30 Days have passed since I first started playing Free Realms, and it’s been an enlightening experience. I’ve met and interacted with humans, fairies, dwarves, giants, crab people, goblins, some with a living breathing person on the other end of the connection, others simply pre-programmed automatons. It is the community that makes or breaks a game with any social aspect, so in the last part of this month long series of articles, what have I learnt from the people that go to make this world what it is?
Belted out in various locations across the game is Free Realms’ theme song, performed by real world band The Dares, and nestled amongst its pop punk stylings are the lyrics (and Sony’s philosophy for the inhabitants of FR); ‘It’s your world, you get to make your own rules’. It’s an easy marketing ploy to attract new players, and if I were a cynic, I’d suggest that Sony PR requested this line be included in the tune. However, it seems to perfectly mirror the thoughts of each player I met.
When asked, ‘Why do you like Free Realms?’, Sean Stormface1 said ‘just like the song says you get to do whatever you want’. Kelly Falconscowl added ‘I love it, you get to talk to people and make friends and explore’. Two dream quotes for marketing executives, but everyone I talked to was picked completely at random and definitely not on the Sony pay roll. It was a mixed bag as to whether they parted with real world cash in game or not, but the one thing they all agreed on was that what they wanted from the game next was simply more content, more areas. Again, a superb PR answer; they want more content to a game they are already playing.
What surprised me most about the people I talked to was the kind of other games they played. The Sims, simple flash games, super obscure MMO’s, the mix of player types present was staggering, but most gravitated towards games based on creation and communication as opposed to rivalries and destruction.
Cat Flaming-Weed (name changed for anonymity) summed up for me the greatest strength of the title, and it’s greatest appeal; ‘I play free realms because I really like to play games when I’m bored’. Makes sense right? Imagine if Windows Solitaire had a social aspect, a persistent world that you could drop in and out of easily, having a visible avatar representing you in this world. Then imagine implementing micro-transactions to enhance the experience, players making incredibly quick and easy payments for distinguishing clothes and accessories. It would, like Free Realms, be very inclusive, very simple to implement, and very lucrative.
When FR eventually sees it’s release on PS3, Sony have the potential for a major hit, one that is assured if the barrier for entry is, essentially, just owning the console itself. Home, according to some of its critics, has failed, and if that is the case, this writer would argue that it is the aimless direction it has taken. There is simply nothing to achieve in the land of the beautiful people. Free Realms is a game first, social networking tool second, and caters to those that need goals, that want a collection, that need to compete. It encourages friendly activity by taking people’s minds off ruining the experience for everyone else, instead drawing them in to a loosely knit community of fellow competitors. It’s all the better for it!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my, relatively brief, foray into Sony’s fantastical kingdom and I can say I’ve never had a more pleasant and peaceful online experience. It hasn’t changed my mind about MMORPGs but it has changed my mind about MMOs. I’m now more excited than ever to play MAG and APB, more interested in how the portable community will treat the new LittleBigPlanet on PSP, and more than ever do I want to get involved with Skate 2’s online free skate elements.
Sometime down the road I’ll be coming back to the people of Free Realms to see how they and the world have evolved, and in the future I’d like to explore other online worlds like Second Life and WOW. But for the time being, Free Realms has proved, to me at least, that the ‘Freemium’ payment model works well, that Sony does have the ability to deliver an outstanding online product, and it has reaffirmed my faith in gamers worldwide to be the likeable, cliquey, crazy people I’ve always loved…