Tag Archives: The Clone Wars

A Farewell to Free Realms and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures

No.  No more kids games.  Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game.  Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot.

John Smedley, Reddit AMA

Back towards the end of January, SOE announced that it would be closing down four of its titles this year.  The closures were set out with the following dates:

While some at SOE have, in the past, expressed a desire that MMOs should never die, the financials and resource constraints companies face do not always support those ideals.  Smed said, it wasn’t a cost issue… and then turned around and said that it was, in fact, a cost issue:

This isn’t a big cost issue. The real problem is maintaining the code bases when we update our authentication or security updates. It’s really that simple. The costs scale with the userbases. It’s just getting prohibitively expensive in terms of time to maintain these games.

So today we say farewell to the first two titles on the list, the two titles in the SOE lineup aimed at kids.  As you can see from the quote at the top of the post, it seems unlikely that SOE will try that focus again.  So goes the myth of the kid with daddy’s credit card that was so popular some time back.  It turns out that they don’t spend money.

Oh, and they are mean to each other.  I guess that fits the stereotype that WoW problem players are all 13 year olds, though I would not discount the 18-24 year old demographic when it comes to excelling at obnoxious behavior.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures seems like a natural for closure.

SWCWE_Logo

It was tied in with a TV series that has since ended… sort of… Netflix might revive it.   But as a game, it struck me as little more than a shared lobby for mini-games in the hour or so I spent on it on quiet Sunday afternoon.  A vehicle for selling Jedi hats.  I am sure some will miss it, but it never seemed to me to be a high point in the history of SOE.

Last Day...

Last Day…

More like a bone thrown them by Lucas because they were yanking the Star Wars Galaxies license just before Star Wars: The Old Republic went live.  I hope SOE made some money from it to fund other things, though I doubt they would be closing it if it was bringing in a lot of money.

Still, SOE gave people their fill of Jedi hats during the last days of the title.

Dear Clone Wars Adventures Players,

As previously announced, we wanted to remind you that game services for Clone Wars Adventures will be discontinued the evening of March 31, 2014. We have had many incredible experiences with you in the game – from insane battles to unbelievable memories – and we thank you for all of the great adventures and support over the years.

On Tuesday, March 18th, most items in the Clone Wars Adventures Marketplace will be reduced to 1 SC each for you to enjoy over the last couple of weeks. For more details, information and FAQ, please visit SOE Customer Service.

May the Force always be with you!

Best,

Sony Online Entertainment LLC

Out in style I suppose.

And then there is Free Realms.  This was the big experiment.  This was the high quality, family focused, designed as free to play from day one experiment.

FreeRealmsLogo

A lot of people were excited about Free Realms.  Even the “What is Free Realms?” marketing blurb sounds exciting.

What is Free Realms?

Free Realms is a free 3D virtual world where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want! Jump in straight from your web browser! Once you create your character, you’ll be in and playing in just a few minutes.

Decorate your house, then invite your friends over for a party! Teach your pet a new trick or dress them up in a sweet costume! Battle enemies as you search for lost treasure or duel other players, mine for gold, cook up a meal, or race your car! When you’re ready for a different kind of challenge, play a wide variety of fun minigames, jump into the trading card game or check up with your friends on your profile page. Free Realms is the place to join up with your friends to discover, explore, compete, chat, share achievements and just have fun! In Free Realms, YOU RULE.

YOU RULE, until the bank forecloses.

The game ran into its own “gotta pay the bills” problems not to far into its life, and the velvet ropes vision that Smed put out there had to grow more restrictive in order to shake some coins out of the players.  I am sure that SOE’s problems with Station Cash and “triple Station Cash” offers did not help.  And when they were offering lifetime subscriptions for just $30, I suppose that was a sign that the cow wasn’t giving enough milk.

Is that a squirrel or what?

Still not sure if that is a squirrel

Still, Free Realms was interesting. (I think Tipa kept track of it best.)  It came out on multiple platforms, starting on Windows and then moving to Mac OS and then eventually to the PlayStation 3.  Amusingly, while PlayStation support was announced early on, the Mac OS version came out first.  My daughter played it on the Mac, though support for the game was a bit spotty.  After the third time SOE support responded to a problem with “delete everything and install from scratch” we decided that maybe it was time to move on.

We also tried it on the PlayStation, but since you cannot share accounts, that meant that anything my daughter had was gone.  So that did not gain much traction.

It also seemed a much deeper title than its Star Wars stable mate, which probably made it just that much more expensive to maintain.  And then there is the engine problem.  SOE seemed to be all over the map developing games on different engines, which leads to support and maintenance issues over time.  We have seen with the whole Landmark and EverQuest Next thing that SOE is moving towards consolidation.

There were no cost reduced hats to celebrate the end of days in Free Realms.  The last producer’s note was from back at the closure announcement.

Hi everyone,

Usually I’m in here telling you about cool new developments in the Realms. Today is a much different day for me. I’m deeply saddened to announce that we will sunset Free Realms on March 31, 2014.

Free Realms has truly been a labor of love for SOE (even our own president’s kids are huge fans and active players of the game!). In a nutshell, the game has reached a stage in its life cycle where players are growing up and moving on to other games.

When we first released the game in 2009, it was one of the very first free-to-play MMO for kids and teens, and we couldn’t be prouder of everything we have accomplished together in the game. While today’s news might be a disappointment, we’re sincerely excited about what’s to come for the game before we say goodbye, including player celebration in-game events and more!

We will share details on the upcoming activities and sunset soon, but we wanted to give you plenty of notice so you can truly enjoy your remaining time left in the game. We thank you for all of the memories we have made together in the Realms!

Steve George

Producer, Sony Online Entertainment

And so the end of Free Realms will be marked.

As for kids MMOs, Smed might have a point.  While Club Penguin still abides, and WebKinz continues to shift its model away from real world toys into virtual world goods, other online titles aimed at kids have faded as well.  Gone are Toontown Online, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, and Fusion Fall.  It isn’t an easy market and it competes with a lot of other entertainment options for kids.

And then there is free to play in general, which one of the original Free Realms team was talking about recently.

So today is the day.  And the clock keeps on ticking down for Vanguard and Wizardry Online.

LEGO Star Wars III – The Clone Wars

It is no secret that we are quite enamored with most of the LEGO games that Traveller’s Tales has put out.

We own almost the whole set, and have played them all.  Our current household ranking of the games, from most to least favorite, is:

  1. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy – Maybe our most-played game on the Wii, this was TT’s second LEGO game, and they nailed what makes the games fun.  Lots of puzzles, hidden surprises that make you want to replay levels, and breaking things… lots of smashing things into their little LEGO parts.
  2. LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 – We call this one LEGO Harry Potter: Movies 1-4, since the game follows the movies and not the books.  But it does follow the movies very closely.  We found that we could watch the movie for a given year, then could play through that year in the game without ever needing a hint.  The spell system was fun.  My daughter could not wait and played through the game without me, which was a first.
  3. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga – Combines the Original Trilogy with a reworked and more fun version of the original game.  We played it through, though replay value was tainted a bit by the fact that we had already played episodes IV through VI to death.
  4. LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures – Lots of fun, though light on content.  Made us go watch the movies again.  The Temple of Doom segment, like its movie counterpart, was our least favorite.
  5. LEGO Batman: The Video Game – Fun, though we are not as into super heroes around here as we might be.  Introduced the split screen concept, so my daughter and I would stop playing tug of war, but the flicker and playing on a partial section of screen was more annoying that the tug of war.  Also, the controls on the driving levels needed some improvement.
  6. LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues – Like The Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, proof that more is not always better.  Split screen flicker got worse, the cut scenes were too frequent, and they tried to make the lobby area part of the game with its own requirements, which turned it into a confusing mess.  My daughter played with the level creator more than we played the game, but the level creator didn’t seem to have a lot of real purpose in life.
  7. LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game – The first game in the series, and TT was still figuring out what was going to be fun.  This game is hard… that lava jumping level was a royal pain and there were a few levels we could barely start, much less finish.  All the levels were reworked in the spirit of “puzzles and breaking stuff” in The Complete Saga. Fortunately, TT quickly figured out what made the games fun and hit the mark squarely with LEGO Star Wars II.

So we had to get LEGO Star Wars II: The Clone Wars.

We received it in the mail about two weeks ago and it is currently vying for the second or third spot on our list above.

It follows the story, or at least the first two seasons, of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series which we have been watching every Friday night at our house.  And while I have not been paying the closest attention to the series, I recognize situations that have come up over the course of the series.

The game introducing a new engine for the LEGO series which seems to help the Wii along as it tries to render things on screen.  The downside of the last few games, including Harry Potter, is that the Wii seemed to be quite taxed to keep up with what it was being asked to do.  That goes away, to a certain degree, with LEGO Star Wars III.

The flicker that bothered me seems to have been reduced.  Of course, those of you who grew up in the age of LCD monitors might not know to what I am referring, but flicker used to be a serious annoyance on CRT based monitors and tube TVs used as monitors.  The reduction in flicker might, of course, be attributed to the fact that we no longer have a tube TV, but a nice big LCD screen.

This bigger screen, since the game expands out to play on the full 16:9 screen, and the reduction in flicker makes split screen play more bearable.  I still am not fond of it, and neither is my daughter, and I wish it was an option that you could turn off, but it is not.  In fact, there are sections of play where two players work on separate parts of a level on a divided screen.

So my daughter and I make do by using the “drop out” option that lets one player leave the game so the other player can have the full screen to perform some task that really needs the whole screen to accomplish.  This is something of a weakness of the game, in my opinion.  Any number of times you have to take over some huge laser cannon and blow up an objective in the distance, only to have your screen cut diagonally across your view by you partner who is trying to knock off some droid troopers who have just shown up.

The game itself has all the things we have become used to in TT’s LEGO games, unlocks, hidden items, fun puzzles, and lots and lots of LEGO objects waiting to be smashed to pieces, an aspect of the game that is more satisfying in some visceral than it probably should be.  And it never gets old!  Never!

There are some new features.  You can now command a platoon sized group of clones, using them to target specific structures that need rapid fire to destroy.  There are a number of battlefield scenarios where you have to destroy separatist structures and capture their power sources to build Republic structure.  This includes a mini-map at the top of the screen which the Wii, its output limited to 480p, is unable to display clearly.  I would like to see the whole thing on 1080p output.

And then there is that clone troop with the Gatling blaster in the Ryloth missions.  I could just run around shooting that thing all day long.

Reviews of the game have come up in the “mediocre” range of 6.0-7.5 on a lot of sites.  The DS and 3DS versions, which lack a number of the new features, score at the low end, while the home console versions rank a little higher.  The main complaints, paraphrased by me, seem to be “not much new, and what is new gets over used.”

I cannot really argue with that.

We are only 30% into the game, but it still seems like a lot of fun us.  If you wanted more LEGO Star Wars, you’ll probably like it.  That is where we stand.  We wanted more and we got it.

If you did not like the past versions, you probably won’t like this any better.

And I am looking forward to the next installment from TT, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean.

I might have to make another pass at my old post about Five LEGO Video Games I Want.  If they can do Pirates of the Caribbean, the door is open to other ideas.

[Keen and Graev have a nice review of LEGO Star Wars III posted.]