Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 24, 2009
Free Realms Trading Card Game

Today is the official release date of the Free Realms Trading Card Game from Topps, although boxes have been sighted in some toy stores already earlier this week. The FRTCG is a simplified version of Magic the Gathering. That isn't necessarily a bad thing: I was certified level 1 DCI judge for MtG at one point, and you wouldn't believe the amount of rules and exceptions and interactions you had to study for that. The Free Realms brand is targeted at a younger audience, and there will be NPCs in the Free Realms MMO playing this trading card game, so both for kids and AI a game with less complex rules is better. Less complex isn't the same thing as dumb, and the FRTCG still offers the familiar and fun combination of resources, creatures, and spells to boost those creatures, which is at the heart of MtG as well.

Nevertheless the boxes of the Free Realms Trading Card Game in toy stores pose a problem: They make it more evident that Free Realms the MMO is missing its targeted release date of April 2009. People who buy boosters will find codes for ingame items in them, but if they visit the Free Realms website they'll only get the option to sign up for the beta, unless they happen to have a beta key. To me it appears pretty evident what happened: SOE and Topps planned a simultaneous release of the Free Realms MMO and Trading Card Game, the MMO got delayed, and for some contractual reason the release of the card game couldn't be postponed as well.

This somewhat embarrasing start doesn't stop me from believing that Free Realms is going to be the next big thing, the next MMO that will get over a million of players. In "number of players" or even "number of concurrent users" it might even surpass World of Warcraft in a year or two. But of course that is because most of these players will be younger than the average WoW player, and will play for free. I do think the Free Realms brand will turn out to be extremely profitable for SOE, with optional $5 monthly subscriptions, microtransactions, and a trading card game in both virtual and paper form. But it won't get as profitable as World of Warcraft. And on the radar of most hardcore MMO gamers, Free Realms won't even show up, unless they happen to have children for which they are looking for a suitable game. For very casual WoW players Free Realms might actually be a good alternative, but it is more an indirect competition to WoW than taking on the market leader head-on. Seeing how the games of last year fared, that is probably a clever move from SOE.
Depending on how the subscriptions and transactions work out, I think there's a niche for Free Realms as a secondary game. None of the major games out there is capable of patching as fast as players would like, so a game where the amount you spend is proportional to the amount you play could do well. Also, there seems to be an unusual amount of interest from MMO bloggers' spouses. :)
I played about 5 minutes of Free Realms, its pretty nice for what it is.

If the majority of MMO players are looking for a place to have nerd companionship while doing fun but not terribly challenging things, then this sort of game will be the future of MMOs. All you need to do is make it a bit less cutesy.
I just recently got into the FreeRealms beta. I predict FreeRealms will do fantastically. Why? I have an 11 and 14 year old girls. The 14 year old plays WoW. The 11 year old plays Club Penguin. I think FreeRealms will be the new stepping stone for tweens who are bored of Club Penguin but the parents don't feel like dishing out the moolah for WoW. Its like WoW Jr. but hopefully won't be filled with all the anal hardcore poopheads due to its "disney"esque look.
The vibe I got was very anti-hardcore poopheads. Probably a magnet for people who think Michael Jackson is misunderstood though. Always a downside.
It's definitely shiny, and not at all hardcore. I could see it doing very well. And, let's face it - the CCG component will definitely help make some serious money. All I could think about while playing was my nieces, who would love it. And free is definitely the right price to get them started.
I tested it out for a bit on Friday myself. It's even got a version of "Tower Defense" in it as a mini-game. Demolition Derby was fun. I *adored* the "mining" mini-game. Frankly, the fighting mini-games were the least interesting of the jobs I tried out. Can't wait until it's released so I can be a "shoooooomer" (snowboarder).

I'm sure my 8, 10, and 12 yr old kids will love it when I have them for the summer also.
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