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

Posted Thu, Apr 23, 2009 by Dalmarus

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.


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