Tag Archives: Toontown Online

Free Realms Inspired Family MMO Raises Seven Dollars on First Day

The upside for Wonky Seasons, should they be able to carry this first day momentum, is that is that their Kickstarter campaign is trending to raise a grand total of $109.

WonkyTwoDaytotal

The bad news is that if this trend continues, it will only get them to 0.13% of their $85,000 goal.

Looking pretty happy considering...

Looking pretty happy considering…

Okay, I am being snarky or sarcastic… or maybe both.  Heck, I couldn’t tell you for sure if Free Realms was their inspiration.  This is all they really say on the subject:

Wonky Seasons started because it’s creators saw how the closure of a popular family MMO game affected it’s players. We followed many stories of kids that were heartbroken and the big void the closure of this game created.

While the characters in the logo made me think of the now shut down Free Realms, they could as easily be referring to the dearly departed Toontown Online.  Or it could be some other game.  So take your pick.

I am not bringing this up to be hurtful or to have a joke purely at their expense… though that will probably get them some attention, which they desperately need… but because this sort of thing almost makes me weep for the almost boundless sense of optimism that this sort of project requires and how it is going to get smacked down by the harsh reality of the world of game development in general, and MMO development in particular.

Just last Friday I was bemoaning the fact that the Project: Gorgon Kickstarter campaign seemed unlikely to succeed largely, I felt, because it had little name recognition.  No major media outlet is clamoring for an interview with Eric Heimburg just so he can promote his new Kickstarter.  But Eric Heimburg at least has standing in the MMO game developer community and has worked on actual MMOs that have shipped, are still running, and could be considered successful… not to mention actually having a working alpha version of his game that you can download and try before you decided whether or not to kick in any money.

And with all of that, he only rolled out of the gates on the first day with $4,500 of the $100,000 he is looking to raise to hurry up the production of his game… a game that is already a tangible thing you can play.

In that context, what chance does a team with no standing and no game development experience listed have showing up with no fanfare and looking to build momentum and get the ball rolling after they have already started the clock on their campaign?  It isn’t like they are making something that will capture media attention or is likely to go viral.  Another MMO?  Who needs that?  We’re looking for the next potato salad campaign. (Which, depressingly, brought in more than Eric Heimburg’s first Kickstarter.)

So what do you tell somebody who sends you a note asking you to please do a post about their Kickstarter campaign?  Being one of a dozen or so messages in the blog inbox, I nearly passed over it.  I only looked at it because it was flagged to indicate it was sent from the feedback form on the About page here at TAGN, which meant somebody came here and pasted it in themselves rather than just using an email spam service.  And I only decided to do a post because… seven dollars?

Do you tell them to give up, go home, get a real job?

I don’t know.  I don’t know what they really have.  I don’t know where it may end up.

All I could recommend is that they get themselves a copy of It’s a Long Way to the Top by AC/DC… I am partial to the Jack Black version at the end of School of Rock… and to play that loudly every time life comes around to kick them in the teeth as they try to move this project forward.  If they want to get this done, they’ll be listening to that song a lot.

You can find their Kickstarter page here to read all about the project.

LEGO Universe End Game

It seems that the troubled story of LEGO Universe now has an end date.

A press release went out last week and email notifications started going out to users after that letting everyone know that LEGO Universe will be shutting down on January 31, 2012.

On March 5, 2007 a press release went out announcing that LEGO and NetDevil would be joining forces to create a LEGO themed MMO.

At that point, in the MMO world, NetDevil was primarily known for its troubled Auto Assault online game, published by NCsoft, which would be closed down in July of 2007.

LEGO Universe, after a couple of missed dates, eventually went live just over a year ago, on October 26, 2010.  And it has had problems ever since.

Originally a traditional “buy the box, pay a subscription fee” model MMO focused on kids and claiming to offer parents ease of mind on safety issues, it failed to distinguish itself on all counts.

Its well established main competitors (e.g. Club Penguin, online since 2005 and Toon Town, online since 2003) offered free to obtain, free to play options along with parental controls on par with LU, while pay to play games like World of Warcraft offered superior parental options.

So the only real draw was LEGO base game play, and LEGO Universe failed to stand out in that department as well, as so accurately documented by Oz over at Kill Ten Rats.  In our own house, my daughter tried the game and went quickly from enthusiasm to boredom.  She stopped playing and has never asked to play the game since.

NetDevil bowed out of the LEGO Universe drama with a press release on February 24, 2011, which also pretty much ended their existence as part of Gazillion Entertainment, which purchased NetDevil back in July of 2008.

In June 2011, LEGO announced that LEGO Universe would go to a free to play model, the current panacea for all ailing MMOs these days.

All of which brings us to today’s email blast from LEGO.

Hello Adventurer, today we are very sad to announce that LEGO® Universe will be closing on January 31, 2012. This was a very difficult decision to make, but unfortunately LEGO Universe has not been able to attract the number of members needed to keep the game open.

We realize how sad this will make the many players who have enjoyed LEGO Universe and we are committed to providing open communication with both kids and parents as we transition through this difficult time. We understand this is a challenging change and apologize for not being able to give parents forewarning before the general announcement.

We are thankful to have had the opportunity to share this adventure with an amazing community of players. We hope you will continue to enjoy LEGO Universe for the last few months. As a thank you, if you are a paying subscriber on December 31, 2011, we will provide you the full game for the final month for free.

Again, we want to thank the fantastic community of players who made LEGO Universe such a vibrant, fun and creative experience.

Hello Adventurer, today we are very sad to announce that LEGO® Universe will be closing on January 31, 2012. This was a very difficult decision to make, but unfortunately LEGO Universe has not been able to attract the number of members needed to keep the game open.

We realize how sad this will make the many players who have enjoyed LEGO Universe and we are committed to providing open communication with both kids and parents as we transition through this difficult time. We understand this is a challenging change and apologize for not being able to give parents forewarning before the general announcement.

We are thankful to have had the opportunity to share this adventure with an amazing community of players. We hope you will continue to enjoy LEGO Universe for the last few months. As a thank you, if you are a paying subscriber on December 31, 2011, we will provide you the full game for the final month for free.

Again, we want to thank the fantastic community of players who made LEGO Universe such a vibrant, fun and creative experience.

Sincerely,

The LEGO Universe Team

The Details:

  • The game will be turned off on January 31, 2012 at midnight (EST).
  • All current subscribers (1, 6 or 12 month plans) who still have active subscriptions on December 31 will receive a refund for any remaining game time remaining after December 31 as well as free play from January 1, 2012 until January 31.
  • For example, if you purchased a 6-month subscription on September 1, 2011 (which would expire on February 29, 2012), you would be refunded $16.66 for the 2 months following December 31.
  • We will begin processing all refunds on February 1, 2012. All refunds will be made to the credit card used for the original subscription.
  • If your subscription expires before December 31 you will need to purchase an additional 1 month subscription by December 31 in order to get the free game play in January (again, any unused game time as of December 31 will be refunded.)
  • LEGO Universe game cards can only be used until December 1st 2011. Unused game cards after December 1st can be converted to LEGO Shop @Home gift cards for the same value.
  • Please note: Details on how to convert unused game cards will be posted on December 1.
  • You can continue to enjoy the free to play zone until January 31, 2012 but your last chance to convert to a paying subscription is December 31, 2011.

There is an additional FAQ with more details available.

And so a sad end to a game with such promise.  There is no curse like failing to live up to ones potential.  And I am sure this was a hard decision at LEGO.  Once you have all that effort sunk into a project, once everything is in place, once the machine is running, it is tough to just turn the switch off and send everybody home.

But LEGO has been through tough times of its own.  The first decade of this century saw them stumble and really have to rethink how they did business after many years of simply succeeding because they were LEGO.  That lead to a series of tough decisions that brought them back from the brink and set them to focus more on profitability than market share.

And that focus is clearly being felt now.  LEGO Universe isn’t hitting its goals and is going to be cut.

I am sure this is sad news for those who play the game.   I certainly find it sad, if in a more abstract sense, since we haven’t played it for months at our house.

In the end though, they appear to have failed to capture the essence of what makes LEGO building sets popular.

What should have been the direction for LEGO Universe?  Less “block-based WoW” and more “LEGO Second Life?”

(The latter with more parental controls and less some smaller quantity of flying penises, of course.)

The Convergence of WoW and WebKinz

I’ve mentioned WebKinz before.

It has been a couple of years, but it still gets some attention at our house.  In fact my daughter HAD to have a new WebKinz plush toy for Christmas this past year.

She had to have it because that is the basis of the traditional WebKinz subscription plan.  When you buy a WebKinz toy, you get a year-long subscription to their online world.  In that world, you take a virtual representation of your real life plush pal and build them a home, furnish it, and play games alone or with other people.

So it wasn’t a stretch to make a connection with WebKinz when Bilzzard announced that they would be selling plush toys that would get you an in-game pet as well.


Tangible toy with a virtual world representation:  My daughter expressed a desire right away for the plush gryphon hatchling.

The funny thing is that WebKinz is moving a bit towards WoW’s business model with Deluxe memberships.


Deluxe memberships are below the monthly Club Penguin ($6) or Toontown Online ($10) price range, running about $5 a month if purchased in the smallest increment.  That said, WebKinz is also much less of a virtual world than either of the two competitors I mentioned. (And we’ve had all three running at our house at various times.)

The one really nice thing that WebKinz has in their subscription plan matrix is a family membership.  Only available as an annual subscription, it gives you up to five accounts.  I wish Blizzard would look into some sort of family package.

And while I’m on the topic of mixing up real and virtual versions of in-game items, I thought I would mention that Figure Prints has announced the third in their series of in-game companion pet models.

Companion Pets - Series 3

Having posted about the first and second installments in the series, I would have to say that this is perhaps the best set so far, though I’m still not laying down any cash for them.  But if you have to have them, they are only available through March 31st.

People who are not fans of the cash shop trend we’re seeing in subscription MMOs will probably enjoy the irony of the Pandaren Monk pet being part of this series.  You have to buy that pet from the Blizzard Store, and then you can turn around and buy it again from Figure Prints.

Free Realms Unleashed Today

Barring anything bad happening, Sony Online Entertainment‘s new entry into the casual online game market, Free Realms, should launch some time today.

It was said elsewhere that that Sony reboots today.

Obviously SOE rebooted a while back and Free Realms is just the latest, and perhaps the purest, result of this new axis of march in San Diego.

A real transition took place last year when SOE was moved out from under Sony Pictures, who seemed inclined to a position of ignorance and benign neglect when it came to their MMO making division, and became part of Sony Computer Entertainment.  Those are the PlayStation people.

Not that FreeRealms has sprung up in the last year.  Certainly SOE has talked about RMT, velvet ropes, and different revenue models for quite some time.  But working for the PlayStation people, the team that has to compete with things like XboxLive and Microsoft Points, has got to put a more urgent spin on things.

So we’ve seen Sation Cash introduced into EverQuest and EverQuest II.  We have seen Live Gamer’s player to player cash sales interface grafted onto Vanguard. (Which probably means Vanguard gets to live for a while longer, at least as a lab rat.)  And now we have a completely RMT funded, microtransaction driven game being released by SOE.  The first of many, no doubt.

And getting back to urgency, urgent seems to be right.  I am completely surprised that Free Realms is going to market without day one PlayStation 3 support.  In fact, I predicted that such support would delay the launch.  Color me at least partially wrong on that one I suppose.  I am going to claim some small victory in the fact that PS3 support will be a while in coming.

With the dropping of the NDA on the Free Realms beta, a few MMO players have put up their views and impressions of the game. (Edit: And Terra Nova now has a discussion post about it and Gigaom is in on it too.)

Of course, the crazy thing about that is, this game is not really focused at MMO players.  It shouldn’t be.  This is a low intensity game.   It does not compete against World of Warcraft.  It is there to bring in the crowd for whom WoW is too hard core.  People who may not want to invest a lot of time in a play session.  People who don’t have mad gamer skills or the latest video card.

As such, it has some pretty low system requirements.  From the Free Realms site:

Your computer will need to have the following hardware and software to play Free Realms:

Video Card with Vertex Shaders 1.1
Intel Pentium 4 or greater processor
Windows XP or Windows Vista operating system
Broadband internet connection
512 MB RAM

We recommend you have the following hardware and software to get the best experience playing Free Realms:

GeForce 6 or better video card
Intel Pentium 4 or greater processor
Windows XP or Windows Vista operating system
Broadband internet connection
1 Gig RAM

That is pretty mild when compared to almost any MMO.  That is down in the toaster / World of Warcraft end of the range.

In fact, those requirements look very low against almost everything.  Everything except the games against which Free Realms is set to compete, that is.

In the ranks of competitors, Toontown Online is at the high end is at the high end while many are in the Club Penguin range, where a 3D card is not even required.

So for its market, or what I presume to be its market, Free Realms is coming in at the high end.  Time will show whether you can move a game with WoW system requirements into a Club Penguin world.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I’ll be watching all of this from the sidelines though.  If I start playing a game like Free Realms, then my daughter will want to play.  But the computer she is allowed to use is an iMac, and Free Realms doesn’t go there.

So when I play online games with my daughter, I will have to limit myself to almost all of the games that compete with FreeRealms.  Or World of Warcraft.  They all play on the Mac.