Unless you've been spending your time studying the underside of a rock,
Sony Online Entertainment's latest endeavor, Free
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
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
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
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.