Strange, but true: Five years into the Playstation Network’s existence (and eight years after the birth of Xbox Live), Free Realms for Playstation 3 has become the first free-to-play massive multiplayer console game.
The kid-centric game, which first launched on PCs in April 2009, gives players an open world filled with minigames such as kart racing, fighting and cooking and fishing. Players’ experience levels are capped in the free version; the premium version costs $5 per month, $13 for three months, $24.50 for six months, $30 for a year and $35 for life. Virtual goods are also available for purchase.
I’m only half-surprised it took this long. On one hand, free-to-play MMORPGs are a lucrative market. DFC Intelligence, a market research firm, estimated last August that free-to-play games, which earned $250 million in 2009, could become a $2 billion industry by 2015. On the other hand, console makers spend years losing money on every system sold in hopes of making that money back on software. Giving the software away could be an unpalatable risk.
But the Playstation 3 is more than four years old, and now’s the time to experiment. Free Realms is another example of Sony’s kitchen sink approach, which to date has included Blu-ray movies, the Playstation Move motion controller, 3D and an expanding streaming video selection.
Free Realms itself isn’t my cup of tea — and actually, I haven’t been able to try the PS3 version at all due to server problems — but I hope the experiment goes well for Sony. Free-to-play MMOs have belonged exclusively to PCs for too long.