Last played: 2012
I’ve played a lot of games as part of my job. But Free Realms is probably the only one I played to try to get a job.
In the summer of 2009, I interviewed with SOE for a position that would have had me operating out of their Denver office and handling PR mostly for their online card-gaming properties and a few other things. I don’t remember if Free Realms fit into that (it did have a virtual card game), but it had just come out and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to learn a bit more about the company’s new big thing. I went in expecting a kiddie game and what I got was an MMO experience way ahead of its time.
(That’s not an exaggeration, it’s just me still angling for that PR job! See, I write terrific copy!)
When I talked about The Elder Scrolls Online, I lamented how it lacked the “go anywhere, do anything” feel of single-player Elder Scrolls games. Free Realms, on the other hand, surprised me with how… well, free it was – not in terms of the cost, but in terms of how totally open it was. I could travel anywhere on the map, playing minigames or doing quests along the way, with no restrictions based on my level or class.
I spent much of my time at the demolition derby track and mining in the mountainous zone because – get this – it was what I wanted to do. I felt the actual combat was dull and so didn’t partake of it much, preferring the various minigames, like soccer and cooking. I played my first tower defense game in Free Realms, and the main theme song still manages to worm its way into my brain for extended periods.
And now it’s in yours!
Early on, the game had a pretty aggressive pay wall. This was SOE’s first attempt at a free-to-play MMO, long before they’d forged their identity as an exclusively F2P studio, and even a few months before Turbine converted Dungeons & Dragons Online over to F2P, which most people acknowledge as the “start of the F2P era” among Western developers. I think SOE softened some of the restrictions later on, as they matured their F2P portfolio.
I don’t always need a hardcore, blood-and-guts simulator in my MMO, so I’ve always been receptive to games that obviously cater to a young demographic, like Free Realms. And I think a lot more developers could serve to take lessons from games that might seem childish at first but have solid underpinnings that could be adapted to any game.