A few days ago, Joe and I were sitting down in the office discussing the possibility of taking a look at some free massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. Harry, who sits opposite me eating more cakes, cookies and crisps than just about any human being I’ve ever encountered, overheard a snippet of the conversation and enquired as to what we were discussing. By the time Joe had joined the words ‘free’ and ‘MMO’ together in his reply, Harry cut him short with an abrupt ‘they’re all s***’ and immediately turned his attention back to his work and tasty noms.
This is a common perception. Simple flash games such as N or Samorost can be made by one person with basic coding prowess, a good artistic eye and a measure of inspiration. However larger, more complicated games such as MMOs require a good deal more resources and if you’re giving a game away for free then that’s something that you’re unlikely to be throwing at your project in abundance. For this reason, you often won’t get the production value that you will with comparable retail titles such as World of Warcraft or EVE Online which cost money to buy and money to play.
No purchase necessary: All that's required in order to get some free gaming action is sign up for a free account by giving away reasonable details such as your email address. Beware though. Some games don't provide as many busty wenches as the advertising might suggest.
But that doesn’t mean that free games are inevitably crappy. One way around the resources issue is to run a micro-transaction business model whereby for players can pay cold hard cash (or cold hard 0s and 1s that represent precious metals that don’t actually exist) for in-game currency and items. Even then however, as people don’t actually have to pay any money, it's questionable as to whether you’ll end up with a well made game. Developers are hardly going to front a load of cash for something that might never earn them a cent.
Reviewing an MMO thoroughly is something that takes a great many hours of play. Had you just paid £40 for a title in the shops, you'd be inclined to invest a decent amount of time in it before making a decision on whether or not you're willing to totally set aside any regard for work, chores, friends, loved ones or personal hygiene in order to play it 169 hours a week. However, if you hadn’t paid a penny for the game, it’s unlikely that you would invest more than a couple of hours on it before deciding whether it was worth any more of your time and perhaps searching for another one. To gain a happy middle ground, we’ve decided to play each free game for between 4 and 6 hours before drawing up a conclusion on whether it’s worth a crack or not.
By the end of this feature, you should have a good idea about which ones are going to be the best time killers for when you’re on holiday with your family in the lake district, it’s hammering down with rain outside and you’ve got nothing but your laptop to kill the hours with.