Saturday, October 24, 2009

Enter the strange world of F2P: Runes of Magic

There's been plenty of talk around the internets this last year or so about the wave of "free to play" MMORPGs which is apparently poised to swoop in from Asia and become the next big thing in the West. It's a simple enough concept as an alternative to the traditional Western monthly subscription feee: let people play the game for free, and sell "stuff" through an online store. Make it attractive enough that the people who enjoy the game spend cash.

The closest I'd gotten to the concept was checking out Dungeons & Dragons Online, formerly subscription-based game that went free-to-play as something of a last-gasp attempt to save a game with poor subscriber numbers. Their model is based not so much around an item store as a content store: basically, if you play for free, there are only a handful of dungeons you can access, so you'll need to grind them repeatedly. But for a few bucks each, you can buy access to others, giving a much less repetitive experience.

But recently I decided to check out Runes of Magic, a Taiwanese game, translated and managed in the West by a German company, and apparently a very representative example of the free-to-play plus item store model. They have recently released their first expansion, The Elven Prophecy, have boasted more than two million players (although I take this to mean more than two million accounts created, who knows how many stuck around), and generally seem to be going pretty well. And hey, it's free! Let's see what it's like!!

The first first impression was not great. After installing and firing up the game, it naturally wanted to download a patch. The patching process failed due to lack of disk space - OK, my fault. But the error message had two spelling mistakes in it, and after I had cleared up some disk space, the loader still insisted on re-downloading the entire patch (couple of hundred megabytes) before trying again.

Anyway, that out of the way, once I was in-game the first impression was much more positive. Very familiar in style, with the usual MMORPG second person perspective, unit frames top left, minimap top right, action bars at the bottom, etc. One ultra-brief tutorial later, I was given a goodie bag and a temporary horse and sent on my merry way.

The world is colourful and the sound effects are very gamey rather than realistic - I'm assuming this is the Asian aesthetic showing, as the atmosphere was more like a console platformer than medieval Europe.

Following posts in this series: Runes of Magic: what I liked, Runes of Magic: what I didn't like

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