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Pay the Man


You see it all over the place. Nearly every message board, chat room, and Q&A section has someone (sometimes many people) asking "where can I find an MMORPG that's free to play?" There's certainly nothing wrong with that question. After all, a game being free does add to its appeal. Any way to avoid costs is good, right? But then things escalate. When simple games like Maple Story, Faldon, and Adventure Quest are deemed "not good enough" for the askers, things get more complicated.

From there, it's often discovered that the asker is looking for something in full 3D. That's okay because there's still lots of free stuff out there. The next suggestions are generally things like Knight Online, Planeshift, or Eternal Lands. Sadly, these suggestions still rarely satisfy. The same people come back from those games--perhaps without even really playing them, but just looking at their websites--and ask for more. "There wasn't a deep enough skill set," they say. "The graphics aren't nearly as good as EverQuest II," come the complaints. "It lacked the huge Realm vs Realm combat and high quality PvP that I got used to in Dark Age of Camelot," one may reply in dramatic disappointment. Wow! What a shocker! You totally have every right to be surprised! You mean a free game lacked multiple features that pay-to-play ones have? Let me sit down while I try to comprehend this curveball.

Ready for another startling revelation? It costs money to maintain these games. Having thousands of people concurrently using your servers runs up a bill, believe it or not. On top of that, having a full staff of customer service reps isn't free. Then, add in the fact that all these patches, live events, and content upgrades are made by dozens of programmers working full time jobs and, well, you're going to need to get money from somewhere. The world sizes, content, and player bases of the free MMORPGs just can't compare to the big names.

One argument compares MMORPGs to offline games. What? That's a pretty off-target comparison. MMORPGs are constantly gaining new content upgrades. You can keep playing Final Fantasy Tactics all you like; while it's fun every time, nothing will be added to the game. Playing an MMORPG a year (and probably just a few months) after starting will most certainly be different than it was in your first days. For example, EverQuest II has added 15 Dungeons, a new mail system, revamped solo and small group questing, and over 1,200 new quests since its release only 8 months ago. Going to go find some new dungeons in Xenosaga? Let me know how that goes. You might as well be arguing that watching video tapes of the same sports games over and over is better than paying for cable and watching the current games.

Now let's have fun with pricing. This editorial is not to claim either type of RPG is "better" than another—that would be to defend the concept of monthly fees to blind haters—but let's compare paying for an MMORPG to buying offline games. In buying a new offline RPG, one is paying $40-50 for anywhere from 25-50 hours of entertainment. Buy a game every month? Even every two months? You're looking at $120-200 in a four month period.. On the other hand, buying a hot new MMORPG for $30-50 (I can only think of WoW being 50, I'm just being nice), play that for your free 30 days, then three months on a three-month plan for $13 a month, your total will be $79-89. And keep in mind, that's for as much playtime as you want. There's no endgame after 50 hours that means you either have to buy a new game or start doing the same things over again. As said above, MMORPGs are enormous to begin with and change all the time. This is why people play them for years and years. And before you say "I've played through FFX 22 times," realize that you finding something you didn't see before didn't require any computer programmer to update the game *after* it had already been released, and just because you're entertained by the same story over and over doesn't put the game on the same level as one that delivers new gameplay and more story on an almost constant basis. See what I meant about the comparison being unfair?

I love when people say, "What about Guild Wars? That's free!" Guild Wars is a tricky subject. Turns out, we were all faked-out by Guild Wars. The game is not really an MMORPG. Sorry, everyone thought it was, MMORPG sites and columns covered it like it was, but honey, an MMO it ain't. Said sites and columns still cover so as to not look like we were so wrong; it's too late to back out now. I could say something about covering it because it appeals to the exact same crowd as MMOs, but that would lead me too far off topic. Guild Wars is a fine game and all, but the fact that it is entirely instanced eliminates the "Massive" aspect that MMORPGs are famous for. It's an RPG that must be played online, but not Massively Multiplayer. And even with that game, the expansions will cost money.

In the end, if you keep wishing for the latest and greatest features in your MMORPG, but complain that you can't find them in a free game, think about what you're saying. These things cost money to develop, cost money to maintain, and cost money to expand. If you don't want to pay the monthly price, then don't. Heck, you can even play, take a few months off, then come back if you like. It's really not a big deal. $10-15 a month is actually cheaper than countless other hobbies out there. So if you're going to be all bitter at MMORPGs, be bitter for some other reason. Whining about a monthly fee just makes you look stubborn and ignorant.

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