Free Realms: Fun New Game or Insidious World Domination Plot?

Unless you've been spending your time studying the underside of a rock, Sony Online Entertainment's latest endeavor, Free Realms, has made its way into your consciousness by now. A number of...

Unless you've been spending your time studying the underside of a rock, Sony Online Entertainment's latest endeavor, Free Realms, has made its way into your consciousness by now. A number of emails and IMs I've been getting have asked whether or not I think Free Realms can be a hit with traditional fantasy MMOG fans. It's an interesting question that I'll be happy to answer here, but after my observations, I've got a question of my own - Does it even matter?

You want a piece of this, Spiffy?

Free Realms has all the fantasy fixings one could ask for. There are plenty of magical forests, robgoblins that need terrorizing, and you can even play a pixie if you choose. The game is lighthearted, entertaining, and though most men I know would never admit it in public, it can be quite addictive. Whether this all translates as a win to the traditional MMOGer remains to be seen.

After playing the game for a while, I think this begins to become a question of apples and oranges. Yes, there's combat and adventure (if you so choose) in Free Realms, but the majority of the game takes place in virtual mini-games and that's what truly makes it different in my book. I think Free Realms will appeal much more to the gamer that has a limited amount of time to play each day than the one that can set hours of time aside in large chunks to play the game of their choice. 

All of this is well and good, but as I mentioned earlier, I think the more important question is whether or not all this even matters. After what I witnessed this weekend, I think the answer is no. For quite some time, we've been hearing that this game has been designed to target young children. Not in any kind of evil Pokemon type of way, but just as something that could be safe and enjoyable for the kiddies of your family. I'm sure they'll have plenty of happy gamers from this demographic, but it won't be Free Realms’ only set of gamers. In fact, I dare say it won't even be the foundation of their customer base. If not them, and not traditional MMOG players, then who's left?

Women. Lots and lots of women. They're the holy grail of markets that development teams have been trying to crack for years, and even though it wasn't their main objective, I think SOE has stumbled upon their new gold mine. The key to all of it is the concept of Free Realms being created around a number of various mini-games that have proven appeal to the casual game market in that Bejeweled kind of way.

Some of you may remember a not-entirely-sane experiment I ran with my wife earlier last year in which I dumped her in a room and had her try out Vanguard: Saga of Heroes all on her own. The idea was to test the new starter area and to have her go through it without being able to ask me any questions. In the end, it wasn't something she minded doing, but just proved again how not into MMOGs she really is.

It may sound crazy, and to be honest, it's not something I thought about until my wife created her pixie this past Saturday morning, but with Free Realms, SOE finally got her. And I don't mean they got her as in she thought the game was cute or something. I mean they got her in that Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of way and the bedroom has become her pod. From Saturday morning until sometime Sunday evening, unless she needed to get food or liquid (or heed the call of Mother Nature from processing said food or liquid), she did not get out of her computer chair the entire weekend. I’m not joking.

Free Realms is packed full of colors galore.

When I asked her about it, her unrelenting love of the game came from two things. First off, she is always playing casual games over the internet but gets annoyed about having to hop in and out of multiple sites to do it. Free Realms has a wide variety of games she can play and they're all in one place. Secondly, she gets to play a pixie and can change her clothes. Seriously.

It may sound like the unintelligible rantings of the female species us males have always found impossible to decode, but the proof is in the pudding. To take a person that has proven on multiple occasions they have no interest in MMOGs and turn them into a gamer that can barely stand to part with her computer like it was Golem's Precious is no easy feat. Sure, SOE will probably get a million little kids playing the game, but it's the hoards of women that will be playing that will have them raking in the cash.

While I think the women of the world will be the mainstay of Free Realms, I actually think a lot of guys will have some fun with it too. So much so that they create they're own account? Probably not. But how many of those same men do I think will pay the $5 monthly subscription to get one of the extra character slots that come with it? More than even an anonymous survey could uncover. Of course, this ploy would all be done under the guise of "just showing my gal I love her", but it will be done nonetheless. Whatever you've got to do, right guys?

When World of Warcraft went live, it took the world by storm and spurred a slew of clones as companies scurried to jump on the bandwagon and get a piece of the pie. I think the stage is set for the same thing to happen again, just in a different direction. If Free Realms proves half as successful as I'm predicting it will, we're going to be bombarded with Free Barbie, Free Blues Clues, and maybe even Free Willy. History may very well be in the making. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got an appointment in Free Realms to show some hooligans the error of their ways.

Has your spouse been abducting by the Free Realms gods? Is your child already begging you for the game? Or do you just think I'm crazy to believe Free Realms will be a huge success? Drop me a line to let me know or sound off in our forums!

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