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Guild Wars Column: A Sub-Genre?

By William Murphy on April 21, 2011

I don’t play a lot of F2P games.  As a rule, I usually find the subscription based titles to be far superior in most every way.  This held true enough until Turbine started toying with the model, and converting their games to a hybrid sort of model.  Like it or not, Lord of the Rings Online is one of the most well-rounded theme park games on the market.  And now?  I can play it for free for as long as I’d like.  And with that, the way in which I view most F2P games was forever changed.  I mean of course there was Guild Wars before that, but I suppose I never really considered the original GW in the same canon as the DIKU MMOs of my adolescence.  But I think there’s a whole different kind of F2P game out there, one that I tend to view on a completely different scale than games like LotRO, Champions, or DDO which have made a switch from subscription. 

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Games like Vindictus, Atlantica, and Silkroad Online fall under the MMO tent, but they’re all very different from what we as a community call “real” MMORPGs.  Many share features of the games that we’ve come to love over the years, but they all feel inherently different somehow.  Maybe it’s the culture bred by having an in-game cash shop, the immersion-breaking nature of the whole thing as it were.  But let’s not get started on “immersion” in MMOs right now.  When someone tries to tell me they get immersed in an MMO, I wonder if we’re playing the same kind of game.  I mean these are basically prettied up spreadsheets of achievement and real immersion in these games as a virtual world is a long way off… but wait, where was I? 

Ah yes, F2P games.  We can call them MMOs.  Many can even categorically be called MMORPGs.  But are they truly of the same cloth as an Everquest or even a World of Warcraft?  Or does the very nature of their revenue model change them into a whole different kind of game entirely?  I ask this because I’ve been thinking a lot about this problem as I start my review of PWE’s Forsaken World.  For a F2P game, it’s actually very well done.  But if I stack it up against something like Rift or even DC Universe my preference would obviously be the latter two.  But as I critique the systems and the execution of Forsaken World even I can recognize that there are bright spots in the game which deserve laudation.

MMORPG.com and its covered list of games has grown with the industry.  If you look at our game list, there are over 400 titles listed.  But in Asia, there were probably that many games released in the past year or two alone.  Sure you or I might not be able to distinguish one from the next, but my point is that this genre has grown into something more than we ever probably dreamed it would, and is still growing and changing.

And here’s my quandary: I’ve already stated that I tend to review games with a mind toward a school grade scale.  In essence, it will take a lot for me to give a game an “F”, because that means it needs to utterly and completely fail at everything it attempts to do.  Only one game was released recently that deserved that honor, and I did not review it.  But do I need to look at F2P games as though they’re on a completely different grade level than subscription titles, or do I need to hold every game to the same standard?  Are F2P titles third graders while subscription games are making their way to middle-school?  I honestly think that we have to review F2P games in comparison to other F2P games on the market, based solely on fact that they don’t cost money up front to give them a go, and a good one can generally be played without spending money for the majority of the content.

Bah, I’m rambling.  Again.  How shocking.  But I really do think that we have to review F2P games as separate from subscription-based games, at least for now.  The standard revenue model of the industry is changing, and will probably be broken wide open when a certain sequel hits the market.  Maybe then we’ll really have to start rethinking how we approach all types of MMOs.  In fact, I think we’re already being challenged to do so.  Maybe it’s high time that revenue model be tossed out the window as factor in a game’s worth.  In any case, I think the gaming media puts far too much weight into some numerical score to determine a game’s fate.  I don’t care about the score of a review, when I read a review I want information on the game and how it plays.  Take away the score, and if you can read you’ll still know whether a critic enjoyed something or not.  But for now, we’re stuck with the numbers, so what do you think?

Should F2P games be rated on a scale all their own and separate from pay titles?

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Bill Murphy
Bill Murphy came on as a full time writer with MMORPG.com in 2010, his extensive knowledge of the genre and ability to turn a phrase have been a welcome addition to the MMORPG.com team.
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