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Free Realms CES Report

MMORPG.com's Carolyn Koh reports from CES on Free Realms, SOE's microtransactions game for Tweens to Teens.

Free Realms CES Report

Free Realms is SoE’s foray into the Tween to Teens market and the world of micro-transactions. It’s an MMOG with virtual world elements. It’s fun and games, growing roses and grooming penguins, playing ninja and building tree-houses – what do I mean by that? Free Realms has four different game-play components to it. There’s the combat aspect, building, pets and mini-games. Targeted at families rather than just the 8 through 17, Free Realms promises broad content and depth of content. Their goal is to have parents playing with their kids. To have enough content to hold someone for 3 minutes as well as 3 hours in short easily handled chunks of time.

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SoE had a video of some actual game-play at CES showing us all the different aspects of the game. To begin with, they will have two playable races. Humans and Fairies. Fairy? I queried. Laura Neviaux, Director of Global Brand Marketing at SoE showed us the buff, punky boy fairy that was developed with input from young boys and teens. “We created this look from a lot of input, to get the type of Fairy that young teens would play.” She started off by showing the FaceBook™ style Free Realms profile that many young people are familiar with these days. Here, the player can check their pets, their jobs, “To Do List,” collections (earned trophies), friends, other social networking interactive windows and parental controls.

Free Realms is free to download and play. The plan is to have you in game in 30 seconds. Most game controls are via the mouse and there are few keyboard controls. It did look pretty intuitive with highly representative icons showing the different actions that could be taken. The game will stream in the background while you play and the client simply grows each time you log in. The free game is supported by ads and if you want to play ad-free, you can pay a monthly subscription of $4.99. There are also items you can purchase in game and they are all priced at 99 cents. We saw a really cute Christmassy holiday outfit for the girl. For this age group, there is a fine balance between “need” and “want” – this is what SoE will have to balance. Will the cool kids who can afford it be the ones to have the cool items? Which items can be earned in game? Will the items matter to game play or will they only be window dressing? It’s all a matter of balance and they weren’t ready yet to throw a hapless producer or designer on the project to us voracious media types. There are several different payment methods planned. You don’t require a credit card to play this game. There are the retail cards we are all familiar with as well as a wallet that a parent can top up for their kids.

What can you do in game? For one, you can explore. The world is vast, the colors vibrant, the structures, flora and fauna 3-D cartoon. Somewhat like a more “cartoony “ version of Shrek or perhaps a 3-D version of Winx Club. There’s nothing that can harm you in this world as Combat is a choice you make. Opt to take a job clearing a cavern of bat and rats, and you can put on your ninja outfit and throw shuriken and do the slashing thing with your katana. For an early build, I was impressed by the smoothness of the animation. Of what little we saw and for what it was, it really looked good.

If you’re more of a builder at heart, you can put on your gardener’s outfit and grow a multitude of different flowers. Some new furniture, renovations to your house? It may be the carpenter’s outfit you need. All outfits are acquired through activities such as mini-games and jobs. As yes, the mini-games – which are the hall-mark of Virtual Worlds. Mini-games of all sorts can be found in this world and you can earn trophies for high scores. Beat the clock type games, “shooting” games, memory match, they will all be in Free Realms. Some integrated into the Jobs that you do, some offered by various NPCs you meet along the way.

Then, there’s pet collecting. We traveled to a world of ice and snow where the penguin pet may be obtained – via the jobs or activities you participate in. Pets of course have to be taken care of - petted, fed and groomed. They are “pocket” pets and can be summoned and dismissed at will.

Free Realms will also integrate such activities as the ability to select and listen to music at certain venues. A rock star on a stage in the village green, a band or orchestral group will allow for interaction. With these many different components and aspects to the game, I asked Laura to give me a nutshell description of Free Realms as it looks to be as much a virtual world as an MMOG. Family friendly virtual world with the persistence of an MMOG. Quirky and fun modus operandi and personality. Were some of the descriptions she gave. Look for a soft launch of this title near the end of 2008 for the PC, with the PS3 version following. It sure looks interesting.

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.