Over dinner with Stomp and Haf (Chipotle? Yes, please..) they got to listen to me talk too much because I had one beer. We were talking about all different games and I got to bring up a point that I had thought about on one of my mental-blog-dog-walks a morning or two ago (I love when I can bring up a point that makes some kind of sense) : the mini-games in Free Realms, Puzzle Pirates and other games are just like the "regular" play in most "adult" titles.
When I play Free Realms, there are moments of excitement, dread, and surprise. Granted, these moments are much lower on the grand scale of emotion (while the excitement I might feel in Vanguard is several levels higher) but they are still the same emotion.
Bloggers, podcasters and gamers tend to forget that we are all playing games, and nothing more. Just because it took 4 hours to play through a raid or a crafting session, does not mean that it is any different than a kid mining for 45 minutes in Free Realms. I am fascinated by people that think that their game is greater, more sophisticated or a deeper experience that that other guys game, when (thanks in a lot of ways to limits in technology) they are essentially doing the same thing. One day we might be able to actually boast about physical skill needed to play, but not for a while.
When a raid leader says "Ok, mage, you stand here and hit freeze, then you shoot a fire-ball at the guy marked with a skull..." it is the same thing as a 9 year old saying "Alright, I'll go play that mini-game and then spend the gold on a new collar for my dog."
1) Both examples can be a challenge to the individual, but neither present that grand of a challenge. With time, all challenges in MMO's can be beat by both young AND old.
2) Both events are fun to the individual, hopefully, or they should not play the game. Gaming must be fun or it is not gaming.
I get it, though, I do. I understand that the art style, the music, and that little something that we really can't explain marks the differences between Free Realms (and other "kids games") and other "adult" MMOs. I can see the difference, too, and can feel it when I am in the mood for something darker, more "grown up."
But is there really a difference between poker and Uno?
I can take one activity and, thanks to a set of rules, make two separate versions of that activity with different levels of challenge. My staple example is building a birdhouse.
a) In the first example, you are allowed to use the instruction manual, power tools and pre-cut wood.
b) In the second example, you can use only raw wood, some 1800's-era wood-working tools, and your brain.
While one example is more challenging than the other, both examples still come out with a bird-house. A bird-house, in the long run, is not something to take that seriously. I am not making fun of those that really enjoy making bird-houses, just trying to understand that both activities (while one would be considered more "old-school" or "hard-core") come out the same.
I see a game like Free Realms and I am amazed. I am convinced I am seeing the future of MMOs. Granted I think Free Realms, like any title that is out currently, is but a step along that road but the way it does so many things are a perfect foundation for future games. First of all, games will (and already are starting to) stop being something you buy in a box. You will download them, and at the beginning only a small portion to be followed by the full game as you play.
Secondly, mini-games will become more prevalent. The "casual game" market is huge, and I imagine plugging in new casual games to your MMO is much easier than developing an entire dungeon. As the games grow more intense and "realistic", players will grow more used to playing mini-games to represent activities in game. Plus, mini-games are freaking addictive.
Cheap, easy to distribute, addictive.
Understand, (before you comment) that I am not saying that games that play like Free Realms exactly are the future. I am not saying that games that look like Free Realms are the future. I am not saying that only easy-mode-la-la-neon-land games are the future.
I am saying that Free Realms is a superb model for how to deliver and maintain your content. You can plug in a realistic dragon battle if you'd like, if it would make you feel better about playing a mini-game. You can strip the art-style of Free Realms and stick on some realistic graphics engine. Doesn't matter, whatever helps you see that a mini-game has many faces.
Just remember, as you are playing your "adult" MMO, fighting an Orc: you are essentially playing a game of chance. You are simply rolling some dice. Even in a game like Darkfall, you are just building a bird-house, despite using more primitive tools.