In this time of white-out blizzards and severe cabin fever, many of us look for engaging mental getaways that don’t involve braving the frigid outside world. One increasingly popular solution over the past decade has involved diving into a richly-detailed world via the home computer or console system. With the proliferation of high-speed Internet access, whether broadband or DSL, the number of persistent-world or “Massively Multiplayer Online” (MMO) games has absolutely exploded. Some, like the recent “Champions Online” release, rely on the strong reputation of the developers (in this case, Cryptic Studios, makers of the similar and successful City of Heroes/Villains games) or the source franchise (the old-school pencil-and-dice RPG, “Champions”) to create demand and attract subscribers. Others, which may have fewer engaging marketing prospects, or whose initial “buzz” has died down, elect to woo potential customers via the free trial. These companies may miss out on the $40 software purchase price (though some offer only limited content via download), but they know that the real cash cow lies in the monthly subscription.
I’ve played around at a few of these games over the years, some more seriously than others. Eventually, these games lose their lustrous appeal, whether because of lacking content/development or simply because the community of player diminishes or degrades. But what about satisfying the persistent jones for living a double life in a compelling sci-fi/fantasy world? Jumping into a whole new world can be a daunting prospect, especially if one has to make one’s decision based on software boxes on a shelf at Best Buy.
After a little searching, I was able to find a nicely comprehensive list of persistent-world games (http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/gameId/0), which includes a number of titles still in development. The list is quite handy, in terms of knowing the genre, developers, cost and distribution options for the games, but doesn’t jump that final, crucial hurdle of documenting which games offer free trials. Skimming through the list, though, one can easily enough navigate to the parent sites for each game, where promotional options can be found. For those interested in MMOs, here’s a short list of the games that will let you try before you buy. And at 10-14 days per game, one can pretty easily while away the remaining winter months by exploring life in a multitude of interesting worlds.
For the “sword-and-sorcery” crowd:
- EverQuest II
- Asheron’s Call
- World of Warcraft
- Lord of the Rings Online
- Dark Age of Camelot
- Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
- Ultima Online
- Dungeons & Dragons Online
For those whose interest lies with advanced technology, rather than magic, there’s:
- Star Wars Galaxies
- EVE Online
- StarQuest Online
As previously mentioned, these are short lists of free trials available to the gaming consumer. Try some out. Find a game that best suits your own personal sense of escapism. That way, when you do decide to buy, in most cases you’ve already got the client software installed and the $30-$50 purchase price you would have spent can be put towards two or three months’ worth of subscription fees.
But maybe that’s just the frugal Scot in me talkin’…