Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 22, 2009
New York Times review of Free Realms

The New York Times is not all that well-known for keeping you up to date with all the latest MMORPG news. A game has to be hugely successful and mainstream to get coverage in the NYT. Thus the glowing review of Free Realms is significant.

And their remark that "For Sony Online, Free Realms is a triumph of the company’s own reinvention." is spot on. In 2004 SOE lost the duel EQ2 vs. WoW by a huge margin, and EQ2 being less accessible certainly played a big role in that. With Free Realms they now created a game that got 1 million players (not subscribers) in 3 weeks, and will certainly continue to make news with increasing multi-million player numbers. And while a million FR players will produce less income than a million WoW players, the point where Free Realms makes more money than all other SOE games together isn't far off.

Even veteran MMO players should take notice. Because ultimately game companies are not charities, but for-profit organizations. As long as WoW was the only game which was both ultra-accessible and attracted millions of players, some people could get away with claiming that it was an exception which couldn't be reproduced. The more successful Free Realms becomes, the more accessibility starts to look like a trend, and will influence the design philosophy of future games.
Hopefully they'll start fixing major bugs, soon. I can't count the number of times a knockback ability has thrown me through the invisible wall separating the actual dungeon from the scenic cliffs and valleys.
I just Hate how all companies feel like they need 12 million subs to make it worth developing an MMO. more than half of the people playing wow, never played an mmo before and I certianly dont think playing wow counts for much in the realm of MMO experience. Tehre is still plently of success to be had with games with less than 12 million players.

Plus eq2 is just too high end, It runs fine on my pc, but i literally dont have 1 friend that can run eq2 at any level of enjoyable settings.
Great. So now because of this review we get more games that any 5 year old can play? No thanks. WoW and Free Realms are dumbed down enough already time to turn it back in the other direction.
Yes, lets continue championing the genre to become a pre-teen 'accesible' playground.
Well, if the 'pre teens' have the money and are prepared to put it where their mouths are, whilst the 12 hours a day don't sleep till your dead crew don't, you can be sure that more casual friendly games are the way things will go.

Don't blame the messenger.
A game doesn't have to be pre-teen to be accessible. And as Spinks said, I'm just pointing out the obvious. In a way this links with the previous post on subscription plans: Hardcore, cheap, high quality, choose two.

Ideally you have a cheap, high quality game which is accessible to many players, but in which the hardcore find something to do as well. World of Warcraft isn't far away from that model, with a more hardcore part on top of a casual leveling game.
I recently read a lot of comments that the supposed success of Free Realms is going to influence future MMO design.

Especially in two areas, billing scheme and accessability (sp?) and difficulty.

Nothing wrong with easy to learn games that immerse the player from the very beginning.

But totally effortless super easy games that want to charge for this, that, and more are my personal nightmare.
I actually think we might see more "mass niche" market games as a result of Free Realms and WoW's successes, rather than a dilution of the established "mainstream" MMO market.

Sony actually made a big gamble in going pre-teen with Free Realms, and it's paying off, but I think this is just the beginning. While there's a huge market out there that they could shoot to poach from (the established MMO mass market, the folks who are playing WoW, EQ, LotRO, and to a lesser extent WAR, AoC, and CoX) they went with what I think of as a "mass niche" market: a huge group of people who aren't part of (or are on the outskirts of) the established market because there isn't a product built specifically for them.

And indeed, the pre-teen market was so under served, it was practically inevitable that someone would come along with a game that took the lessons we learned from the mainstream of MMOs and presented a working, polished, relevant game that makes sense for that market. The game doesn't condescend, but it does pander to that particular mass niche market, and that's what is going to drive their success.

I don't think it stops here. There are some very real "mass niche" markets out there that don't have a real product, but are ripe for the picking. I think APB or something like it (urban-themed MMO) will be very successful. I think a top quality "Christian niche" MMO will happen before 2012. Ditto for a handheld-casual MMO (think, an MMO for the iPhone market).

I also think we'll be redefining what MMO "success" looks like in the coming years, as mainstream, mass-market publishers move away from subscriptions and towards microtransactions. Sony and Turbine (forthcoming) have taken that plunge, and I'd be shocked if Blizzard doesn't implement microtransactions for Diablo III or their unannounced MMO, but that's another topic.

Sorry about the long comment - I'll probably refine this into a post for my own blog, but had to get those thoughts out there while they're fresh :)

I don't know what the fuzz is about. There are browser games available which have more than 2 million active players (see Dark Orbit on
Metin 2 is a client based mmo which has five million active players in europe and is larger than WoW already there. The US only sells this fact better than the companies running those games.
I have yet to try it.. but my hunch is it will do well and the hardcore gamers wont care that much even though as you point out, they should take some notice.
I tried it and it's cute and I can see the appeal for kid, but I sure don't see the appeal for adults. Maybe the CCG, but why not play M:tG if a CCG is what you want, or the EQ CCG?

Anyway, I hope it does well. Nothing wrong with FTP as a trend as long as they don't nickel and dime you to death.
Fantastic, if this trend continues at some point we'll just have a game with a big red button, and each time you click the button your character gains a level and gets better gear.

Then some people will insist clicking the big red button is a grind, and then the button will click itself. You'll be able to pay money to change the color of your button, or have it make a honking sound whenever its clicked.

I'm not a fan of Darkfall, But I respect what the company who created it did. They made a game the way they wanted it to be made, a game they wanted to play with no regard to how many subs it would bring in. If they can sustain themselves on a few thousand subs and keep working on the game they and their players want to play then more power to them.

Its better in my opinion then free-realms with I foresee people getting extremely bored of within a few months.
I wonder where the kiddies(that will be playing these games) will be getting their cash from? Are moms and dads going to be giving the child a prepaid VISA or MC to use online, or will trips to the local Gamestop suffice?

The fact that Free Realms is a game targetted at preteens, includes RMT, and has the "hook" of being "free to play" initially, I suspect that a new subculture of gamer is being conditioned to accept RMT as a normal part of the gaming experience.

I disliked Sony for their Station Exchange idea, and I dislike them even more now that they're going to be targetting and conditioning a very impressionable segment of the gaming population in regards to the acceptance of RMT.

The future of gaming is looking very bleak, indeed.
It's fun watching the hardcore community squirm.

Is Aventurine out of business?

The whole point of a mature market is that it services a broad range of customers. When Aventurine ports Peggle into capital cities, or introduces a FR-like Fairy race, you'll just move on to someone else who *does* serve your niche. That's healthy.
Chris, I'm guessing either pre-paid credit cards, or mmo-specific gift cards. Go into a 7-11 sometime, you'd be surprised. You can buy things like nexon cash or other mmo time/point cards.
I signed up for Free Realms, but I haven't logged in yet. I know you CAN pay money for things on there, but is it necessary to really play the game to its max, or are the real money purchases vanity items and such?
I haven't played Free Realms yet, but in my experience there's a problem with any game/gadget that is aimed at kids: Eventually they move on to the next game/gadget. I guess it's not really a problem if your business model is geared for it - you can generate a lot of interest and revenue in a short period of time. I'm just not sure that it is sustainable. Part of WoW's continued success is because of the loyalty of the player base. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't believe Free Realm's target player base will show the same loyalty once a new option presents itself. Maybe some of the Free Realm players can comment on this - what will keep all these pre-teens (and teens!) in the game once the novelty wears off? Lack of an alternative? The social aspect? Endgame?
>>what will keep all these pre-teens (and teens!) in the game once the novelty wears off? Lack of an alternative? The social aspect? Endgame?

The better question would be: How long can a person, regardless of age, continue to play Free Realms if they never resort to the RMT aspects of the game?

Is there any doubt(under a free to play setting) that someone will eventually get their moneys worth?

RMT = The "New" Endgame apparently.
Good on SOE for developing a game that people will actually play.

As for Micro-payments, to purchase items to gain an advantage in a game of competition is not my idea of challenging. Time based play would be ideal for consumers, not the company.
I guess if FR and WoW are what every MMO wants to be in the future, the games I love can be considered dead. A pity for me :(

As with most mediums I suppose the small will survive somehow.
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