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The Free Zone: A Few Seasonal Gift Wishes

By Richard Aihoshi on December 20, 2010 | Columns | Comments

A Few Seasonal Gift Wishes

The holiday period can mean different things to different people. In my case, being nominally Christian, I celebrate Christmas. However, since I'm not devout, my primary focus lies outside the religious meanings and traditions that others hold far more dear. What I most care about is that people generally become at least a little more thoughtful, cheerful and considerate. Although it's unfortunate that this spirit of goodwill quite often seems seasonal and thus temporary, I very much enjoy it while it lasts.

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No matter what your beliefs, I wish all of you - even the grinches - a positive, happy end to 2010. Furthermore, in relation to the MMOG space, especially the free to play sector, I hope these gifts will be found under the appropriate trees where they will be most appreciated.

The gift of fresh and new

It's a subjective and therefore personal matter, but as a generalization, this year didn't seem to bring very much truly fresh and new. While there were new titles galore to try as well as expansions and updates aplenty, nothing pops to mind that caused me to think "Wow, that's different."

Intellectually, I understand that as MMO gaming grows and matures, it's increasingly difficult to innovate. The reason is simple; more and more things have already been tried. Emotionally however, I still want to see things that are fresh and new. Since it's clear I'm far from alone in this regard, I hope the year ahead will bring us something truly fresh and new, although to be frank, I don't know how much room there is for optimism.

The gift of fun

During 2010, I saw a number of games implement significant changes that gave me the impression they decreased the fun quotient. In one I play relatively often, this happened twice, and contributed to some long-term, high-level players deciding to quit.

I'm talking about design decisions where it seemed immediately obvious to me they'd cause many players to have less fun, and my first thought was to wonder what possible reasons the developer might have other than change for its own sake. To be clear, the number of instances wasn't huge, but every single occurrence was one too many.

I'd love to think this won't happen in 2011, but that would be a pipedream. Instead, for myself and anyone who felt similarly this year, I'll settle for wishing it will occur less often.

The gift of improved communication

It's certainly a generalization, but I'm of the opinion that during the time I've been covering MMOGs, the industry has slowly drifted in the direction of communication with the audience becoming less personal - more talking to or at people and less with them. While I'd agree that the genre's growth made it impossible to maintain the old status quo, the pendulum has swung farther than I would have liked.

For example, there was a time when project leaders and key team members were allowed to make themselves much more accessible. Those so inclined would interact with fans regularly, sometimes even multiple times in a day, most often via forums. How often do we see such communication now?

And that's not all. Another trend that has progressively manifested itself is political correctness. Whether I've agreed or not, I've always greatly enjoyed seeing informed opinions that aren't universally held or even widely acceptable. While it was never really easy to obtain such perspectives for publication, it also didn't used to be as difficult as it has become.

Once again, I don't see great reason for optimism, but that won't stop me from wishing and hoping for at least a few instances outside the current norm.

The gift of tolerance and acceptance

My understanding of why some people are so set against the concept of F2P is definitely less than complete. It's better - or at least not as bad - at the rational or intellectual level. On the emotional side, I cannot grasp why they seem so invested in being so negative, especially when many say they've sworn off ever trying one again.

I'm not nearly naïve enough to think I can change such individuals' minds. So, this gift wish isn't aimed at them. Rather, my hope is that their ranks won't grow any more. It's completely fine that some people happen not to like F2P and choose to avoid it. But it's an undeniable fact that millions play games that use this business model. I'm glad to say that in 2010, I think the overall levels of tolerance and acceptance somewhat improved. And this time, I am optimistic that 2011 will be better still.

The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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