How LEGO Universe Can Match the Success of Free Realms

With Free Realms taking over his household, Danny "Ralsu" Gourley had almost forgotten that NetDevil is hard at work on a LEGO MMO titled LEGO Universe. The building block dynamic has mass market appeal, but SOE's game has a lengthy head start. Ralsu examines some ways NetDevil can succeed by employing the same strategies used by SOE: Just as Free Realms characters change appearance depending on the job being performed, LEGO Universe characters will need to exhibit the same flair when moving between tasks. While I have run races in LEGO Star Wars, the MMO will need to let me don a special racing outfit to match the feeling of pride I get with Free Realms.

For four straight weeks, Free Realms has dominated the PCs in the Gourley household. Dad, Mom, and daughter all have a character. Somebody even has a subscription (but we won’t say who). In the Ten Ton Hammer forums, Dalmarus has started Free Realms Anonymous and bravely admitted his addiction to a very casual game that is tons of fun. Regardless of how the press ratings come out, Free Realms is already successful in my mind. To convert a hardcore inactive Marine who enjoy bloody games with dark stories like Dalmarus and to make me forget about Atlantica Online for a whole month means a lot to me. In the face of such a successful family game, NetDevil should be paying close attention while designing LEGO Universe.

You can bet that LEGO pirates vs. LEGO ninjas will become a heated debate.

The LEGO brand is easy to find around my home. My daughter has a LEGO house that she builds out of adorable pink and brown blocks. Sometimes she tears it apart and rebuilds it with adorable white blocks. Occasionally she moves the door, adds a window, or builds a chimney. We all play LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga on the Playstation 3, each of us with a different style and favorite character. That’s the beauty of LEGO: it provides countless customization options and no two people see the same thing when looking at a pile of unassembled bricks.

LEGO basically is a household name in the US, with giant insectoid aliens and medieval play sets marketed to boys and fairy castles and pet stores marketed to girls. In between, everybody gets caught up in themed sets featuring famous intellectual properties (IPs) like Batman, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. It would seem NetDevil has a ready-made market for LEGO Universe, but the company would do well to mimic some of the popular design elements of Free Realms, which will have a considerable head start by the time the block building title launches.

From the beginning, NetDevil should consider the accessibility of Free Realms, which can be played on almost any PC. A tiny browser plugin that takes just seconds to download and install gets a Free Realms player up and going on a PC at a friend or relative’s house in no time. The browser-based delivery of Sony Online Entertainment’s adventure removes almost all of the barriers to play it. If LEGO Universe requires a retail or digital purchase to play or has beefy system requirements, a lot of the potential market is left out from the start.

Free Realms remains free to play after the free download, so NetDevil has to think carefully about how to market LEGO Universe. Though some Free Realms content is restricted to subscribers or to microtransactions, parents can safely turn a child loose and get plenty of fun out of no investment other than time. Were LEGO Universe to charge a subscription, parents would likely hesitate to part with the cash for a child to play when SOE has a great kid-friendly title for free. At the very least, NetDevil must offer family subscription plans and top value for their price point.

Will LEGO Universe offer a trading card game like the one in Free Realms?

Part of the value NetDevil must offer is a lot of versatility. Free Realms allows players to fight, train pets, race in cars, play board games, play a trading card game, complete collections, cook, and even be a postal worker. LEGO can do most (if not all) of those things, too, but it must be packaged as cleverly as SOE did to make a splash. Just as Free Realms characters change appearance depending on the job being performed, LEGO Universe characters will need to exhibit the same flair when moving between tasks. While I have run races in LEGO Star Wars, the MMO will need to let me don a special racing outfit to match the feeling of pride I get with Free Realms.

The flexibility of LEGO Universe also must include the ability to quickly switch from one type of gameplay to another as the whim strikes me. In Free Realms, I can stop a quest and leave an instance whenever I want; I’m never locked into anything. In a three-hour span while I wrote a guide and this article, my daughter must have jumped into and out of at least ten different instances in Free Realms. She could fight one or two monsters and then leave to go harvest some berries. She didn’t care that she didn’t complete the quest. She was too busy having fun.

One major way LEGO Universe can score some fun points is with its building dynamic. Allowing players to collect blocks to build their own homes and vehicles would be a terrific start and would trump the basic merchant system used for karts in Free Realms. Another option is to allow players to craft their own gear, from weapons to armor to tools.

Parting Thoughts

NetDevil may not be looking at SOE’s Free Realms as any sort of competition or as a model for success, but I think it would be foolish not to learn from the experiments SOE has already conducted. The publishing behemoth has shown that a fun casual game can be a huge hit when it is widely accessible both technologically and monetarily, it caters to a wide variety of play styles, and it offers flexibility. If NetDevil can mimic some of the elements of Free Realms, LEGO Universe could be an even greater success because of the vast appeal of the IP. Meanwhile, a decision to ignore Free Realms as something completely dissimilar with a different target demographic could make a LEGO MMO a day late and millions of dollars short.

Do you believe in LEGO Universe? Email your thoughts or post them in our forums!

Though I, too, have joined the ranks of Free Realms Anonymous, I have been trying out new free MMOs in my spare time. I beta tested Twelve Sky 2, which is being published by Aeria Games, for almost ten whole minutes before I uninstalled it. I’ll leave you with the description of the game I gave my wife and move on:

[Read in movie narration voice]: In a very brown world, somebody needs you to do something. You’ll have a hard time figuring out what, so instead you’ll eat a sandwich while your gorgeously rendered character auto-fights hordes of lookalike enemies. If you can go at it long enough without gouging out your eyes, you’ll get a chance to participate in the fierce PvP the game supposedly offers.

If you like that I found out about the brown brown (so brown) world of Twelve Sky 2 and warned you away from it, I have some bad news. The Top Free MMOs is going on indefinite hiatus with the completion of this week’s article. The truth is that I have only three months left to write for Ten Ton Hammer (my decision), and I have too many things I want to accomplish. To get as much done as possible, I am retiring the list. After my departure, perhaps another writer will bravely step forward to pick up where I left off in this important community service (Hey, if you don’t think it’s community service, you try playing Nostale!).

I leave the list exactly as I had it last week, but I want to make some notes here. If I were to include games that restrict content to subscribers, Free Realms would top the chart. Wizard101 would come in just behind Dungeon Runners. My personal watch list includes the Ys MMO, but that game is limited to Europe right now, which is why I am not adding it here. I also follow Torchlight and Gatheryn with keen interest.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the Top Ten, and I’ll see you in the forums.

Top Ten Free MMOs
May 6, 2009
Rank Game


Last week: 1
Atlantica Online - (

Atlantica is a squad-based fantasy strategy game that breaks the mold. Players can control up to nine characters at once in fast-paced turn-based combat. A lot of the systems in Atlantica are different from the standard fare on the market.


Last week: 2
Mabinogi - (

Mabinogi provides so many things to do that it earns its self-appointed moniker of “A Fantasy Life.” Players can farm, play music, hunt, craft, go to school and more in this fantasy land. In Mabinogi, combat is not the only way to advance.


Last week: 3
Runes of Magic - (

Runes of Magic is a traditional fantasy game that uses a Dual Class system to inject a little strategy into character planning and a lot of flexibility into grouping. RoM has all of the features gamers want in a subscription-based game, but they’ll enjoy them for free here.


Last week: 4
Dungeon Runners - ( NCSoft

Dungeon Runners is a hack and slash fantasy game that infuses every aspect of gameplay with humor. DR makes fun of other games, the genre, and even itself. This is the perfect game for a player looking to blow off steam after a rough day at work.


Last week: 5
Requiem: Bloodymare - (
Gravity Interactive

Requiem: Bloodymare is a horror-themed game that blends the traditional elements of MMOGs with the visceral feel of a gore film. Requiem is worth a look because of its fresh take on setting in MMOGs.


Last week: 6
Dream of Mirror Online - (
Aeria Games & Entertainment

Dream of Mirror Online puts the player in the starring role of a classic Chinese myth. The eastern-based lore provides a refreshing twist on MMOGs, and the multi-class system makes character development in this fantasy game fun.


Last week: 7
Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine - (
Aeria Games & Entertainment

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online brings the popular RPG to life in the MMOG sphere. Players can use friendly persuasion or aggressive coercion to get demons to fight by their side. The dark subject matter and modern setting of the game is a welcome contrast to the enchanted glens filled with pixies we often find in MMOGs.


Last week: 8
Rohan: Blood Feud - ( YNK Interactive

Rohan is a traidtional fantasy MMOG with deep lore and nice graphics. The world features intense PvP, gambling, and a few creative systems for managing gear. The level curve steepens midway through the game while the story diminishes.


Last week: 9
Exteel - ( NCsoft

Exteel is a visceral PvP-centric game featuring mechs and beautifully designed levels. Exteel uses a lobby system to connect players, and people can upgrade their mechs with resources found in game or purchased from the item mall.


Last week: 10
Florensia - ( Florensia Western Global

The peace in Florensia is fragile and you need your friends as well as strong allies to fight against sinister monsters on shore and at sea. Train your skills, experience thrilling trips through the countryside, load the cannons and hire a skilful crew to explore the ocean. Get ready for Florensia!

Ralsu's Watch List
CABAL Online - ( ESTsoft

CABAL Online drops players in a brutal world where people are on the verge of extinction. Combat is  pretty fast, and the difficulty level runs higher than the average game.  The game requires grinding or grouping from an early level because of abrupt shifts in the difficulty of mobs.
Free Realms - ( Sony Online Entertainment

Free Realms is a a 3D fantasy world designed to encourage exploration and support casual play. With graphics similar to WoW and all the gameplay of a standard MMOG, Free Realms could appeal to adults. Its many minigames and events are designed to please teens.
Neo Steam - ( Atlus Online

Neo Steam is a steampunk game set in a world where warring factions compete for a limited supply of the resource Neo Steam. It was above average in most categories during closed beta for the US, but it had multiple translation problems. Atlus Online should iron out the kinks.
Warrior Epic - ( Possibility Space

Warrior Epic is ready to begin the next round of closed beta soon. It provides a fantasy hack and slash dungeon crawler experience with some very innovative features, including the ability to choose different character classes for each dungeon and a Warrior Hall that grows with the player.
Wizard101 - (
KingsIsle Entertainment, Inc.

Wizard101 is an online, wizard school adventure with collectible card magic, and wizard duels! The game allows players to create a student wizard in an attempt to save Wizard City and explore many different worlds. In Wizard101, cards are magic spells. There are Fire spells, Ice spells, spells of Myth, and much more. The game is free to download. To access all of the areas, gamers will need to subscribe.

About This List

Please refer to the Top Ten Free MMOs Portal to find out how to get a game you make or like on this list.

About the Author

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