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Massively's post-launch interview with Free Realms

Shawn Schuster

Free Realms has launched, the floodgates have been opened and the servers have multiplied like little fluffy bunnies. Despite a slight delay, the launch's feedback has been predominantly positive. Not only is this rare for an MMO launch these days, considering the factors, but it's also a testament to the team involved.

We took this opportunity, not even 2 days after launch, to sit down with the game's Creative Director, Laralyn McWilliams, to discuss the big event and how players have reacted so far. Plus, we talk a bit about the future of the game and what types of features we can expect to see coming soon. Follow along after the cut below for our complete interview with Free Realms!

Massively: So how has the launch-day feedback been so far, considering the delays?
Laralyn McWilliams: We saw from our end actually it was more anticipation -- people just eager to get into the game -- from things like Twitter and other things we were monitoring. I think some people were actually staying up late in anticipation to play. But Free Realms is a really complicated game and there's lots of moving parts, and getting all of those parts synchronized together and up on live was a real feat. So it was really gratifying for us because within the first ten minutes of the gates opening, essentially, there was a flood of players that came in. So even though it was comparatively late in the evening here on the West Coast, we still had a ton of people who came in as soon as the doors opened, so that was very exciting for us.

When the game was in beta, there was one server which quickly evolved into 2 servers at launch. Now the server count is at 6. Are there more servers scheduled to come out soon?
We actually have a lot of servers ready in our data center just waiting for us to flip the switch and turn them on. One of the greatest things about Free Realms is that you can take your character to any server, any time. So even as the server load increases, you can still play with your friends wherever you want on any server you want. It really is only a matter of 10-15 minutes for us to set up another server. So we'll continue to do that as the population increases.

Are there any plans to introduce a family plan for managing multiple accounts under one master account, much like FusionFall has?
Katie Hanson (SR PR Manager for SOE): Yes, we'd like to do something like that. It wasn't a launch feature, but it is in discussion.

Free Realms is already being called "everyone's secondary MMO". From a business perspective, this is a pretty good position to be in, especially with such an inexpensive membership fee. Was this "secondary MMO" status by design, or just a happy accident?
Our initial goal for Free Realms was to make it a game for casual players, and people who don't usually play MMOs at all. Maybe they don't like the grind or they don't have time or they don't like being limited, or they want to do more than one thing with one character. It was all of those types of things that drove the design and development of Free Realms. So the fact that MMO players are really enjoying Free Realms and that more hardcore gamers are enjoying Free Realms is really exciting for us. Our team really loves it, so we suspected other gamers would too, but it wasn't actually an audience that we intentionally went after.

"I can't give you an actual time for when they'd be in the game, but I can't imagine a game that lets you drive a race car would not let you have a mount."

Despite the fact that travel mounts would be unnecessary, are there any plans to add mounts in as just something cool to have?
Yeah, down the road, but there's no time frame for that. We have a lot of cool features on our list that we want to do, with housing being one of the first things on the list. Mounts are definitely on there too. I can't give you an actual time for when they'd be in the game, but I can't imagine a game that lets you drive a race car would not let you have a mount.

There has been some discussion of a "club" system replacing the traditional guild system in other MMOs. Is this still in the works?
Yeah, there's no date I can give you on that either, but that's a feature that's really important to us, and it's definitely on our list.

Can you explain a bit about how that would work?
We're still in development with that, so I'm hesitant to say a whole lot about it. One of the interesting things about Free Realms is trying to balance features so that the general public that's over 13 can enjoy them, but is still safe for those members under 13. Figuring out how you can design guilds or club emblems and name your guild and all of that is something that we're really spending a lot of time figuring out.

We've noticed that the whole Free Realms team is participating in Twitter quite a bit, with in-game meet-up announcements and other communication with the community done quite frequently. Is this something you plan to continue?
Oh yeah, definitely. We love talking about Free Realms. We're really proud of the game and we're really excited about it. In fact, the night of launch, when we saw the servers go live, technically we could have gone home because we were all exhausted at that point, but at least a third of the team stayed and played Free Realms until three or four in the morning because they were so excited. So we're going to keep tweeting about it, although you probably won't hear a lot of tweets about upcoming features, unless they're coming from me or Laura Naviaux or Katie, just because we don't want people to get excited about stuff until it's ready to come out. We definitely plan to keep tweeting news and special promo codes and special events to go to certain locations in the game right now where there's a party, and that kind of stuff.

Right now there are Station Cash Cards for Free Realms available at Target. Are there plans to bring these cards to other retail stores?
Katie: Right now they're available at Target, 7-11 and Rite Aid on Friday and then Best Buy on Monday. You can check out the website for more availability nationwide.

"As the game grows over time, I would anticipate that things that are members-only now will become free later on"

In future content patches, will we see a consistent balance between what's new for free users versus paid members?
We're going to maintain that same balance that we have now, which is roughly 60% free to 40% members-only. One of the great things about Free Realms is that since it streams to you in the background, it means it's easy for us to change content and update for fixes, but it also means that it's easy to release new content. We won't be artificially trying to maintain that balance of 60/40, but we'll be developing the features and new content and releasing it when it's ready so it can get to players as quickly as possible.

As the game grows over time, I would anticipate that things that are members-only now will become free later on because they'll be more new things for members to do. It's a living, growing game, and I anticipate that everything will be in flux for a bit, but we're basically maintaining the 60/40 balance going forward.

Before we go, can you give us any hint as to what's in the works with Free Realms?
There are some things that we actually have talked about, but they just didn't make it in time for launch. We do still have soccer coming. I know Smed has been talking about that a lot. I can't give any exact dates for any of these because we're in player feedback mode right now. So we really want to make sure that the game is solid, we've nailed all the bugs and that we're paying attention in the forums and paying attention to what people are talking about. So that's our first priority right now, which is making changes and pleasing the customers that we already have.

We do still plan to let you have a garage and let you customize your car, which was always something we've talked about. Also some new jobs that we have in the works, but that's all I can talk about that's in the pipe. It's not close as in next month, but it's definitely something you'll see sooner rather than later.

Thanks so much for your time!

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