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Role Playing (Games) Sony Entertainment Games

Free Realms Approaches the Five-Million-Player Mark 77

A few days ago at Comic-Con, Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley spoke about the success of Free Realms, their free-to-play MMORPG that relies on microtransactions for a business model. The game was released at the end of April, and by mid-June there were upwards of three million registered users. Now that total is approaching five million, with no sign of slowing down. Min Kim, another panelist at the discussion, said, "When people started talking about it back in 2003 or 2004, people said Western games would never want to do this, to play a game for free and then buy items. And now everybody is saying, 'We're going to have microtransactions as part of our business model.'"
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Free Realms Approaches the Five-Million-Player Mark

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  • So if I were to jump off the cliff the idiotic CEOs and Game Designers would follow me?

    It's OK. I'll take one for the team, guys.
    • They do seem to not be completely grasping the business model. 5 million users + free game + microtransactions doesn't mean 5 million paying users.

      The thing I didn't like about Free Realms is that the money aspect is PUSHED HARD right from the word go. It becomes a case of trial and errore to find out what you can actually do for free in the game. It seems a wiser idea would be to give the users a chance to love your game THEN introduce microtransactions, perhaps to allow users gain an edge during endgame.


      • by Jurily ( 900488 ) <jurily&gmail,com> on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:32AM (#28834363)

        It seems a wiser idea would be to give the users a chance to love your game THEN introduce microtransactions, perhaps to allow users gain an edge during endgame.

        Fuck no. Nobody wants to play with someone who constantly tries to bribe the DM. And nobody wants to play with a DM who can be bribed.

        You already have a working business model out there, follow that: in WoW everyone is equal.

        • Agreed about WoW, any MMO with any sense should take the things that make up WoW and build on it. It just makes sense to use a familiar UI, quest structure and gameplay elements as asking users to learn whole new paradigms is a hurdle to quick adoption. You see the same logic in web browsers copying each other so often.

        • And nobody wants to play with a DM who can be bribed.

          You're assuming that the microtransitions give players a tactical advantage.

          In Battlefield Heroes, there are microtransactions, but they give you no tactical advantage, besides that you can level and gain points faster.

          You can't buy important things, like weapons and abilities, with real world money. That way you can't "bribe" the game.

          I don't know what the case is in Free Realms. Hopefully someone can tell me what the situation is there.

          • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

            by changedx ( 1338273 )
            I've played Free Realms to a number of max-level job classes. Paying a $5/month subscription fee increases the number of classes available, from 10 to 15.

            Another $5 buys you the best possible weapon in Free Realms, and it is usable at level 1. Tobold has a good writeup here: []

            Note that Free Realms has no end-game. There are some questlines that open up at max-level (20), but no raiding or group PvP. So that $5 uber-weapon only help
        • Free Realms is mostly co-operative and rarely competitive. It's in every party member's best interest that each player is as decked out as possible. Plus your character has to be a high enough level to use the subscriber items anyway so it's not like you can bribe your way to the top.

        • I'm starting to warm up to the DDO model where they still use microtransactions, only they are not as much 'micro': Instead of more levels or better gear you can buy yourself access to areas and instances, access to classes/races, an XP gain boost for a day, etc etc etc. The point is that in-game you will not get a free pass just because you have cash, and you can play with/against others without feeling handicapped just because you don't pay cash.

        • uh, go to google and type "world of warcraft purchase gold" how different is this?
        • Fuck no. Nobody wants to play with someone who constantly tries to bribe the DM. And nobody wants to play with a DM who can be bribed.

          You already have a working business model out there, follow that: in WoW everyone is equal.

          ...except for the people who buy gold from other players. They're able to buy themselves a little bit of a competitive edge.

          In a 5 million player game of D&D, the DM may not take bribes, but some of the players will. The demand exists, and someone's going to satisfy it. It can be

        • by AP31R0N ( 723649 )

          "Fuck no. Nobody wants to play with someone who constantly tries to bribe the DM. And nobody wants to play with a DM who can be bribed."

          Agreed. Well... i don't like those. Some people might not care as long as they can exploit the system too.

          "WoW everyone is equal"

          Unless you have money/time to burn. Gold farming and twinking are rampant in WoW. Until they have a server where player trade is forbidden, no... it's not equal. Then there is the matter of the Gygaxian power curve that allows instagibbing wi

  • by Lazy Jones ( 8403 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @03:33AM (#28834095) Homepage Journal
    I find such claims dubious, then again I don't know whether the pay-to-play games producers include people who take the free 14-day trials in their claimed player numbers...
    • by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @03:49AM (#28834169) Homepage
      It's easy to get registrations for a free game, most of those require you to register to even download the client. Average concurrent users is a much better measure of a game's popularity. Then again I guess you could consider WoW China's business model to be microtransaction based (they pay a very small fee per hour instead of paying a larger fee per month), and that's responsible for a large part of WoW's playerbase. Numbers like that are always inflated as much as they can to make the game look better anyway.
      • by Aladrin ( 926209 )

        I think I'd actually be more likely to play MMOs under that model now. In the past, when I had tons of time, I wanted the unlimited account... But now, where my time is more precious, I'd rather pay for what I actually use than pay a monthly fee on a game I might not play at all that month.

    • Depends on the game (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:41AM (#28834399)

      In the case of WoW the way the count a subscriber is a person who paid too play the game in the last 30 days. In the case of most of the world, that means someone who has an active monthly subscription. In the case of some Asian countries, it means someone who paid for some play time last month.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:09AM (#28834489)

      Every time Free Realms crosses another million player milestone the same thing always gets implied.

      The totals are always stated to be the unique number of players who have signed up for the game and actually played the game.

      Anyone who has tried the game can easily see why Free Realms is such a massive hit. It appeals to three different demographics very well:

      1. Burnt out hardcore MMORPG players who love being part of an online world but need a break from the hours of hardcore raiding or grinding they are use to

      2. Kids and parents

      3. Casual first time players who don't want to invent the insane time required for a standard MMORGP

      Beyond that Sony's years of experience making MMORPGs really shows. The game is the most bug free and polished MMORPG I've ever seen. Everything is streamed from the very start. You can be playing live withing a few minutes of signing up. A tiny loader program is downloaded and you are good to go. No 10 gig all day downloading and patching just to try out the game like most MMORPGs require you to go through.

      You can jump in and out at any time without worrying about dying or losing your stuff.

      And the free versus pay is pretty much evenly divided so that you can easily play a half of the game without every paying a single penny.

      The artwork is beautiful but it runs on just about any computer that someone would have at home today.

      And it is just plain fun and relaxing. Sony absolutely nailed it with Free Realms. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people playing gets into the 10-20 million range once the game hits the millions of PS3s already on the market.

      • by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:44AM (#28834655) Homepage

        "Every time Free Realms crosses another million player milestone the same thing always gets implied.

        The totals are always stated to be the unique number of players who have signed up for the game and actually played the game."

        Yeah, because these numbers are meaningless. Sign up and play once, then quit? You still count as a "player" until the end of time. Comparing the numbers to anything other then another game with the same model is meaningless.

        How many people spent money on it in the last month? That's the number that REALLY matters. You'll notice they don't release that one.

        • by raehl ( 609729 )

          How many people spent money on it in the last month? That's the number that REALLY matters. You'll notice they don't release that one.

          You realize the game is FREE, right? So the number of people who spent money on it is probably a very poor measurement?

          Average concurrent users is probably the metric you want to look at for game 'popularity'. Of course, then you have to ask, is the most popular game the best game? Lots of people listen to Brittany! Lots of them even PAID to listen to Brittany!

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by Nerdfest ( 867930 )
        I think I recognize your writing style from other Sony advertising.
      • Are we ever going to have cross platform games for PS3 / PC / Xbox? Seems to me this would be the easiest to accomplish with MMORPGS. I understand there are issues about server capacity etc. and compatibility, but you would think at least Xbox and Windows servers would be able to work together. Now what about Free Realms servers, and Sony PS3 servers?

      • Great summary. I've tried most MMOs and the longest I played any one was 5 non-consecutive months. They're all too similar for my tastes.

        Free Realms is absolutely a breath of fresh air because there are so many play types and objectives. I find this game very innovative, and I predict we'll start seeing more crafting mini games in place of boring progress bars.

        Huge kudos to Sony. I might actually foot the $5/month to kick the tires on some of the subscriber content. For those wondering, though, there's

      • by CBob ( 722532 )

        Sony...Bug Free...I'm speechless. Utterly, even sarcasm fails me.

        On the other notes, SOE has always struck me as a perfect example of how NOT to run online gaming. It took quite a bit of effort to eliminate the lead Everquest had, but by splitting the market & alienating players, they managed to do it. They seem to have followed this pattern more than once as well.

        I'll prob dl the game just to use Smed's/SOE's names as obscenities again.

        (edit after 1st preview)
        Ok, I just actually looked at the game...I

    • Another reason to be dubious: If they haven't reached the five-millionth player yet, how do they already know his name will be Mark?

      - RG>

  • Well, if it works... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sumbius ( 1500703 )
    I have to admit that this is one of the free MMPORPGs that I haven't played, but I know many games that use this business model and it works. The so said "free" part attracts player to the game and most start paying for items soon after. Still, I'm really amazed by how they managed to get an estimate of 5 million players in such a short while. Lets just hope that they don't get greedy and start compensating the lack of monthly fee income by making the item prices too high, like Perfect World International h
  • by anomnomnomymous ( 1321267 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @03:40AM (#28834129)
    Well done to them.
    If the game(s) are executed well, and you still can play the same game when -not- paying for it (or not get a severe advantage), I'll be playing it... and I might even buy some virtual stuff.

    I've recently started playing Battlefield Heroes [], and whereas I thought I wouldn't be fooled into buying silly virtual clothes, I've recently -did- do that, if not only because I think giving back five pounds of my money is a reasonable amount for the enjoyable content they delivered.
    So yeah, let more free games come along, and I might try to compensate a company for their work (my main motivation for buying those items).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by julesh ( 229690 )

      Agreed. I'm normally a cheap-assed bastard who will go so far out of his way to avoid paying for stuff you wouldn't believe it, but I've shelled out cash for items in utransaction mmos before. The model does work.

  • I was bored and wanted to see what the hype was about, so I went to check out Free Realms and what do you know, its windows only...Its a browser game for christs sake... Invest the time and make it multi-platform...I guess I'm out...thanks again sony...
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's not a browser game. It launches via the browser but in no way is it a browser game.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by JasonDT ( 550477 )
        I wouldn't know whether it was a browser game or not... as soon as it detected that I was not running windows the whole process stopped...
    • Now Runescape that's a browser game. the entire game is in the browser and can be played as long as you have the most up to date java runtime. even on a mac

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kratisto ( 1080113 )
        Now Slashdot that's a browser game. The entire website is in the browser and can be read as long as you have the most up to date javascript. Even on linux.
  • by minsk ( 805035 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @03:50AM (#28834175)

    Whenever one of these articles comes up, I'm always curious about maximums for:

    - active accounts
    - concurrent users
    - concurrent users per server
    - interacting users

    It seems to me that we should differentiate between multiplayer and massively multiplayer based on the last one. And on the degree of interaction. After all, a bunch of single-player games and a chat box isn't an MMOG... I hope.

    • by binkzz ( 779594 )
      Come on, it's Sony! And marketing!

      They'll blow it up any way they can.

      In fact, I bet if you check the "Do you suffer from schizophrenia or any multiple personality disorder" box, they count you as several people.

      Not to mention pregnant women!
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by changedx ( 1338273 )
      FWIW, the number of available Free Realms servers has not increased in the past few months. (At 10 when I checked last week.) When Free Realms first launched in April, the number of servers grew quickly, at a rate of about 2 per week. It's been at 10 since around the end of May.

      Unless they're upgrading the capacity of each server, this indicates that the number of active players is remaining constant, so new people are entering at the same rate that people are quitting. But in a free-to-play game, th
  • Great name! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @04:23AM (#28834315) Homepage
    What a break from the usual parade of poorly-named free software products. "Free Realms" says it all. Free has that double meaning, and Realms tags it immediately as a swords-and-sorcery type thing. Makers of "the GIMP" and other unfortunate backronyms take note.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What would you propose? 'Free Paint'?

    • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

      Makers of "the GIMP" and other unfortunate backronyms take note.

      So.. What you're suggesting is that they use FIMP (Free Image Manipulation Program) instead?

  • by physburn ( 1095481 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @05:21AM (#28834543) Homepage Journal
    In the future a major proportion of the world economy will be lived in MMO style worlds. People with spend much of there time there, because in a polluted, expensive, miserable rule world, just doesn't have anything for them. Some people, like chinese gold farmers now, will slave in artificial game jobs, finding magic swords and a like for the spoiled teenagers of the richer classes. Gambling on gameplay might all spring up as a mini industry for the denizens of the MMO environments. It will be so much fun, that many people will neglect there real lives, usually spent alone in VR environment in dirty bed sits and ever smaller flats.


    MUD Games [] Feed @ Feed Distiller []

    • Why in their right mind would anyone consider the dynamics of nature "(sad)"? Nature, biology, physics, life itself is based on the same principles as economics - the win is survival, the currency is life.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Kreigaffe ( 765218 )

      Wow you need to stop smoking so much pot. Like, right now. Stop it.

  • At what point will they give up on the whole micro-transaction idea? When we have to pay one slip of gold pressed latinum every time we enter someones house or sit in a chair in a waiting room?

  • by foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:23AM (#28836825) Homepage Journal

    iTunes really got people used to micro-transactions... unafraid really. Yes people got a few shocks when they went on a binge and grabbed whatever they felt like for a week or two but then they sobered up and realized that they could easily just get a few new songs a week and they'd be really happy.

    Now with the iPhone even more people are used to paying $0.99 for a wide selection of content while getting a lot of value for "free" (they did pay for the phone and mobile account).

    All this adds up to a growing population of people who feel very comfortable paying on demand via micro-transactions for bonus entertainment. It's like going to Disneyland or [your local amusement park] - it's not the entrance fee that get you. It's the snacks, toys, shows, lunch, dinner, clothes, etc. The entrance fee is just to weed out those who have money from those who would clog the lines for paying customers.

  • How Many Buyers? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:17AM (#28837627)
    Five million users, whether they just be one-time registrants or not, is pretty impressive. The thing is, Smed is implying a connection between those users and the cash shop, which just isn't necessarily there. The game is free-to-play. You don't need to subscribe, or to buy gear in the cash shop. I doubt many really have, beyond using the free 100 Store Cash they got from the first or second million milestone celebration.

    Cash store games work, but claiming 'five million people spend money at ours!' is disingenuous.

  • A proof that a bug free, well executed game attracts players. Who would have guessed?

"More software projects have gone awry for lack of calendar time than for all other causes combined." -- Fred Brooks, Jr., _The Mythical Man Month_