Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Failing to give 100 bucks to SOE

I like Free Realms, and to not get carried away with microtransactions I decided to set myself an allowance of 100 Euro to buy Station Cash with. That Station Cash I can then use to pay my subscription, buy boosters for the trading card game, buy a pet, and for all other microtransactions. So yesterday I tried for hours to give 100 Euro to SOE and failed.

I tried from inside the game, from the Free Realms website, and from the Sony Station account management site. I tried all three of my credit cards. But all I got was unspecified error messages that my "purchase failed", without explaining me why. Was SOE's accounting system broken? Was there an error in the data I supplied? Had my bank finally run out of money? There was no way to find out.

Finally I found a support telephone number in the in-game help section and called SOE in San Diego. That was a surprisingly pleasant experience, with just a minimum of taped voice (with the voice of the squirrel you see on all those Free Realms screens), just one menu selection, and no wait time at all until I could talk to a customer support representative. The CSR was very nice, but unfortunately couldn't help me either. Even the CSR don't see why a purchase failed, probably due to some privacy laws. But the CSR told me that if I had already tried several times, my account would be now blocked for a week or two anyway, so there was no use trying further. And no, that block didn't come from SOE, but from the company handling their credit card transactions, and the CSR couldn't tell me whether I was blocked or for how long. Thank you for calling!

Meanwhile the Free Realms forums looked rather dead, with more Community Manager posts than player posts. Apparently lots of people are having problem giving their money to SOE. If you don't have a subscription, you can't post on the forums. And even those who managed to buy a subscription were having problems getting their forum permissions set up.

So all in all a rather typical MMORPG launch. Accounting systems breaking down on launch day is a classic. Somewhere, somebody for every single MMO must have made a PowerPoint slide projecting large numbers of subscribers for their newly launched game. And they all failed to draw a line from that large number of subscribers to the fundamental question of "Can our website and accounting system actually handle such large numbers?". And the answer is always "no".

Drumroll for the one big advantage of Free Realms in a typical situation like this: In most other games, if the accounting system breaks down on launch day, you cannot play. In Free Realms you CAN play, you are just limited to the jobs and content available to non-subscribers. And the game itself ran well enough. I had a few disconnects, but nothing really annoying. There even was a "miracle patch", which had fixed the jobs that were broken in the beta! I got further in the mining job in one evening than in the whole beta, where I had been stuck on a bugged quest.

I still plan to give 100 bucks to SOE, but I guess that will have to wait at least one week, assuming they flagged my credit cards as blocked, and they'll need some time to sort their accounting system out. Well, at least I can play.

[EDIT: Problem was resolved 24 hours later.]
Free Realms sounds and looks interesting - and no surpiSe the account systems didn't work. I'll download the client this weekend and give it a go.

If you don't mind me asking How much would I be missing if I only played the 'Free Content' and would I be at a signifigant disadvantage to the other players?

I realize you might have much of an opionin just yet - but might be something to address at some point in the future
You would think that they would have incentives to prevent the system of you paying them money break down more so than any other system there is. Someone out there is crying in the fetal position in a shower, wondering why they are giving bandwidth and server upkeep costs while preventing themselves from obtaining any money.
Managed to log in yesterday and waste 30Euro on boosters. Went wrong a couple of times as well untill I found out that the generally used mm/yy for expiry date needed to be mm/yyyy (hence 20xx)... duh!

Can find me in game as Milon Stormrune. Look me up for a friendly match.
If you don't mind me asking How much would I be missing if I only played the 'Free Content' and would I be at a signifigant disadvantage to the other players?

10 out of 15 jobs are available for free. Thus the main effect of not paying anything would be having some jobs like wizard or blacksmith not available at all. But as the jobs are mostly independant from each other, there isn't really a "disadvantage" compared to other players as long as you stick to jobs like kart racer or chef, which everyone can do.

Two jobs of the 10, pet trainer and card duelist, are available for free, but you'd really be at a disadvantage if you didn't spend any money. If you don't pay $2.50 to $4 for a permanent pet, you can only adopt pets for 10 minutes before they disappear. And if you don't buy any boosters for the trading card game, you'll at best beat the NPCs, but would be at a severe disadvantage in a player vs. player card duel.
Tobold supporting a game that provides in game advantages for real life cash? Didn't we just have a post taking the opposite position a few days ago?
That was what I was trying to explain: If you have a completely vertical, linear achievement game, being able to buy that achievement destroys the value of the achievement. If you have a horizontal, sandbox type of game, what you are buying is not really the achievement, but the access to the content. Yes, a pet trainer with a pet could be said to have an advantage over one without pet. But in fact SOE is really just selling you the pet training content, with the free 10-minute version being pure marketing. And whether you buy a pet or not doesn't influence any other level or achievement from other jobs in that game.
I must second seriouslycasual. I both wonder 1. that you play it and 2. that you pay for it. Free Realms has some really good ideas, but I do not feel excited enough to play it.
I would also pay for World of Warcraft the ONLINE Trading Card Game, playable from inside WoW, if that existed. I wouldn't pay for epics. Sorry if you can't see the difference between those two.
Finally got some time to check the game out last night. The engine, art, and polish are really quite well done. At the same time this game is not *for* me; I have more interesting versions of just about every mini-game in other games. Although I have to admit I was tempted to spend $2.50 for a pet.

I will be interested to see whether this takes off in the tween segment. It has all the right ingredients.
By the way, there really is no "client" to download, most of the game streams seamlessly in realtime and is launched from your browser.

I gotta say the game is really quite fun, and there is a lot of free content. As someone who is not planning on ever paying any real money at all (instead I'll stay a truly no cost player) I realize that I'll be missing out on roughly 1/3rd of the game - which is fine be me - there seems to be so much free content at least initially. One irritant however is the almost incessant need to hammer home the point that I'll be missing out on some good stuff at every opportunity. Quest chains end quite suddenly after having diligently completed the first sevens steps with the fact that to go any further in the chain, membership is required. I realize that this is part of the (brilliant) marketing strat, but it is jarring and really serves to ruin whatever immersion one can get from such a game as FR.

I notice a few more popup messages than there were in beta, pitching the CCG for example, even though I have been playing the CCG for an hour or so already, just minor annoyances and to be expected certainly in this game model. I have noticed several shops where the items you can purchase require Jobs which are membership-only thereby preventing me from purchasing said items from that shop and therefore putting me at a distinct disadvantage. I'm thinking that there will be more things like that which are not immediately evident at first but after having played for a while will be uncovered as putting a bit too much emphasis on a subscription purchase.

It will remain to be seen whether the tradeoff between disadvantages to the free player is outweighed by the brilliance and pure fun-factor of the game world. So far it is. And SOE knows that while there will be many paying subscribers (or at least they hope so) that there will be many many more who never pay a dime. That is just the nature of the F2P genre and they know it. Here's hoping they eventually stop rubbing my face so hard in the mud of being a non-subscriber!
Do you think it has something to do with you being overseas? I had no problems paying them last night, once I figured out I was entering the wrong billing address for my card!

Since there is no advantage, why pay for it? Have we really circumvented the notion that these are no longer games, but social devices instead?
I'm relatively certain Tobold was saying he enjoys card games Chris. hence willingness to pay.
@ Rob:

I was addressing Tobold's statement of: >> "If you have a completely vertical, linear achievement game, being able to buy that achievement destroys the value of the achievement. If you have a horizontal, sandbox type of game, what you are buying is not really the achievement, but the access to the content." <<

In either case there is no distinct advantage of resorting to RMT as a "play" mechanism. At this point you are just handing money over to SOE as part of a social edification treadmill.
Well. I have been trying to check this out for way too long now. I have downloaded Install_FreeRealms.exe and ran it, but it didn't seem to do much. I have clicked through the "Play Now - New Players - Country & Birthdate - EULA" sequence so often that the green buttons are going to haunt me in my sleep. And always I end up on an empty "my charcters" page. I can't create an account, I can't launch the game, I can't do anything. The support pages are not helpful at all. This smells like typical SOE to me, so I probably should be glad that I can't even check it out, let alone give them any money...
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