Posted Tue, May 05, 2009 by Ralsu
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.
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.