We show you which MMOs will save you money and are worth your time
It wasn’t that many years ago when a paid-for subscription was the only way you could get your hands on a decent MMO experience. World of Warcraft dominated the online gaming landscape, and its success lead many other companies into the same monthly premium path.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that free-to-play is the future of MMOs. Hell, you don't even need a normal, fully clothed person for that little hop-step of mental gymnastics. Case in point: Even colossal, loincloth-clad barbarians are doing it now. Following in the footsteps of Champions Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest II, and pretty much every other MMO not named “World of Warcraft,” Age of Conan is casting aside its mandatory subscription fee.
You know, when you think about it, Conan the Barbarian is kind of like Santa Claus. He’s offering free gifts to everyone from mid-to-late December and… er, actually, we’ve got nothing. Well, aside from some “sleigh” and “slay” puns, but no one wants to hear those. Anyway, the blood-spattered MMO is offering an “unlimited” free trial, but – despite what the dictionary says about the word “unlimited” – there are a couple of strings attached.
“This trial allows you to play all of the content on Tortage Island - for as long as you want at no cost whatsoever. Please note that a trial account has some limitations to avoid 'spam' and 'gold farmers': you cannot trade with others, use in-game mail, public chat channels and you cannot post on the forums,” says the game’s website.
In addition, sign-ups are out as soon as 2010 is in, so it’s a limited time offer. So hop to it right now, unless you hate copious amounts of gore, scantily clad women, and everything else that America stands for.
Funcom’s quite used to cutting things. After all, Conan and his loin-clothed cohorts typically sport more pointy weaponry than clothing. Even so, we can’t imagine the developer’s recent announcement that it’s axing jobs right and left was an easy one to make.
“Funcom N.V has initiated a program of cost reductions, reductions in head count and use of forced leave (permittering) to better align the Company's operations to the current marketplace. Around 20 % of the staff of the Company will be affected by headcount reductions or forced leave, mostly in the Company's Norwegian subsidiary,” read the announcement.
In addition, the developer’s next massively multiplayer opus, The Secret World, will remain a secret for a little while longer, as its development has been “extended some months.”
Best of luck to all those affected by the lay-offs. We hear those MMO-majiggers are all the rage with the kids these days, so hopefully, you’ll be back on your feet in no time.
Comparing Age of Conan’s dark, blood-splattered fantasy world to those of its competitors is like comparing night to day, so we suppose it’s only fitting that we can’t really see a light at the end of this tunnel.
Age of Conan developer Funcom recently announced its relocation to the pointy edge of a quickly crumbling cliff (artist’s depiction here) – reporting that it lost $23.3 million during its fourth quarter of 2008. The culprit: Age of Conan’s free-falling subscription numbers, which now sit at a mere 100,000 after reaching an all-time high of 700,000.
On top of that, Funcom CFO Olav Sandnes decided to risk a dip in the economy’s increasingly choppy waters rather than continue with Funcom, announcing his resignation with all the optimism he could muster.
"Funcom is a company with a substantial potential based on a unique combination of skill sets in a fast growing global market. I wish Trond Aas and the rest of the organization all the best in realizing the full potential of the company," he said.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. We’ve spent a good deal of the last 12 months hunkered down at our PCs playing every game that’s come our way. The very best of them have pulled us into their imaginary, action-packed worlds and stolen hours of our valuable time—and we love ’em for it! Others, not so much. Here forth is our frank assessment of 2008’s most noteworthy games.
Quality may not always happily skip hand-in-hand with sales (See: Psychonauts, and then go buy it, please), but when it does, we wear unnaturally large smiles, ecstatic that there's justice in this cold, depressing world. You can imagine, then, that our pearly whites are on the verge of breaking free from our unhinged jaws thanks to Mythic's announcement that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has lured 750,000 players into its overtly war-packed world.
"Thanks to our players, the war between the Realms continues to escalate at an incredible pace," said Mythic co-founder and general manager Mark Jacobs.
And he's not just spouting nonsense from his PR-approved book of hyperbole either; Warhammer's 750k sprint has topped those of both World of Warcraft and Age of Conan, who reached similar numbers within three months and two months, respectively.
But don't start ordering Waaaagh Kool-Aid as a refreshment for WoW's funeral just yet. It should be noted that boxed copies of Warhammer Online came with a free one month voucher, cancelling out the game's subscription fee for a limited time. With the game's money vacuum soon to be fully operational, will players stick around for another month?
We sure hope so. Warhammer seems genuinely different from other MMOs, and it'd be a shame to see it sink. Also, gaming just wouldn't be fun anymore if we couldn't constantly tell our friends "It's 'hammer time," before darting off for a play session.
When an MMO begins to feel its bones a creakin', and decides it's time to curl up and die from natural causes (read: WoW), one of the first phenomena an outside observer will witness is the server merge. Generally a result of sudden population deflations from formerly-packed games, when servers collide, the game in question has probably seen better days. Age of Conan, sadly, is one such game.
"I can today confirm that we are actively working on an approach to merge servers, both in Europe and North America," announced AoC director Craig Morrison. "It's important for us to ensure the best gameplay experience for you all, and more healthy populations on each and every server will make sure we maintain healthy communities for the game in the future."
But AoC's troubles don't end there. Funcom, the loincloth-tacular MMO's publisher, may soon be dressing like its scantily clad (but undeniably manly) hero. As of now, Funcom's stock is sitting at a two-year low -- trading for a mere $5.
So, moral of the story? Never, ever prefix your game's title with "Age of..."