This year, the Free 2 Play market grew perhaps more than it ever has before, opening the floodgates not only to the stereotypical imported style of game, but also to more traditional fare for the western market.
While some subscription fee purists may choose to dismiss the item shop and completely F2P aspect of the genre, it is would be irresponsible for us to do so with our awards and this year's group of nominees in the category of Best Free 2 Play MMO provide five great examples of why the business model shouldn't be left out in the cold as it so often is.
One game, however, stood out among the rest as the Best New Game of 2009. The nominees were:
The Winner: Dungeons and Dragons Online
We decided to throw a Best F2P MMO of 2009 category into the awards mix this year because as a business model, this was the year that free to play really came into its own here in the Western world as it becomes a more practiced. The game that perhaps personifies this transition best is also the game that we have awarded our best F2P MMO of 2009: Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited.
When the game first launched in February of 2006, as a subscription based service known then as Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach, it was heavily criticized for its liberal use of instanced dungeons. While the game may have been designed to mimic small group Dungeons and Dragons pen and paper play, the subscription audience seemed to pass the game by in favor of more familiar design styles.
Turbine, the company responsible for the game, smartly recognized that something needed to be done with the game and in 2009 announced that DDO would move from a subscription fee to free to play revenue model. While many around the MMO business were dubious of the decision, believing that a game should be built specifically for the F2P model in order to be successful, the opposite appears to have been true as the game, by all reports, is thriving under its new banner.
Runner Up: Wizard 101
While you may not hear too much about this kid-friendly MMORPG, it is another example of the free to play model finding success in a saturated Western market. While the surface similarities to the universe created around a certain boy wizard and his wizarding school are hard to ignore, Wizard 101 may have been a case of the right game at the right time for its creators at Kingsisle Entertainment, providing players young and old a unique experience that they would have a hard time in finding anywhere else.