The target audience seems to be the "E" crowd, aka "everyone including children". So dont expect too much in the way of a realistic mmo.


From gamespot and IGN
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After you read this preview, don't expect to hear much more about Free Realms on the pages of GameSpot. Sony Online Entertainment is doing a lot of things differently with its upcoming freely distributed and free-to-play massively multiplayer online game. For starters, SOE plans to market the game solely through viral methods; it will probably do things like seed message boards and allow word of mouth to spread. So we're not expecting to even see the game again before it releases on the Internet, much less obtain any screenshots or videos to show you.

Luckily, we're glad to write about it anyway, because Free Realms sounds rather interesting. The game is being created primarily for the PC, with a PlayStation 3 version planned as well. It's also being created so that people with computers of all shapes and sizes will be able to run it. That means you shouldn't expect the game to push any graphical boundaries like most retail MMO games do. But on the flipside, Free Realms will purportedly be quite compact because you'll be able to download the game client, as well as get up and running within the gameworld itself, in a matter of moments. Rather than installing the entire game to your hard drive, you'll also be able to download new components piecemeal as you move around the gameworld.

What we got to see of the game itself looked fairly promising. SOE says it's targeting both male and female gamers from a wider range of ages than it has with past MMO games. To that end, the company is crafting a lighthearted, whimsical sort of world in which your adventuring will take place. No details were revealed about the lore behind the gameworld, but it looked like a cartoonish, vaguely medieval setting with some real-world elements, such as what appeared to be a Halloween celebration. Again, this isn't the most graphically complex game you've ever seen, but it seems to be taking the World of Warcraft track, with colorful and varied art design making up for any technical shortcomings.

On the gameplay side, SOE is doing a lot of things differently than it would with a typical MMO game. For one thing, there will be no player classes. Combat will also be optional. Despite these two omissions, the designers promise there will still be "meaningful character progression." You'll find plenty of quests to undertake, but they just won't all involve fighting. For instance, you might have to sit down and win a game of chess in the town tavern to complete a quest objective. Or you might stumble on a soccer field in the middle of a forest and simply decide to play a pick-up game if you like. From the sound of it, Free Realms will encourage you to engage in any and all of the activities you're interested in, while allowing you to ignore the ones you aren't.

So how is SOE going to support all this? As mentioned, the initial game client will be free for anyone to download and play. Development and support of the game will be subsidized by banner ads that are said to appear outside of the game window itself, though players will be able to pay a small subscription fee to remove ads. Some product placement may also be a possibility, but SOE wouldn't say how this sort of advertising might appear in-game. Lastly, there will be some opportunity for microtransactions for advanced players: You'll be able to drop a little coin for special items that aren't available to the freebie players. But again, company reps couldn't provide more details on such small transactions at this point.

Free Realms is looking like an interesting experiment in alternative game design and distribution. From the looks of things, it might amount to quite an entertaining time as well. We're not really sure what SOE's viral marketing campaign will entail, so we can't say just yet where you should look for more information. So for now, if you want to know more, just keep your ears to the ground.

-gamespot

June 11, 2007 - Sony Online Entertainment recently held a gaming event wherein the company discussed a few upcoming titles for the PlayStation 3 and PC. Included in a trio of new games is the newly announced MMO Free Realms, heading to PCs this winter and PlayStation 3 next summer.

The title is said to be primarily aimed at children, particularly girls. It will be free to play for the most part, although a paid subscription will be in place granting players access to special zones and activities. Likely, this means the game will follow a model similar to that of popular MMORPGs like Maple Story.

In an interview with Gamasutra, SOE president John Smedley commented, "Free Realms is fantasy, but it's [a] whimsical fantasy. It's not RMT per se, the idea of selling special customizations is key. You can play the game completely free. It's ad-supported, you can customize your avatar to your heart's content, then there will sort of be an additional catalogue of items we'll be selling that will allow people to customize even further."

The SOE president continued: "It's our first experiment in the fantasy space with this concept, what we call the 'velvet rope' model. We're taking our cues from some of the other successful games in the Asian market, titles like Kart Rider. You know, Mario Kart except you buy your power ups? Games designed around that concept can be very successful, without the problems we see in unsupervised RMT. I want to expand the concept of customization into player selling to one another, and creating for one another. Free Realms is going to be a big push in that direction."

"Our big goals with the game are whimsy and accessibility. User-generated content: I want to get it out of the space of buzzwords and into the game. Everybody talks about it, but it's hard to pin down," asserted Smedley. "I'd rather give people some lines, and say 'color inside these any way you want.' Then you can't just generate whatever you want, but you have users creating content themed towards our goals."

Smedley also remarked on the new direction this game marks for SOE as a whole, commenting, "Free Realms, in my mind, is going to take the company in a direction we've needed to go for a long time. We've been making these Lord of the Rings kind of 'high fantasy takes itself too seriously' games for a long time now. I don't think those games are bad, by any stretch of the imagination it's been our bread and butter. But those games don't have that kind of mass level of accessibility, I think, even World of Warcraft notwithstanding. We're not aiming for those kinds of numbers with FreeRealms, we're aiming for a lot bigger. I think that bringing something that I can play with my kids to the market is a big deal."

-IGN