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Free-to-Play and Freemium: The Future of MMOs?

As a gamer, nothing tickles my fancy better than having to play online games. Back in the late ’90s, if you wanted to play with friends, you have to go to your nearest computer gaming shop to play the latest LAN games (and that would mean saving a lot of student allowance just to play for the games). Nowadays, LAN games and computer shops are still prominent (from where I came from), though in my case, I play most of the time at home now.

Online games is the norm now. And nowadays there are a LOT of online games to choose from. There are those games that are fantasy-based (which is the most staple for MMORPGs), sci-fi, slice of life or even casual gaming (mostly browser-based games and such).

But like any other games, they come at a price. And there are difference for that, too. For this discussion, I’ll just limit the games for the PC, though there may be titles that are also available for the console (ie PS3, XBox360).

Free-to-Play (F2P)

Free-to-play is an idea by game publishers to offer the game to players for free. That’s right, free. No worrying of expiring game time, the game (once downloaded by the client), isn’t crippled or such. You get the whole shbang and patches and future updates without really paying for anything. So where the heck do these publishers get money from the game if it’s free?

Advertisements and item malls.

Advertisements are common form in many F2P games.

They put their sponsors’ logo in either loading screens, the HUD of the game interface, and such. Item malls, on the other hand, sell in-game items that are not available by looting or dropped by monsters in any area of the game. These items may either just make your character look cool, or consumable items that help you in grinding your quests so you could level up faster and easier.  Transactions could either be by credit card, bank account or through game cards used as in-game currency.

Sounds good, right? Yeah, too good to be true at times.

I’ve had a bit of experience on F2P games, and I tend to get bored easily with that kind of business model implementation. I mean, can’t the game be played enthusiastically without relying on items that boost you to your character’s 150% potential and blast your way through your quests? Or maybe buy a new set of armor that doesn’t really do anything but makes your avatar cooler by a factor of 10 because the armor costs like your whole month’s salary compared to the other vanity armors available in the item mall?

And don’t get me started with lag. Oh, how many F2P MMORPGs aren’t affected with massive lag in-game? A LOT. And there’s nothing you can do about it; you can’t complain that to the tech support because the reality is there are just too much players logged into the server and just choking the heck out of it. That’s what you get for free.

At times I think those make gamers addicted so much to games and lose reality (and possibly their sanity, but let’s not go there). Not to mention burning a deep hole in your pockets, if it hasn’t already been burnt.

Those things take out the fun in gaming. Well, maybe Team Fortress 2 is that one game that I’m willing to make an exception…..



It's free! It's fun! Up to level 2 only.

Freemium is another business model that most MMOs are adopting. It is essentially giving away service for free, but other features and perks will cost you a significant amount of money to shell out.

The most used example for this is anti-virus software nowadays. A lot of AV companies are giving away ‘lite’ versions of a full AV program of theirs. The ‘lite’ version works well, but you won’t get any tech support or anything else for that. If you wanted more features, they’ll offer you several, full versions of their product.

There are some MMOs that use this business model. Sure, downloading the game’s free, but you’ll be stuck with the basic configuration, like limited number of character slots, access to areas, etc. What game does have this kind of transaction? This one:

That dragon isn't going anywhere until he buys them drinks he owed them the previous raid.


It may sound wrong to some people.

Pay-to-play is simple to understand: You pay to play the game. MMOs that have this model are the ones who have full control of the game, ie. the game developers are also the publishers of their own game. With this, there’re no other gimmicks: no vanity items, no boost items, no need to pay up more for access to other areas. You just subscribe, pay a certain amount on a certain duration (usually on a monthly basis), and that’s about it. Oh, you do have to buy the MMO game first. Nothing’s free in this one.

And the classic example: Blizzard’s cash-cow MMORPG.

Twelve years since its release, and still going strong. Strong enough to destroy the Alliance scum.

Yes, I am totally biased with this MMO game. You just by the core game, you get a free one month game time to get the feel of the game. Need more game time? I hear Amazon sell game time cards, or you could even use your credit card (I dunno about Paypal, though). Of course Just buying the core game limits you to an extent; buy the expansion sets (3 of them available, with 1 more on its way this year), and you get the full experience of playing your character in the world of Azeroth.

Of course, Blizzard sometimes give away perks once in a while. If you’re lucky, they’ll email you and say, “We miss your character in Azeroth! Here’s 7 days of game time for free.” Or, in my case, I’ve been out so long from the game, Blizzard emails me and say, “Someone wants you back in the game! Click the confirmation link, and you get to download all 3 expansion sets, level up one character to 80, and a chance to change your realm (server) or allegiance (Alliance or Horde), all for FREE.”

And it’s no joke. I got all those freebies like they said. Now THAT’S customer service.

Will Pay-to-Play be ever abolished?

I doubt it. With problems such as intense in-game lag that F2P games suffer, F2P will never displace pay-to-play. The quality of service between the two are very, very different, as well as the tech support these guys put into. As for freemium, it’s not a viable business model; that one’s more applicable to non-game software.

I suppose it all boils down to this age old mantra: You get what you pay for.


Dead or Alive Dimensions: aka My Return to the Fighting Genre

Dead or Alive Dimensions (US ver)

I know, I know. DOA Dimensions was released around May-June of last year, so you could say this review of mine of the game is a pre-etty-darn late. But heck, I only got to buy a 3DS this January, and Dimensions only this last weekend. I’ve got other priorities, man.

So to start off, Dead or Alive Dimensions is the most recent fighting game that I’ve played so far. The last I’ve played preceding this was Tekken: Dark Resurrection that was ported to the PS3 a few years ago (if I remember correctly some called it Tekken 5.5, because it was basically an update for Tekken 5 for the PS2, as originally Dark Resurrection came out first for the PSP).

Why the sudden change of pace? What gives, man?

I admit I’m much of a Tekken fanboy when it was still much of rage way back. And graphics-wise, Tekken 2 (the first Tekken that I’ve played) was ahead of its time. Unlike the blocky and chunky-looking characters of Virtua Fighter.

Don’t get me wrong: the controls for Tekken are really complicated, even up until now: 2 buttons for punch (left and right), 2 buttons for kick (left and right too), and a whole lot of other combination of punches, kicks, punches and kicks, as well as directional combinations. But yeah, when executed properly you get juggles, unstoppable rush punches, or seeing your opponent get pounded to a pulp. It was a lot to take in, but once you get the hang of it, it’s almost muscle, or rather, finger-muscle memory for you.

I came across the Dead or Alive game way back when it was first released in the arcade. I was waiting in line for my turn on the machine for Tekken 3 when I spotted the DOA machine, demoing some AI-versus game and Kasumi and Lei Fang doing their katas (I dunno the proper term for it for their respective martial arts, as kata is “form” for what they call it in Karate). Then one guy sat down in front of it and began playing DOA, and I was impressed at the moves and the characters.

Sure, Tekken has female fighters as well (not to mention the King of Fighters series, Virtua Fighter AND Street Fighter), but this is the first game I saw that has a woman as protagonist. Not to mention delicious graphics-goodness (yes, for that time).

I tried a few battles on the DOA arcade, and I was impressed by the moves and combinations. I decided then that I’d buy a copy for the PS so that I could play at home.

Let’s fast-forward things a bit: I never got to play DOA 2, then DOA 3 and 4 were released as XBox-exclusive titles (I never was an Xbox-type-of-guy). Then when Dimensions was announced for the 3DS, I made up my mind that I’ll skip the PSP and the Vita and settle for a Nintendo handheld console.

The Rave

So, what’s new in Dimensions? Well, to start off, it’s basically an updated Dead or Alive compilation, story-wise and graphics-wise. The Chronicle Mode features the storyline from the point of view of the main protagonists from every DOA game, and the final segment is from the point of view from another character. So if you’re a DOA fan and have played thru all DOA 1 to 4, you’re not going to get anything new from this game, sorry.

Arcade Mode features several “Missions”, wherein it’s differentiated in difficulty levels. The opponents of every mission in Arcade Mode is fixed, by the way. Also, ranking here is based on time-attack (unlike in Tekken wherein Arcade and Time Attack  are two different Modes). Survival Mode is also divided into Missions, from fighting against 10, 30, 50, and finally 100 opponents. And every 10th opponent is a boss character.

The Pluses

Gameplay-wise, Dimensions use the movelist/combat system from DOA 4. So if you’re a veteran, fighting against opponents (AI or otherwise) will feel natural for you. For beginners, on the other hand, there’s the digital instruction menu displayed on the second interactive screen of the 3DS, and you can use the stylus to tap a combo that you want to execute. This is a good thing when you’re practicing, but rather useless when comes to actual fighting. When tapping for combos, that is. But scrolling for reference of a combo that you liked….well, maybe. As long as you can like, use the D-pad/analog stick to evade the enemy lest you want to be pummeled to submission.

DOA Dimensions Digital Instruction screen

I haven’t tried the local wireless versus mode, as I’ve yet to find another person who has a 3DS with a Dimensions loaded on the cartridge slot, nor even Streetpassed another person for a local Throw-down match. Though I’ve got to try the versus mode over the internet (read more below).

There’s also the costume collection. You can unlock several costumes of characters when accomplishing a mission from either Arcade or Tag mode. Some characters have up to 4 costumes, 2 by default and 2 more unlocked. Then an additional of up to 3 more costumes via DLC (thru Spotpass), which is free of charge of Tecmo-Koei (squee, thanks so much!). The DLC costumes were initially released last year, then was re-released again at a later date for those who missed it (including me!!). Check for the link below for the schedules.

From left to right: Kokoro in French-inspired suit, Kasumi's black kunoichi piece, and Lei Fang's all-leather halter-top-and-shorts costume. All available via Spotpass

Finally, there’s the Showcase “gameplay” mode, where you collect figurines of various characters in their different poses. The figurines are collected in-game from the different types of missions, or thru Spotpass, or even by spending coins collected by the 3DS pedometer system. In the showcase mode, you can create your own diorama of sorts by taking a picture of your character of choice, in one of many poses/costumes/scenery combinations, and 3D pictures can be taken as long as 3D is enabled on your 3DS. The pictures are saved into the SD card, though it can only be viewed in Dimensions, not in the default picture viewer of the 3DS, as every picture is encrypted. If you want to view your shots on your computer, you have to get a decrypter program first (I won’t give any links about that, sorry).

Display of the Showcase mode

The Rage

With all this praises, what’s there to complain? Well, not a lot, but it’s worth taking a look. For one, the Tag Team Mission is a letdown. I was expecting a Tekken Tag-esque type of gameplay, wherein you can control your choice of tagmate, but sadly, no. Your tag team partner will always be controlled by an AI, and most of the time, your AI partner’s as dumb as a rock. Which is pathetic.

Another beef I have is the online versus mode. Not the local wireless or Streetpass mode, but over the Internet. Connections are wonky, and framerate suffers so much that your fight staggers to a mere crawl in terms of graphics speed. Sure, turning off the 3D slider all the way down may help at times, but if your opponent is from the other side of the world, expect total slow-motion fights.

Lastly, is the difficulty of the AI. Easy is easy indeed, normal is an acceptable difficulty, but hard and the next top difficulty, it’s almost impossible to defeat. I mean, you try to land a blow at your opponent, and all s/he does is catch it and throws you back. With ease. Multiple times. Flawlessly. WHAT’S UP WITH THAT SHIT??!

Seriously, the game can do without the SNK Boss Syndrome.

All in all

Dead or Alive Dimensions is a great fighting game, lots of features, and even the collecting part is fun. If you could look past the cheating AI, the crappy online play, the worthless tag teammate AI, you’re golden.

And oh, let’s not forget the breast physics…..well, it’s good eye-candy, especially on winning poses and cut scenes, but when you’re too distracted by your favorite character’s boobs…

….oh well. Boys will be boys.

Links to the good stuff

Official Dead or Alive Dimensions webpage

A good wiki about Dead or Alive Dimensions

Schedule of release of DLC costumes