The NDA to the soon-to-be-released Free Realms is down, the beta is exploding in numbers, and reports are pouring in. To sum up the general sentiment of this kiddy-centric MMO: (1) it’s easy to get into and play, (2) very polished, (3) cartoonish in the WoW style, (4) has a wide variety of “jobs” and minigames, (5) very much on the “easy” side of the difficulty spectrum, and (6) is not quite so free as its name suggests, especially if you’re looking to have permanent pets and the like.
Spinks gives Free Realms good odds at hacking away at WoW’s dominant spot at the top of the MMO heap, and I think this is an interesting argument. Other than superficial similarities in art style, the two games have virtually nothing that overlaps. They’re both “casual”, in a sense, and Free Realms might be primed to take the ultra-casual, kiddy/family market by storm, but Blizzard’s idea of casual ends up being a 25-person raid that lasts until 4am and requires a minimum of seventeen addons. Free Realms is accessible to little people who, as of only recently, are able to tell the differences between colors and shapes.
Will FR make it big? It certainly has a great chance of doing so, and other free-to-play titles (enhanced with RMT purchases, of course) marketed with younger gamers in mind have netted hordes of players: Runescape and Wizard 101 come to mind. Its true success will be measured in how much it penetrates into the adult demographic — how cutsey can we swallow to enjoy something on the same level as children? I’ll just sit back and see how it pans out. I have reservations, but will certainly give it a go alongside my wife when it actually launches.
In the meantime, there’s a host of reports: Cuppy gives FR glowing praise, even though (by her own admission) she’s got some major bias when it comes to this title. Tipa calls it “Technicolor WoW” and sings its qualities to the heavens. Some are just thrilled about the trading card game (I’ll admit — I’m right there too). Stargrace says it’s okay as a “secondary game”, but nothing full-time. Ogrebear likes it, mostly, although slams it for lack of a Mac version. Seriously Casual: “Free realms is for kids and for people that think WoW is too hardcore.” Epic Slant drops key words like “polished” and “beautiful” like candy… yummy yummy candy.