Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Level 5 Paywall Comes To Free Realms

Massively has an interview about Free Realms and decided to bury a huge news bombshell behind the "read more" link:

Starting in "early November", all classes (including previously subscription-only classes) will be free to try, but all classes (including currently free-to-play classes) will be capped for non-subscribers at level 5.

Pre-existing characters will be grand-fathered in and allowed to advance to the level cap (currently 20) on the currently free jobs. There is no word on whether non-subscribers will be able to permanently unlock progress to level 20 on a per-job basis through a Station Cash transaction. However, given SOE's willingness to add anything and everything that players will buy to EQ2's SC store, I'd imagine this will arrive at some point.

(There's also a question of what happens to lapsed subscribers - do you stop being able to use your jobs because you advanced past level 5 while you were paying? Or perhaps you automatically mentor down to level 5 until you resubscribe? Again, per-job unlocks could fix these sorts of issues.)

On the plus side, it would be nice to actually be allowed to try all the jobs. In particular, Free Realms' only free combat job is the melee DPS Brawler - if you want a tank or a healer, you must subscribe (or chug healing potions - there are some free samples, with more available in the item shop). I can also concede how the old model lent itself to players coming, doing all the content, and leaving without ever paying for anything.

On the other hand, Free Realms is now all but officially a subscription game with a free trial, rather than a free to play game with an item shop and optional subscription. Perhaps it is more intuitive, but it's also a pretty major change of philosophy.

(And seriously, did Massively try to bury this story to avoid appearing to be critical of SOE? There's absolutely no excuse for this not to have been the big bold headline of the article.)


  1. They better change the name to Not-So-Free Realms.

  2. That is quite a big change, I'm really surprised Massively didn't pick up on it either.

    So having used free to play to get a load of people to sign up and try it, they now figure they'd make more money if they try to get their database of potential customers to sign up for subs.

    Bit of a blow to the F2P model there.

  3. Guess they want more gamers paying and less playing... :>

    But I thought people who do not like the game are already not playing FR, why do they want to scare away those who still play Free Realms?

    Seems people have no incentive to pay for the game, which can be two things:

    1.) it is nice... for free
    2.) it stinks... if you have to pay money for it

  4. Research is your friend.


    "Any character created before November 1st, 2009 can still play as a Ninja, Chef, Postman, Kart Driver, Demo Derby Driver, Brawler and Miner all the way to level 20. You also will be able to sample the Member jobs Archer, Wizard, Medic, Blacksmith , Warrior and Soccer Star up to level 5 and Adventurer and Card Duelist all the way to level 20. All characters will also be able to advance through all of the Pet Trainer trophies and earn the exclusive pet.

    Characters created after November 1st, 2009 will be able to play all jobs up to level 5 and Adventurer and Card Duelist all the way to level 20. These characters will also be able to advance through all of the Pet Trainer trophies and earn the exclusive pet."

  5. -- FreeRealms strikes me as a vastly more expensive development effort than almost anything else in the F2P space; it also shares with Club Penguin high ongoing costs of policing and moderation. To fund all this, it seems to me that FreeRealms would either need a really huge playerbase, in the ballpark with the very top F2P games, or a higher monetization rate. It doesn't have the playerbase; it would seem they have no choice but to work on the monetization.

    -- As opposed to Club Penguin, funded by classist peer-pressure around cosmetic items, FreeRealms has more gamist elements; it is more of a hybrid between Club Penguin and WoW. But its original pricing model targeted the social elements of the game far more than the gamist ones -- a kid could, if he desired, get many of the available jobs to level cap and experience comparatively limited RMT pressure -- he's competing against the world, not the players.

    -- As a more general question, it remains something of an open question whether FreeRealms is actually a needed market niche: many parents, whether you think they are nuts or not, seem willing to let their kids go from strictly controlled kids-only entertainment straight to the adult world of Facebook and WoW (quite possibly with supervision, of course). Perhaps the intermediate step represented by FreeRealms is not needed.

  6. And just as Free-Realms goes more subscription, WoW goes more micro-transactions.

  7. Here's the crucial question:

    Of the players who currently continue to play beyond level 5 without subscribing, how many ever spend any money on anything (subscription, item store purchases, etc)?

    My guess is that the number we're talking about is pretty low. If non-subscribers don't pay, then it doesn't hurt the game's bottom line to drive them away.

    This is not necessarily a pure referendum on the F2P model, since it is very specific to the way in which Free Realms previously divided its paid and non-paid content.


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