Here I continue my voyage from the other day. Where were we? Taking design tips from the F2P MMORPG Fiesta Online., which is an example of a (relatively) dated game that does a superb job of bringing players together, despite the game’s outdated gameplay. Now let’s look at another: Runes of Magic.
Runes of Magic is repeatedly placed on top 5 lists of MMORPGs. Gamers have called it a WoW clone; critics have claimed that it’s gameplay is a few steps ahead of WoW (check out Runes of Magic’s reception on Wikipedia if you don’t believe me). It’s been hated on, fiercely defended, thoroughly marketed, and today it is one of the best (if not THE best) MMORPG on the free-to-play scene.
Online gaming website Massively‘s Shawn Schuster highlighted the range of crafting abilities in the game, as well as the ability to gain proficiency in them all without penalties. “Runes of Magic has these features we see in a triple-A MMO, yet it’s a free-to-play RMT-based game.”
That speaks loads about the game. Here is something that goes toe-to-toe with the biggest and the best and comes off grinning, with a playerbase of around 5 million players, no less. RoM is proof that F2P MMORPGs can be as good as AAA titles and still work.
Alright, let’s take a look at what RoM offers.
No mistake: RoM raised the bar for F2P games by several notches. Not in graphics (points to Aion), but by cleverly mixing familiar gameplay with new, deeper stuff – and giving it away for free.
Consider the world. World of Warcraft has its 11.5 million paying players, but there’s millions more who don’t play WoW. Nevertheless, they’d love to get their hands on what WoW offers – except they don’t want to pay. They’re the free gamers. They burn through F2P MMORPGs and patrol the F2P publisher networks by the millions. The problem is – nothing as good as WoW is free.
Enter Runes of Magic.
On the outside, it seems pretty similar to World of Warcraft. It even looks similar. Better yet, it’s got an incredible array of quests and stuff. Hey! It’s like the free version of WoW! Let’s go download! After all, there aren’t any real alternatives other than Allods Online, with it’s dwindling player base and patches. Ugh. Runes of Magic it is, bro.
Install. Login. Play.
AND THEN . . STACK ON THE GAMEPLAY
And then comes the kicker, because Runes of Magic layers gameplay like icing on that WoW-like cake. Dual class systems allow a total of around 30 class combinations. Surprisingly, you don’t get overpowered Mage/fighter combos everywhere – players actually need to use both classes carefully to survive. PvP systems that make you more potent the more kills you get – but also make you more likely to drop your items when killed. Skills. A halfway decent story that doesn’t get in the way of bashing mobs. Blah. Blah. More blah. Put together it all and you get an excellent game. The traditional Mage vs Fighter PvP complex is gone, because the dual-class system allows even glass cannons to wade into the melee.
This is incentive, pure enough. Players have the opportunity to play a game that’s actually comparable to WoW. For Free.
Once in, players realize that this game is deep enough to (virtually) die for.
The lesson: incentive. Give players incentive to come, incentive to stay, and do it via gameplay. Not graphics: the MMO world has proven that people will stick to any game as long as the gameplay is good. Having gorgeous dark elven chicks won’t help if you give players just the standard Kill 10 Rats quest. RoM settles for OK graphics and gets the job done.
Give them gameplay. Not free cash shop items, or useless events. Integrate incentive at the core of your game. Give players good reason for playing. Give them quests; RoM launched way back with 600+ quests, which is a massive amount for an F2P gamelaunch. It didn’t stop there: the journey continued with expansions in the form of chapters. There’s style, polish and even festivals. Incentive to keep playing.
RoM, like many games, takes a leaf out WoW’s book and give players skills, like crafting. It should be noted that WoW took them from EverQuest, and so on, but back to the point – take an existing mechanic, but don’t just copy it: make it better. RoM could have differentiated itself much, much more (perhaps with a different story) but it improved on the established mechanics well enough to make it a great game in it’s own right. As one reviewer put it at the end of his review: From my ‘brief’ experience with Runes of Magic, it was wrong of me to think of this game as just another World of Warcraft clone.
Another thing that surprised me about RoM is how well the cash shop works. RoM is not a Pay-to-Win MMORPG, like the majority of free games out there. RoM sells extras. Instead, the majority of the stuff in the cash shop are mounts (which are awesome, but not absolutely necessary) and stuff like exp-bonus potions.
RoM doesn’t offer as cosmetic a cash shop as Eden Eternal, though. Instead walks a fine balance of developer profit and player experience, often with a minimum effects to gameplay. In the case of those exp potions, if you don’t have money, you simply need to spend more time with the game – a fair trade. All the other stuff is cosmetic – for the most part.
Small benefits of the cash shop will show up around level 50 or so. By that time, you’re hooked. The good side is that these can still be ignored entirely; if you’re broke, like me, they don’t break the game. But by this time players have invested enough time, effort and are enjoying the game enough to justify these purchases. Developer win. Ultimately something has to pay for those servers.
Lesson: don’t make players HAVE to spend: make them WANT to spend.
Even then, it’s a damn good deal, and it’s still cheaper than subscribing.