If you’re looking for something to do over the holidays, you might want to consider taking a crack at Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa MMOG – it’s free!

Of course, the downside to the no-cost angle is the fact that the game will be shut down at the end of February. That news was actually made public on November 21, less than two weeks after it was revealed that Richard Garriott, the man behind the game, was leaving NCsoft to pursue “other interests,” and only two months after the publisher issued a statement denying that Tabula Rasa was at risk of being canceled.

But whereas most doomed MMOGs typically refuse to take on new customers, Tabula Rasa has thrown in a twist by continuing to accept new players while it plays out the string. Just go to the PlayNC website, create a new account (if you don’t already have one) and then request a serial number from the NCsoft support site. The game’s client is available via a public FTP server. A credit card is required for identification when setting up the account, but no charges will be billed to it.

It’s unfortunate that Tabula Rasa ended up like this, because it did bring some new ideas to an MMOG genre that’s drowning in World of Warcraft clones. There’s no question the game was overhyped and promised far more than it delivered, and I can’t help but think that it might have fared better if it was simply Tabula Rasa, rather than * Richard Garriott’s * Tabula Rasa. But the bottom line for any game is that it isn’t enough to just be different: Not sucking is important, too.

And for the conspiracy-minded: NCsoft seems to be going to a lot of trouble to attract new players to a game that’s being closed in two months. A news post on the game’s site provided detailed (and awfully upbeat) instructions for both returning and brand-new players, not the sort of thing you’d normally see from a game that’s facing imminent shutdown. NCsoft has been pretty clear that this is the end, but they were also clear in September that it was not the end. Is it possible the company has something in mind for the property beyond the end of February?

Thanks to Ars Technica for the hookup.

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