Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) involve many people from across the globe all coming together to play, sometimes in teams. This entry is about free multiplayer online games; therefore games for which you have to pay a subscription in order to play will not be covered here. Some games, like the ones you find on Shockwave, are online games, but again will not be covered in this entry as, although some of these games allow more than one player, they are not massively multiplayer.
There are thousands of free multiplayer online games, some of which can be found at the Multiplayer Online Games Directory, which also features a monthly chart.
Types of Online Game
The most common type of online game is the strategy type. They come in many forms, but most are the same deep down, with different settings (future, past, present, other worlds, etc). These games generally involve being in charge of an area (such as a planet, or a country) and organising the infrastructure of that area. You have to interact with the other players, either in diplomacy or war, in order to advance in the game.
Play By Email (PBEM) has been going on for a very long time. PBEM usually involves RP (role playing - playing as a fictional character that either you made up, or was made up for you), and the basics of this are covered below. However, there are a few strategy titles, but they can be slow, and are tick-based (see below).
Text-based games (eg MUDs: multi-user dungeons) are also very popular. They are usually role-playing games, which involve creating a character (sometimes you can choose the race1 or class/guild2 of your character, as well as the appearance) and then running around killing things to gain experience, so you can become even better at killing things (or doing your job).
There are other types of massively multiplayer games around, such as sport simulators (eg team management games, fantasy leagues...) and action games, but these aren't as popular as the above types.
Different Types of Timing
Real-time - Anything you do is done straight away. You can do as much as you like, usually whenever you like.
Turn-based - During periods of inactivity, or at certain times, you gain turns which you use to do certain things which happen straight away.
Tick-based - Every so often (this can be anything from a few minutes to a day, or even longer) another tick goes by, and you get another chance to do something. You are limited in what you can do, and you have to wait for the next tick before doing anything else. Sometimes what you do takes place straight away, sometimes at the end of the tick.
Many games are playable in just your browser; they require no plug-ins and there is no software to download (some games require Java compatibility, though). Some games, however, require you to download some software and install it, just like a normal game (but usually much smaller). Some games require a plug-in to your browser - Shockwave, Flash, 3dGroove, or even custom programs that the makers of the game wrote. A game's requirements are usually stated on its homepage, and links are generally provided to sites from where the required downloads can be obtained.
TVSOnline - TVSOnline is a superb strategy/RPG which is team-based, browser-based, and tick-based. You play in a space-ship, fighting for your team, earning points as you fight, which add to your total. When your total reaches a certain amount, you level up - this means your statistics are improved, which makes you stronger. There is a turn every three hours, 24/7. This site also hosts 'It's War!'.
Fatelords - Tick-based (15 minutes), browser-based strategy. Restarts every so often, currently in the second round. It's a very good, very polished, space strategy game. You take over planets, micro-manage the resources and the buildings, and then build up an army to take over your enemies' planets. The person with the most points (determined by planets, military power, resources etc) at the end of the round wins.
Wulfram 2 - Real-time action, software-based, 3D, first person, team-based (but on-the-spot), game. Dated graphics and a steep learning curve define this awesome tank-fighting game. Your have a base that you must defend, while destroying the other team's base. To win, you must destroy all of the enemy's repair pads (where dead people respawn3) and kill all the team members. It's great fun; you have the option to attack, defend or build up the base. Set in the future, your tanks hover and you have a variety of weapons at your disposal.
Where Can I Find More?
Check these directories out:
MPOGD.com - Big, commercial, and comprehensive, but beware, some of the games are pay-to-play. Has a monthly chart which the players vote for.
Game2k.com - A one-stop directory for all games, but has a section for online games. Some free, some pay-to-play.
Multiplayer.com - May seem quiet, but updates now and then. It has a lot of games, again some pay-to-play, but it doesn't tell you which ones are.
Top Web Games - Has a weekly chart but not a big list of games.
Gamesdex - Has loads of games, but they are difficult to find due to the awkward layout. Has a chart, but it isn't very accurate.