SOE Reboots Tomorrow

Years ago, John Smedley gave a keynote address at AGDC, which amounted to, in so many words, “the future of the MMO market is in Asia. And I’m going to bring it to America.” Tomorrow, the culmination of that launches, as Freerealms moves swiftly from open beta to release.

Have no idea what Freerealms is? Too busy getting your Noblegarden bunny ears or wiping in Ulduar? You’d probably better catch up. SOE is going all-in on Freerealms, and it shows. From a Disney-reminiscent friendly art style, to forgiving yet complex class-based gameplay systems, and even including a Pokemon-style CCG – Freerealms not only has younger teens bracketed with laser-beam accuracy, but is also polished to such a high degree, in both technology and design, that older players are raving about the game as well.

It’s a bet that’s likely to *hugely* pay off for SOE, and bring them back into contention as a top-tier MMO studio. Which is good not just for the folks at SOE, but for the MMO industry as a whole. Competition is a good thing, and to date every MMO that has launched into the teeth of Blizzard has been chewed up. Freerealms looks set to not only break that trend, but *shatter* it. And that is a very good thing, indeed.

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53 Responses to SOE Reboots Tomorrow

  1. Iggep says:

    Do we not hear this about nearly every new game to come down the block? I’ve never been one to rave about new games months away from release, but the last several years has taught me to be even more cynical about anything new. There will indeed come a day when WoW is no longer the top seed, but I seriously doubt that will be tomorrow. And I doubt seriously that Free Realms will be that game.

    Lets see where Freerealms stands a year from now.

  2. Naladini says:

    My kids keep kicking me off the computer to play it. They’ve *never* done that before.

    Yes, we do keep hearing it (along with doom and gloom), there’s not much money in being a middle of the road prognosticator. 😉 In this case though, I think its warranted.

  3. Do we not hear this about nearly every new game to come down the block?

    Not from me! 😀

  4. DoubleD says:

    The concept reminds me of a “Sierra Network” approach. Am I showing my online Age? Loved Shadows of Yserbius, Fates of Twinion. Got tired of dungeon crawling, head over to Larry Land and play slots.

  5. mystery says:

    This is all well and good, but I need to get back to camping for eggs and putting bunny ears on sexy female orcs.

  6. Moorgard says:

    DoubleD :
    The concept reminds me of a “Sierra Network” approach. Am I showing my online Age? Loved Shadows of Yserbius, Fates of Twinion. Got tired of dungeon crawling, head over to Larry Land and play slots.

    It doesn’t matter who did it first; only who did it best.

  7. Hudson says:

    Please. This game is no where near as serious a game as other top notch titles. It will fill a niche like Wizard 101 but lets not make it out to be the next Messiah.

    This is a kiddie “family game” and as such will never be taken seriously. The only thing it will do is bring Sony closer to ripping off more Asian style format games.

    Also it cannot be compared against WoW or even WAR. Lets say it is competing against Wizard 101. Or Toontown.

    Yes, I am sure that every player in a raiding guild in LOTRO or WoW or in a solid community like CoH is going to drop what they are doing to hop over and raise bunnies and throw birthday parties in an online kids game.

    Yup, they better catch up!

    Errr…..NOT. This game works as a diversion, but no one will MMO hop to play this every night unless they have kids begging them to play it.

    “Freerealms looks set to not only break that trend, but *shatter* it. And that is a very good thing, indeed.”

    Like Guild Wars already did, and like Runes of Magic already has?

    What the hell are you even talking about there?

    Two different types of games, not worth comparing. And as usual here we go with pro Sony blogger hype. I cannot wait to see this in full effect when DC Online hits after Champions has been out a while

  8. DoubleD says:

    Moorgard :

    DoubleD :
    The concept reminds me of a “Sierra Network” approach. Am I showing my online Age? Loved Shadows of Yserbius, Fates of Twinion. Got tired of dungeon crawling, head over to Larry Land and play slots.

    It doesn’t matter who did it first; only who did it best.

    Hmm, I had some fond memories paying out my nose on the TSN 🙂 MMORPG by the hour with dialup. Times have changed.

  9. Arrakiv says:

    I’m intrigued by it. While I’m usually turned off by overly Disney-esque style, I’d rather like to see something like this be successful. I figure it likely will be, too.

  10. Nerd Rage says:

    Hudson – I’d be willing to go out on a limb and guesstimate that Free Realms will make enough money that Sony won’t care if “real gamers” take it seriously.

  11. Jeremy T says:

    I hope you’re right. After playing the beta, I do feel like they’re onto something.

    A single character presented with multiple progression paths (and the ability to readily switch between them) is the key to it all. Gone are the limitations of being tied to a class, or a craft, or even “fighting” or “crafting.” You can do whatever you want – the game doesn’t care. It’s up to you.

    SOE also has a very elegant way to add content here that anybody can access – just add a new job, and every player (who pays!) can do it right away.

    Free Realms becomes your one stop shop for… well, for every “casual” type game a player could want. Maybe the standalone equivalents are “better” at what they do, but the *same character* can do *all* of these things within the Free Realms world. It’s difficult for me to imagine what the market is going to say about that, but from my perspective it’s a substantial value-add.

  12. D-0ne says:

    SOE will muck it up. Guaranteed.

  13. @Hudson
    I think what Scott was saying – and I’m inclined to agree – is that, indeed, stealing players from WoW is a losing strategy. I’m not convinced Blizzard can steal players with whatever their next MMO project is. DC Universe and Champions Online and City of Heroes 2 are going to have the same problem trying to steal players from the CoH community too, I think.

    So the logical next step is to find other markets; players who aren’t interested in WoW, or who haven’t been watching their friends play WoW for the last 4 years. They’re looking to be successful WITHOUT attracting “every player in a raiding guild in LOTRO or WoW or in a solid community like CoH.”

  14. wowpanda says:

    Right now I am just waiting for Starcraft II to be out. It doesn’t matter too much who is first, as long as the game has a good leap forward, people will play it. I remember I did that transition from C&C to Starcraft.

  15. DrewC says:

    First off: I wish SOE nothing but the best on this project. They’re gambling hard here, and I hope it pays off big for them. I like all the folks I’ve met down there, and I hope they all get giant hats made out of money off this project.

    That said, I’m not as optimistic as our esteemed moderator. I think Freerealms has a lot of positive things going for it, but I have a couple of concerns:

    1) Client download – It’s got one, and while it streams nicely in the background, you still have to wait. That’s a major barrier to entry. The figure I’ve heard tossed around the industry is that any client download gives you a 50% bounce rate.

    2) Content Costs – They have a lot of beautiful hand-crafted content. Hand-crafted content is expensive content. Obviously they’re never going to create content faster than the most voracious users can consume it, but the question is can they fill the content needs of middle range users? I think this is going to be a really big question when school lets out in a couple months.

    3) Market – I’m not sure tweens want to play online games for the gameplay. My experience with the online kids market is as follows: kids want to play online games until a certain age, somewhere in the 10-15 range, at which point they stop playing the game and start playing a new game “find an online boyfriend/girlfriend/both.” Think back to when you discovered the opposite sex, was there anything in the universe that could possibly be as interesting as talking to one of them about sex? It turns out that there are already quite a few totally free “games” out there that capitalize on this by being chat rooms with avatars you can dress up. I’m not sure that competing with them on a subscription basis is a good business model, especially when your art style is clearly geared at a younger audience. It may also be that I’m misunderstanding their market, and their target is a bit younger, say 8-12.

    Like I say I’m rooting for SOE here, and not just because I have friends there. I think anyone else showing real success in the MMO space, especially with a divergent project like this, would be good for the industry. I’m just less optimistic.

  16. EpicSquirt says:

    That friendly art style isn’t that friendly: I almost threw up.

  17. Freakazoid says:

    Huh. Well, this may explain some recent developments in the CO beta.

    I doubt it’ll be “huge”, but it is free to play… Maybe it’ll hold a few hundred thousand just on that.

  18. geldonyetich says:

    I think I would probably play a lot of the games SOE offered if they were free with micro payments, even some of the odd ducks like Vanguard or Matrix Online, so this certainly puts them back on the radar.

    However, it’s a little disconcerting just how many games one can find for free these days. I suspect that this move is motivated by PC piracy creating a great deal of price slashing amongst sellers of non-subscription model games which has conducted via audience attention time to even the subscription model games.

    This model might work for Eastern games, but the thing to keep in mind there is they keep their development costs low. Could a behemoth like EverQuest 2 really have a chance unless it is being supported by mandatory subscription?

    Well, as a destitute gamer who opts not to pirate himself, I wouldn’t mind having more games to play, so I hope this works out.

  19. Hermes says:

    I remember sitting in that keynote. I feel somehow older and more soulless now.

    I worry somewhat that SOE hasn’t heeded Damion’s advice over here. FR’s combat system seemed rather weak tea during my time tooling around with it. Some of the non-combat stuff is interesting, but I feel that the minigames aren’t quite as well done as Puzzle Pirates’. Free Realms Mining is pretty damn close to Puzzle Pirates Foraging, but I personally prefer the latter.

    All that said, hopefully SOE’s focus on tweens here will start bringing fresh blood into the genre who will want to eventually ‘upgrade’ to the more fully-featured versions of the games they play in Free Realms. No one can argue that wouldn’t be good for the industry as a whole.

    Oh, and a closing non sequitur… I was very impressed by what I played of the Free Realms CCG, but then again, I’ve been very impressed with pretty much all of SOE Denver’s forays into that particular area.

  20. xzzy says:

    Is their website supposed to be nothing but a blue box asking the question “what’s going on in there?”

    Because that’s all I get.

    So either they hate my computer, or they have some issues to iron out. Sounds about right for an MMO launch!

  21. VPellen says:

    I guess it won’t hurt to give it a shot, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

  22. Longasc says:

    This is the game that parents think their kids will like. I already read a blog where the kid asked daddy when he is allowed to play WoW again. 🙂

  23. Calandryll says:

    xzzy :
    Is their website supposed to be nothing but a blue box asking the question “what’s going on in there?”
    Because that’s all I get.
    So either they hate my computer, or they have some issues to iron out. Sounds about right for an MMO launch!

    If you highlight inside the blue box, it says the website is down for an update and that the game is going live tomorrow. Not sure if that’s some “clever” on purpose thing or a bug.

  24. sinij says:

    I am also a lot less optimistic than Lum. I call flop based on a) subscription fee brings parents into decision b) uncool stigma of mmorpgs will pretty much kill it right away as a social product.

    I expect past decade of DIKU clones smoothly transition into next decade of DIKU clones.

  25. Todd Ogrin says:

    “This is a kiddie “family game” and as such will never be taken seriously.”

    Just like those kiddie “family movies” from Disney/Pixar…you know, the ones that never amount to anything but piles of solid gold naked man statuettes.

  26. Paks says:

    It’s a cute game. I think the mini games are well done, but it’s also very grindy which I guess is fine for a F2P. I played the little derby and race game so many times my head is spinning. 😦

  27. Aaron says:

    @DrewC

    Regarding: “Client download – It’s got one, and while it streams nicely in the background, you still have to wait. That’s a major barrier to entry. The figure I’ve heard tossed around the industry is that any client download gives you a 50% bounce rate.”

    I tend to agree (How many times have we stopped to say “500MB to even -try- the damn thing? No thanks.”), but that won’t be an issue here.

    What’s really nice is just how well the SOE background download works. For the uninitiated, you browse to the website, create your account, and begin designing your character (colors, hair, clothes, etc). While you’re doing this, the game is downloading the base client data in the background (around 50MB, if I remember correctly) with minimal input from you.

    Once you’ve created your character, fire up the game (again, from the browser window). Boom – you’re in. The client downloads additional content as you wander, just like Guild Wars. It seemed to me to be around chunks of 1-2MB (you can see a counter towards the top left corner of your screen). At points, I found myself turning around and noticed the meter at the top counting down, though I never managed to actually -see- something pop into existence. Despite my generally crap service from Charter, I’ve yet to notice any significant slowdown.

    I think the polish in that system (much like the polish everywhere else in the game) is going to dramatically reduce the bounce rate.

  28. JoeW says:

    I certainly wish them luck. Somebody needs to come along and make the asian publishers take the american developers and playerbase a bit more seriously.

  29. DrewC says:

    It was considerably more than 50MB when I tried it but that was a beta client some time ago, so I have no idea how much of that was debug code/god knows what. I know they were working hard to make the client download as seamless as possible, and I hope they succeed.

  30. Mark Asher says:

    “Free Realms becomes your one stop shop for… well, for every “casual” type game a player could want.”

    Until you need to pay for something, and then it’s no longer “casual.”

    The other coin of the realm is time. How much time do you have to play MMOs? I’m willing to bet that Scott himself, despite his praise, won’t find much time to log in and play after a couple of months. Other games will likely be more compelling.

    I think most of us pick one MMO to invest our time in, and dabble with others. Is Free Realms good enough to demand our time and make us not want to play other MMOs? Probably not for the core MMO audience. Maybe so for others….

  31. Mandella says:

    Eh. My daughter tried it for about an hour, got bored with it and went back to WeeWorld.

    She just isn’t interested in a graphical adventure, she just wants to chat and play “dress up.”

  32. MrOrange says:

    Edit: I am going to play nice.

    [quote]It’s a bet that’s likely to *hugely* pay off for SOE, and bring them back into contention as a top-tier MMO studio.[/quote]

    You have not played this game for any length of time. That much is obvious.

    [quote]forgiving yet complex class-based[/quote]

    Where ever this fluff came from, they lied to you and anyone else whom read it. Nothing complex about it. Wizard,Medic ( both members only) Brawler, all *yawn* not complicated. Maybe the rolls of these classes will be challenged once they add the other 2 land areas in, but for now, one big let down.

    [quote]Freerealms not only has younger teens bracketed with laser-beam accuracy, but is also polished to such a high degree, in both technology and design, that older players are raving about the game as well[/quote]

    Did you read those 15 posts ? If you had played the game and read them as well and have several children, as I do, you would know there is something funny about those posts 🙂 But hey, 15 posts= Older players that are raving. Sort of like the UFO cultists that cut off their testicles then killed themselves.

    [quote]Freerealms looks set to not only break that trend, but *shatter* it[/quote]

    Seriously, it is all I can think of, but were you paid to write this ? Are you working towards a job with SOE ? Affiliation ?

    Come on. I know you went from writer to working in the Game industry and I know I rubbed you wrong in the past, but good lord this smells of one giant suck-ass or sell out.

    I guess I couldn’t play nice after all.

    Good luck with whatever iron you have in the fire and I guess I will be shocked as shit if this post sees the light of day 🙂

  33. Wow, either reading comprehension is pretty bad this week or I’m a fairly bad writer. I’ll assume the latter today.

    To quote Penny Arcade, “it’s not FOR you.” Nor me either, particularly – so whether I’ll play it is irrelevant. The MMO industry already MAKES games for me. Freerealms is a casual MMO, aimed at people who aren’t already playing MMOs. I realize it may be hard to realize but that number is still larger than “people playing current MMOs”. Just because I recognize that the game is well designed does not mean *I* want to play it. I also recognize the work put into Gears of War but I don’t particularly like that very much, either. I know it’s a rare stance to take in Internet writing, but not everything positive has to be raging fanboy advocacy.

    One other thing to note – again – is the sheer level of polish in Freerealms. This is one of the reasons WoW was a monster hit, and something to date other MMO companies have failed to replicate. For god’s sake, this is something many people – including myself – have constantly bitched about in our industry, and not noting what a good job SOE did with this this time would be almost criminal. Lack of polish is one powerful reason why games fail.

    Also, given that I already have a pretty good job, “working towards a job with SOE? Affiliation?” would be kind of pointless, don’t you think?

    It disturbs me that saying something positive automatically brands you as a “UFO cultist”. Maybe I should make another post about Darkfall!

  34. Mordiceius says:

    My biggest pet peeve is just having to go to the website every time I want to launch the game.

  35. EpicSquirt says:

    @Scott Jennings
    “Reading comprehension” has been even bad even before the “UFO cultists” moved from Bulletin Board Systems to the Interweb, I think you’re a good writer.

    Good points in your response, let’s hope that someone breaks the trend of fubared MMOG releases, even if it’s something so different so many of us wouldn’t want to touch it.

  36. Sullee says:

    Thanks Lum and I hope this turns out well for SOE.

    My thinking is kids are fickle and play where their friends play. They don’t build the attachments to a character that older MMO players do (in fact I think they prefer to play a lot of different characters).

  37. terrarich says:

    I think Lum has turned into a UFO cultist worshiping at the altar of anime gods.

  38. In other news, SOE welcomes Scott Jennings to the company!

    Also, I agree. This is going to pay off for them.

  39. loredena says:

    I’m an over 40 female quasi-hardcore MMO gamer. I played FreeRealms in beta, and I thought it was cute and a lot of fun! Will it become my MMO of choice? Of course not. But, it was a fun diversion, and if I can get my nieces to play it with me I definitely will play it. Because, that is what I was looking for — a game that will appeal to my pre-teen nieces and nephews that their parents will let them play for a few hours a week. I do believe that they will enjoy it. Non-MMO players most definitely outnumber MMO players, even with WoW’s numbers — if SOE can attract a slice of them to the genre, more power to them!

  40. Joe Post says:

    I think it’s got a lot going for it. It definately still needs some debugging/polish, but is in a pretty good state relative to other game launches as of late.

    They really need to include more content like the Derby and Racing games, maybe some boating and snow skiing type games. I did not like the flash type games at all personally.

    If they do well marketing the game, they have a chance to do great.

  41. […] was said elsewhere that that Sony reboots […]

  42. demonix says:

    It does look good and has a good amount of polish; however I am withholding judgement until I see some fixes that never made it into beta; anyone who mined up to level 5 knows what I’m talking about.

  43. Andy O. says:

    DoubleD :
    The concept reminds me of a “Sierra Network” approach. Am I showing my online Age?

    Dude, mad props for TSN, you got uber gaming age cred. :)) haha

    I am impressed with Free Realms, and I’ve been running around blogs saying congratulations SOE all day, the game from the 2-3 play sessions I had with it is a lot of fun.

    At 38, Single, no kids, I don’t think it’s really for me, but you can bet I am going be pointing it out to my sister/nieces as soon as SOE releases a Mac Client (Only quip).

    Long time EQ player, good to see SoE isn’t dead yet, in fact I feel like I was just backstabbed in the gamer vein. Nice job guys.

  44. Jerid says:

    “until I see some fixes that never made it into beta; anyone who mined up to level 5 knows what I’m talking about.”

    Or tried running the postal quest line.
    Or tried doing Pet trainer quests.
    Or tried doing Trading Card Duelist Job line.
    And as someone mentioned earlier, the racing Jobs.

    Frankly, WAYYY too many main jobline quests with issues to be releasing in my opinion, but mabey they DO have the “magic patch noone has seen” that Anarchy Online didn’t have.

    Keep in mind antoher thing, they never did allow us at any of the “Member only” content or have Station Cash available to try stuff out. There’s no telling what will happen for someone that goes “Member” for a month or 2 then stops paying either.

    However, even with all those negatives… it IS a nice looking game, and I can definately see it drawing in non-MMO types.

    Then again it IS SOE we’re talking about, and their logic behind the Micro Trasanctions seem to be a bit lacking. The Trading Card game pricing totaly baffles me. (The “Virtual only cards” cost more then the ones you can buy a phyisical deck for, plus the physical deck gives you a ration of Station Cash on top of it)

  45. Gx1080 says:

    Pointing to a new market isnt a bad thing, AND to make sure that the little ones dont swap for new shiny (like the big ones) its polished. Besides, the ones paying for that are parents, and parents are afraid of the suscription model. This game wouldnt make as much money if it was a suscription model.

    Thats called “understanding your demographic”, and if you are going for unexplored terrain, you better do it right. SOE are “doing it right” and we should be happy for them, even if it isnt for us.

    Unless the part of us that is talking is jelaous of the fact that a kiddies game is better polished that many of our DIKUMuds or hardcorePvP games. I couldnt be that because we are mature, right? Durr for you if you arent.

  46. Heartless_ says:

    Maybe I’m just pessimistic (oh really?), but I feel that Free Realms will not be successful enough for SOE to maintain at a reasonable level or production schedule. However, Free Realms will significantly increase the quality expectations of players in the freemium/micro-transactions game market. This all means that smaller projects will have a harder time convincing players that being free to play is a Pro, because without a large enough investment up front, the quality of the game will suffer.

    Anyone looking for the next “thing” in MMOs, it will come from games like LOVE, not Free Realms.

  47. Klaitu says:

    This looks even lamer than WoW, which means it will no doubt be the most popular thing ever.

  48. Bleaktea says:

    I got bored of the beta fairly swiftly, but I’m going to be trying to get a subscription for my 12-year-old niece, who will probably love it. I just need to work out some way to prevent her from maxing out my credit card by buying a million hats…

  49. Iconic says:

    How long until the Goons invade?

  50. War says:

    So they are aiming this RMT game towards teens. And typically to buy something online you need a credit card. Teens don’t have credit cards. So they will need to get parental permission every time they want to buy something (which from my experience is *all the time*).

    I assume you don’t just attach a CC to the account and then buy at will. I could see a lot of pissed off parents with a $100 charge when their teen went RMT nuts…

  51. Calandryll says:

    I’ve seen the issue of payment in a kids game a few times in this thread. The idea that the need for a credit card (or other payment options) is some kind of barrier in kids games is simply not true. Runescape, Club Penguin, and a host of other kid focused games have done quite well with their subscription and micro-payment options. Free Realms also has game cards for sale already and I’ll be surprised if they don’t offer other payment options in the future.

    Remember that the parents of the games these kids are playing have been paying for things online, including mmogs, for years. It’s not a stretch for them to pay a subscription for their kids or buy them virtual goods. The model has already been proven.

  52. Mandella says:

    What Calandryll said. Also, what most of these games do is allow you to buy points in batches. 1000 points might cost, say, twenty dollars, which of course has to come from Mommy or Daddy’s credit card (or a physical game card bought for cash at the local gaming store), but then the kid gets to choose how he wants to spend the points and how fast.

    This makes it easy for the parents to set an “allowance” and not have to be bugged every time their precious needs to pick up a new hat and shades.

    Or, with the gamecard option the child might actually use his own cash. That does happen.

    Sometimes.

  53. Raevhen says:

    I played the game and I feel they were targetting the Wii crowd. Just like the Wii, it doesn’t target the 360/PS3 crowd, but look how successful the Wii is over those other consoles.

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