

Rod Humble details experimentation and innovation at Linden Lab

MMO Industry, News Items, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

Linden Lab logo
Linden Lab's popular Second Life is known for being one of the more creative, outside-the-box titles available on the market. That tradition carries over into Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble's newest initiative, which he says "puts the 'lab' in Linden Lab." Rather than having his developers spend all their time between projects working on bug-fixes, Humble has begun a rapid-prototyping R&D initiative. For all the information on this new project, head on over to Gamasutra and check out the full feature.

Earth Eternal development on hold once again

Betas, Fantasy, Free-to-Play, Virtual Worlds, Earth Eternal

It's been a tough ride for Earth Eternal. We first heard about the original developer, Sparkplay, only days after Massively came into existence in 2007, and we've been following the company ever since. Earth Eternal was voted one of Beau's top F2P games in 2010, as it was enjoying quite a strong run that year -- even to the point where Sparkplay mentioned creating more games outside of EE.

Well, that soon ended as the company ran into some serious financial problems that led to the game's hold status. Fast-forward a year, and the game was reborn with a new developer (TurnOut Ventures with OutBlaze)! It re-entered open beta status and looked to be on the road to recovery.

Well, the rollercoaster is back on the descent, according to the game's forums. It turns out Earth Eternal's development is once again put on hold until further notice. The servers are still online and the game is still playable, but the small development team at TurnOut has been relocated to other projects. So right now, it seems to be a completely free game with no cash shop.

We'll be sure to keep you up-to-date on any further news we hear.

[Thanks to Keith for the tip!]

Free for All: Massively single-player does not an MMO make

Business Models, Opinion, Browser, Virtual Worlds, Free for All, Miscellaneous

Sims Social screenshot
Oh, the constant attempts at defining how we play. While many of them might seem strange or even laughable, they are all attempts at defining something for the sake of streamlining the sale. If you cannot describe your product to someone, especially in very few words, then it probably isn't going to sell. A while ago I attempted to define what MMORPG means, but I would never pretend that I'm the first one to attempt to do so. After all, the games have changed, the way we connect to them has changed, and the interactions we have with each other have changed. So why not the term?

Nintendo seems to think that "Massively Single-Player" makes for a good description. It's a slightly odd one, if you ask me, for many reasons. But let's look at it anyway and see how it might fit into the world of MMOs.

Click past the cut!

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One Shots: Electrobit City

Galleries, Screenshots, Second Life, One Shots, Virtual Worlds

Second Life screenshot
Today's screenshot features a name we don't often see in One Shots: Second Life. Massively reader and SL fan Kaozz sent us this unusual view from on high:
This is not something you see every day, kind of like a tribute within a game. I thought I'd submit this very cool picture from Second Life. It is an aerial view of a player-created sim called Electrobit City. I thought it was just awesome.
We're all about looking up this week on One Shots! Show us your favorite aerial image -- whether it be taken from the ground looking up or from atop a high-flying mount or tall perch, we want to see! Add your name and a little bit about the image, send it in to oneshots@massively.com, and we'll feature it in this week's One Shots!

Next week we're throwing the ball back to you. There's no theme and no requirement; just send us your favorite screenshots and tell us why you love them. Ready, set, go!

The Daily Grind: What zone creeps you out?

Opinion, The Daily Grind, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

Mor Dhona is far creepier than it has any right to be.
In the early levels of pretty much every MMO, the setting is idyllic. Sure, there are rats that could devour a housecat in abundance, but the environment feels fairly sedate. Once you get into the higher levels, however, you start walking through regions that are less welcoming. Some of them just feel unreal and alien (Final Fantasy XI's Promyvion regions), while others are real environments pushed far beyond the breaking point (World of Warcraft's Shadowmoon Valley). Whatever the cause, though, there are definitely spaces in the game where you really don't want to own a house.

Every person's tolerance of creepy is going to be different, and for some people the opening of RIFT in the midst of a bleak and hopeless future is going to be creepy enough. But we're not going to tell you what the creepiest possible region of a game world is; you're going to tell us. So what in-game zone makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, and why?

Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!

Sony reinventing PlayStation Home to be more like an MMO

MMO Industry, Consoles, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

Playstation Home
PlayStation Home was a hugely anticipated feature for console fans, one that ultimately garnered mixed reviews and apathetic affection. Due to the reception, Sony has decided to reinvent the game lobby-slash-virtual-world to incorporate the best of themeparks, MMOs, and social networks.

When it relaunches this fall, PlayStation Home will look radically different, resembling a sleek mall with plenty to do and faster functionality for those who want to get right to their games. But between playing commercial titles, gamers are encouraged to hang out for a while, which is where MMO elements come into play.

The new Home has a number of districts, as an amusement park would, and in them players can pick up quests, go on treasure hunts, and explore these video game-themed zones to find hidden mysteries. Sony also promises that it will incorporate persistent, ongoing stories, similar to those you'd find in MMOs, such as an alien invasion that affects all of the areas.

Sony is hoping that the 23 million Home users will embrace this new experience and form stronger social connections through it.

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