Free MMOs: A Beginner’s Guide

Free MMOs: A Beginner’s Guide

What Are MMOs? — An “MMO,” also sometimes referred to as an “MMOG,” stands for “Massively multiplayer online game.” An MMO is a game or virtual online world that hosts multiple players–sometimes dozens, hundreds, or thousands–at once. MMOs are played over an Internet connection, and players can typically interact with each other through speech and/or text.

An MMO can be played through a computer, a game console, or even a smarthone or an iOS device like the iPad. Some of them can be played on a Web browser; others require a program install or an app download. All exist and evolve 24/7 whether you’re logged in or not.

MMOs span multiple genres. There are MMOs based on role-playing (very common), themed adventures, puzzles, car racing, shooting, real-time strategy, world-building and other topics. Some MMOs are very competitive and pit players against one another in power struggles. Others are more laid-back and emphasize communication and friendship.

Some MMOs require players to pay a monthly subscription, but the majority of MMOs are free-to-play. That is, they cost nothing to sign up for and play, but many offer certain items, bonuses, levels, and “premium” content for a fee.

How to Get Them — MMOs are easy to find. The best bet is to search Google, along with the genre of the MMO you wish to play (for instance, “fantasy MMO”). You should be able to find multiple websites that run games and/or provide necessary files, or can point you in the right direction. If you have an iOS device like the iPhone or iPad, you can also search Apple’s App Store in the same manner. You can also check social game-oriented sites like for search suggestions.

What You Need to Play Them — Most MMOs run on computers, so securing a PC is a good first step. Some MMOGs run on Macs, too, but not all of them. A few are even starting to appear on consoles now, such as DC Universe Online or Free Realms for Sony’s PlayStation 3. Check the game’s host website for compatibility information, as well as the minimum specs you need to run the game. Games that are more graphic-intensive will require higher specs. For games that run on Web browsers, you may need to update Flash.

You will also need an Internet connection. Broadband access through cable or DSL is best, and may be mandatory.

If your game is tailored for an iOS handheld, you’ll additionally need a stable Wi-Fi connection and an iTunes account.

In any case, if you plan to make microtransactions (buy stuff in-game), you’ll need a credit card or a prepaid (point) card that’s specific to the game you’re playing.

Payments: How They Work — Many MMOs are free to play, meaning it won’t cost you anything to sign up and play them. However, gameplay is typically limited in some manner unless you pay out. For instance, World of Warcraft will let you play the game for free until your character reaches level 20. To go beyond, you must pay.

More commonly, MMOs will let you access all or most of the in-game world, but will offer special items, levels, etc, through an in-game store. These online purchases usually call for small sums, and are thus referred to as “microtransactions,” or micro payments. Microtransactions are typically conducted via credit card or PayPal. Many MMOs also offer specific currency cards at retail, which can be found at game stores, grocery stores, and drug stores.

A few MMOs require an up-front payment for full world access. This is paid on either a monthly or yearly basis, depending on the game.


Are MMOs Rated by the ESRB? — While the content in some MMOs is evaluated and rated by the ESRB, most are not. Keep in mind that not all MMOs are appropriate for children. If you want to screen a game before letting a youngster play it, check the game’s website for information on thematic content.

Are There Parental Controls? — Again, this largely depends on the game. Games that are built with a younger audience in mind often feature parental controls of some kind, such as the ability for a parent to link accounts with his or her child. In this way, playtime can be monitored, and parents can set restrictions on who their child can chat with in-game.

How Powerful Does my Computer Need to Be to Play Them? — Some MMOs need a lot of resources to run smoothly: Others require very little. Check the game’s website for spec information and minimum requirements.

How Long Can I Play An MMO For? — Generally, you can play an MMO for as long as you like, though some tasks can only be completed once per day. Games that give away items also tend to do so once a day, too. It varies from title to title.

Can I Play Alone? — Though most MMOs encourage players to be social by design, and are tough to enjoy without involving other individuals, others occasionally allow you to adhere to a lone wolf agenda. Universally, many of the tougher quests and tasks in an MMO are meant to be completed with friends, however. Also, some MMOs are team-based, which makes going solo a bit difficult.


Free Realms (Adventure) — Sony’s popular MMO revolves around getting a job. Not as a burger-flipper, mind: the world of Free Realms needs pet trainers, go-kart drivers, and other unusual vocations. We don’t know why, but we know better than to question it. Free Realms is colorful and tailored for all ages, meaning it’s easy for kids to pick up, but adults will be surprised at the game’s depth. You can play for free until you hit Level 4. To advance beyond, a membership is required.

World of Warcraft (Role-Playing) — Blizzard’s hugely popular online RPG is now free-to-play until you hit level 20. Azeroth is a huge world that’s crawling with creatures and monsters of all kind. The action’s intense, and everyone should give the game a go at least once.

Gunbound (Artillery) — Gunbound is a tank-based MMO that should feel familiar to fans of the Worms series. Teams take turns shooting one another in adorable tanks with big googly eyes. The horrors of war are blunted when you throw in heavy artillery with an anime influence.

MapleStory (Role-Playing) — MapleStory is a long-running 2D MMO that has retained significant popularity since its release in 2003. Characters beat up monsters for experience points, and interact with other players via chatting, minigames, and trading.

Aika Online (Player vs Player) — Aika is an especially aggressive MMO wherein thousands of players fight each other for dominance of enemy nations. Good after a hard day at work.

Lord of the Rings Online (Role-Playing) — Lord of the Rings Online places you in a beautiful virtual rendition of Middle Earth. There are quests galore and all kinds of neat items to unlock. A must-play for fans of Tolkien’s work. Look over there! It’s a hobbit!

Dungeons & Dragons Online (Role-Playing) — Or maybe the more structured world of Dungeons & Dragons is your style. Dungeons & Dragons Online lets you play as the classes you already know and love, and pits you against hordes of hellish creatures. Some of them may be dragons.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. I would suggest a look at Runescape (http://www.runescape/com)
    Free to play, no lengthy download and an amazing amount of depth to the game.

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