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Free Realms and Sturgeon’s Law

Posted by on November 4, 2009

In 1958, noted science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon wrote that 90% of science fiction was crud, which was generalized and explained that 90% of EVERYTHING is crud.

I loved doing the Daily Blogroll, but the loss of a couple hours out of each day are only one reason I have put them on hold for now. It’s mostly because I came to understand that MMOs aren’t immune from Sturgeon’s Law, and that for every good, original MMO, there are nine that are crap. Writing about those nine crappy MMOs as if they were good and fun was exhausting. I’m not gonna name names; I vote for which goes in the fun pile and which goes in the crap pile by how I spend my time online, and it should be pretty obvious how that goes with me. And my definition of crap vs crumpets probably isn’t yours.

I’m just going to point out that blaming WoW players for coming to your game in droves and then leaving after a month because they placed your game in that famous 90% is kinda short-sighted. Why would you think WoW players would want a game like WoW, anyway? They already HAVE one.

What makes a game crappy? It’s not bugs or server queues, it’s granted that every game has bugs and deals with over-popularity at some point, and that all will deal with these problems. A game is crappy when it has no reason to exist other than the hubris of its developers. Do we NEED another fantasy MMO with fed-ex quests and classes and leveling? No, we don’t. There’s hundreds out there right now. You could play one a day from now until doomsday (in 2012), probably. If you think your game is going to make any sort of splash in that very deep pond, well, you’re wrong. Spending millions in advertising might get people in the door, but won’t stop them from walking right back out.

Anyway, I didn’t want to talk about crappy games, I wanted to talk about Free Realms.

Free Realms is Free. You can make a character and choose from any of a wide variety of jobs and swap between them at any time. If you pay a little, you get even COOLER jobs. I was pretty excited about the game when it launched, but the gameplay just got kinda repetitive and I found I was only leveling my final class — the wizard — in order to get more Hogwart’s-style wizard outfits. That wasn’t worth buying a card at Best Buy to play after awhile.

Now it seems I don’t have to worry about playing all, any more, because Free Realms is no longer free. The Teal Terrapin noticed in a Massively story that SOE is adopting a Wizard101-style “free-mium” model, where your first four levels are free, but after that, you must pay.

Creative Director Laralyn McWilliams insists this was a change players asked for.

Players have asked to try out all of the jobs, and we listened. So as of early November, free player characters that are newly created will be able to play any job (Ninja, Chef, Postman, Kart Driver, Demo Derby Driver, Brawler, Miner, Soccer Star, Archer, Wizard, Medic, Blacksmith, Warrior) in Free Realms up to level five for free. When level four is completed, the job becomes Members Only.

… so we’re given to believe.

Was there really a great outcry from Free Realms players to make the game not be free any more?

In Wizard101, you can either subscribe or pay to unlock new areas as you come to them. Once you unlock an area, it is unlocked forever, and for all your current or future characters. Letting your Free Realms membership expire means you won’t be able to play any job that has leveled past level 5. This isn’t unusual for a subscription game, but it is rather odd for a free to play game, that usually try to encourage people to spend time online.

But then, Free Realms is no longer a F2P game.

14 Responses to Free Realms and Sturgeon’s Law

  1. Scopique

    Bait and switch :( Get all the kids hooked and then claim that they’re only responding to player demand….and we ALL know SOE is so dilligent about responding to player demands. /eyeroll

  2. Ryver

    Now I get to explain this to my 4.5 yo who has been playing a Chef first (we hit 20 on it) and then a Brawler (around level 11). I guess I’ll be able to uninstall the little footprint that is on my computer.

  3. Spinks

    Been a while since I played this, but is there much to do that doesn’t require you to be beyond level 5? (I remember liking the idea that everything including gathering was a job, but with this kind of sub that feels like more of a limitation.)

  4. mbp

    This Free Realms decision baffles me.

    It is inconceivable that Sony really believes that making subscriptions compulsory will increase the number of players. The only conclusion I can make then is that non-subscribers are costing more than they are worth.

  5. Yarrnath

    SOE has been doing everything they can to turn this once fun little casual game into nothing more than a quick cash grab. I have been playing since beta and almost everything they have done to the game has been negative. Item values nerfed to make them worthless. Crafting destroyed, grind massively increased…. all to force you to buy cash shop items, very OVERPRICED cash shop items I might add. As I said in the comments on Massively, I don’t mind spending money on games, in FR I bought pets, outfits, etc., but I’m done giving Sony any money… ever! And that means I won’t be playing DC Universe now.. way to go SOE!

    Shame such a fun little game has been ruined.

  6. Randomessa

    I’m pretty shocked by this change in policy – fans critical of the Free Realms model already had so little goodwill towards SOE that I can’t see going “freemium” as anything but a shot to the foot. I was keeping Free Realms around to go back to from time to time when new updates were added, but why bother now, if I can barely do anything more for free?

  7. Toldain

    It sounds like the behavior of a company hard hit by the recession, which has discovered that it has a non-functional business model. In short, a desperation move. I can’t believe they don’t understand the potential downside. But I’m guessing that they have discovered that they are losing money with Free Realms, and are frantically trying to fix it.

    I have heard from insiders the D&D Online now makes MORE money from its F2P model than it did with subscriptions. So what’s the difference? Marketing to adults, who have spare cash? People probably are much better at saying “no” to their kids than to themselves.

  8. Tesh

    Toldain, that’s not the only difference. Content pack sales (like W101′s Access Passes) are a significant deviation from the subscription mindset (firmly into GW territory, actually). That’s pulling in some good money, rightfully so.

  9. Green Armadillo

    My guess is that players who leveled past 5 without subscribing were very unlikely to ever buy anything, subscription or item shop transaction. If the amount of revenue from this crowd is small enough, even a handful of additional subscriptions becomes a win for SOE.

  10. Capn John

    Allow me to play Devil’s Advocate >:)

    “Creative Director Laralyn McWilliams insists this was a change players asked for.”
    which Tipa responded with, “Was there really a great outcry from Free Realms players to make the game not be free any more?”

    I think you’re misinterpreting what McWilliams is saying. To me it appears McWilliams is saying the players wanted to be able to experience ALL of the jobs (classes) as, IIRC, up until this point in time players who did NOT subscribe could not experience ALL of the jobs, i.e., there were several jobs that you could only access IF you subscribed.

    What Sony did was open up ALL of the jobs to ALL players but they added a level cap to the non-paying players.

    In WoW terms this would be like giving a Vanilla WoW player access to Blood Elves and Dranei but only letting them play to level 10. They already do something similar to this with their Trial Account; for 2 weeks you can play any Vanilla race/class but only to level 20. Wizard 101 gives you access to all Schools while limiting you to level 10 (you’re also restricted to certain streets within Wizard City). In DDO you can advance to level 4 (IIRC) but then need to find leveling sigils to get further into the game (unless you buy them from the DDO Store). You also cannot access certain content unless you buy the packets from the Store.

    IMO Sony didn’t change Free Realms to a subscription-only game because it never was a true Free 2 Play game; like W101 it’s always been a subscription game which still allowed non-paying Players to have limited access to the game’s content. What Sony did was change the content that was accessible to non-paying players. They can now access ALL jobs, something they could not previously do, but the upper levels quests to which they previously had access are now off limits.

    What the non-paying Players were asking for was access to ALL Jobs. Sony heard their cry and granted their wish, but at what cost? Be careful what you wish for, or you just might get it.

  11. Yarrnath

    Capn John,

    Unless I missed it there was never any great outcry from non-paying members for free access to the membership jobs. The membership jobs were all combat ones except for blacksmith, and the combat jobs all play very similar. Ninja is much like Wizard and Archer, while Brawler is very much like Warrior and Medic. The new soccer job I guess is different and perhaps they have some more different jobs on the way. There was hope that as new jobs were added, older membership jobs might be moved to the free section, something that I believe was even mentioned by the devs, at least as something that they might consider.

    What SOE has done is completely change the very nature of the game. I will give them credit for at least not screwing over characters made prior to November 1st. But by effectively making sure there will be no more new “free” players, it is now effectively a subscription game, as I seriously doubt many people (adults or kids) will hang around as “free” players buying cash shop items when they can’t go higher than the start of 5 on anything other than Pet Trainer and Card Duelist.

    They already made a lot of us with memberships mad by nerfing things left and right, with promises to revisit some of the changes which made the game into a grind and the crafting a net loss, some quests crazy hard, etc… but of course they never did. From the friends I had in game to watching the forums, it looked like many not only canceled their membership, but left entirely. The servers which used to all be fairly busy are now mostly empty, aside from holiday events. There seem to be bursts of new players now and then and few old timers (at least on the forums).

    The strange thing is, at least of the people I knew, that the non-membership players seemed to be actually spending more money, as they were after adventure job cash shop outfits, pets and glow shards for their Ninja and Brawler gear. I went with the membership and then was going to spend about $5 every month or two on cash shop items. Considering I’m paying only $11.67 a month for Aion (not counting the cost of buying the initial box), Free Realms doesn’t seem like a very good value now. If they had kept the game casual and fun like it was at first, that would have been different. But why grind for hours with little to show for it in FR when that same time spent in most other games actually gets you something in return. Nerfing the amount of gold you get in FR really sucked most of the fun out of it, as they left the high prices for end game stuff at the same level.

    But I guess SOE is only interested in rich kids that will spend a bundle of their parent’s money for a few months and then move on. Perhaps the original business plan wasn’t working, but totally ignoring the player base you already have, even driving them off, then changing the very nature of the game doesn’t seem like a good idea. Perhaps the new plan will work, I don’t know. I’ll just spend a few minutes each day trying to finish my collections or perhaps do a quest now and then, at least until they eventually kick non-members off entirely.