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Garrett Fuller: The Rise of the Indy MMO

Column By Garrett Fuller on September 30, 2009

This week I wanted to outline the new market that is opening up in the MMO space. The independent market has started to produce games that are getting noticed by players. I want to outline four games that do not have major ties to publishers, corporations, or the money monsters that have been washing their hands with MMOs in recent years. These games are created by smaller studios with smaller budgets, which allow freedom and more potential for profits. The hundred million dollar MMO studios out there might learn a thing or two from the indy studios who are finding niches in the MMO market and building games that players want.

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Wizard 101

The first game is Wizard 101. The game has become a huge success for KingsIsle Entertainment. It did not have the corporate power of Nickelodeon, Disney, or Cartoon Network behind it; these guys were on their own. What they have done is created a kids game that also appeals to hardcore adult players as well. The game is fun first and the business model followed second. Wizard 101 is a true example of success in the kids MMO market. Not only do they offer micro transaction options, but they have a subscription plan, and a family subscription plan. The game has upwards of five million registered users, but those are just numbers. The real test is to log into the game and check out the zones. There are players everywhere especially in the opening areas of the school. Wizard 101 is a great example of what an independent game can become without rules and restrictions. Pointy hats off to the guys at KingsIsle, they created a great game.


Fallen Earth

The next example is a game that just went into full blown launch, Fallen Earth. Fallen Earth has been a survivor in the MMO market. I first saw the game at E3 2006 and was happy with its post-nuke, Mad Max style. First impressions of the game have been positive despite the bugs and tech problems an independent MMO can possess. The game offers a skill based system, six factions, and a targeting interactive combat system. It combines what veteran MMO players know with some new ideas. Lead Designer Lee Hammock has said in the past that it is a niche MMO. Well that niche seems to be paying off. The game launched against Aion and while Aion’s news involves server queues and numbers, Fallen Earth has found a buzz in the media and among players that the game is actually very cool if you give it a chance. The game now has a growing community and is building up its street credit. The fact that it remains independent means it can make changes to the game that players want. They don’t have to go through endless approvals to get things done. They can look at feedback and work with players to make the game better. The jury is still out on Fallen Earth, but the game has a buzz and players are listening.


Alganon

Another example of an independent MMO to watch is a game called Alganon. Alganon is being made by Quest Online. It is a fantasy MMO with all the trimmings and some great additions which make the game really appealing. The Study System alone is very cool for character advancement. In talking with David Allen from Quest about the project he is very excited that the game is being made independently. There are no corporate strings attached and Alganon has a great plan to work with player feedback. We went to check out Alganon a few weeks ago and MMORPG came back impressed with the game. The buzz on Alganon has been growing as well. The game is still in early beta, but is looking to start adding more players soon. It will take some time before a full Alganon launch, but the best part is they are not tied to corporate deadlines. If you are lucky enough to get into beta be confident that your voice will be heard. The game looks good and plays very well, hopefully it will launch to success and players will have a new place to explore that is an original world with some great game play designs.


Global Agenda

Last, but certainly not least, is Global Agenda. Global Agenda is another independent MMO that is being made by Hi-Rez Studios. Again the buzz is growing around Global Agenda and at E3 the build we saw looked fantastic. Fast paced content, action packed, with some cool character designs and agencies (factions), this shoot’em up MMO looks like it will launch before SOE’s The Agency. The game has some strong PvP elements which any good spy game should have and offers players a great experience away from the fantasy MMO market. Global Agenda has been doing short beta bursts to get player feedback and has been listening. The company is not bound by the corporate money machine and is working on pure passion, something gamers definitely respond well too. Many are excited about Global Agenda’s beta and launch and Hi-Rez has been great about working with players. Hopefully the recipe adds up to a success.

So there you have it, four MMOs on the horizon and not one being made by a corporate monster. In this day and age the greed of corporations is causing a mess out there. Sorry if you don’t agree but I have seen too many people lose their jobs because of budget cuts and bottom lines on a stock report. The independent MMO companies are taking a huge risk, but with that risk is passion and belief in your game. Wizard 101 has proven that success can be had. Fallen Earth, Alganon, and Global Agenda are all surrounded by a positive player buzz. Every game in this article ranks above an 8.0 on our hype rating. That is pretty impressive. As gamers we are always looking for something new to play, these games are coming out and could very well fill our needs for great MMO game play without the corporate hype and changes other big titles have suffered from. So keep an eye on the horizon, the age of the independent MMO is dawning and it looks to be a bright future for all of us.

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Garrett Fuller
Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997. He originally joined MMORPG.com as a writer in 2005. In 2007 Garrett went on to handle Industry Relations for TenTonHammer.com. Then, in July 2009, Garrett happily rejoined his old team at MMORPG.com as the site's News Manager. Garrett lives in Hillsborough, NJ with his wife, son and daughter.

His column appears here every Wednesday.
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