Free Realms is targeted at children. That being the case it needs to be extremely robust in dealing with anti-social behaviour.
In the most recent patch, the radius within which you can hear other people talking was greatly increased. Where previously, chat only extended perhaps the equivalent of 100 meters, now you can hear people half the world away. It is unclear at this time whether or not it was intended, but there have so far been no admissions that it was unintended. The consequences are not good.
There have been people asking for, and being given phone numbers, from people they’ve just met. Asking for personal details such as age and sex, and all manner of stuff that would not be anywhere near as disturbing in a game marketed for adults. Then we have the general meanness that we all know from other MMOs, but that is a little harder to legislate against. A lot of us adult types like Free Realms for the very reason that we did not, until the chat-range changes, have to put up with the sort of nastiness that is epidemic in the global chats of other MMO. As Lum would say, “People are broken.”. Free Realms is our happy place.
I’ve had quite a few people come up to me and ask me to be their boyfriend. Of course I politely decline, but it seems a bit of a weird thing to do, and makes me think that they are probably rather less than 13 years old. In fact you hear people giving out personal details all the time, and age is a common one, and if half of them were telling the truth, there are a LOT of people under the age of 13 who have access to chat. Whether that’s because they lied about their age when they signed up, or because their parents have chosen to not use the security features, I don’t know. Obviously parental responsibility is incredibly important when you let your kids on the internet, but SOE has to be able to provide a safe environment even to kids whose parents don’t give a damn. For some kids, it might be the only safe environment they have. Gods, that’s a depressing thought, but it is true.
I’ve also heard a lot of sexual talk, some of the worst I captured below.
Needless to say I tried to report Brad and Kimiko (Two of the pre-generated first name offerings. There are a lot of Brads and Kimikos, so anonymity is preserved in the above log.), but guess what? The /report function does not work, and I am not the only person who says that. If Free Realms is going to really succeed, it needs to convince parents that it is a safe place to let their kids have fun. Now, I do not have children, but I am truly unimpressed with how seriously SOE seem to be taking this. The chat-range is pretty much world-wide at the moment, so you plant a referee in Sanctuary on every server , and start hitting the ban button. Pretty simple.
There IS a profanity filter, but as you can see, no profanity filter can prevent people managing to be completely disgusting. To ensure a pleasant environment, SOE needs many more referees than currently appears to be the case. I am beginning to wonder if an MMO that allows open chat can EVER be child-safe, but for sure, it can’t be done without making the effort. With 2 million players, and growing, you need at least several hundred staff to maintain the safe and pleasant community. Some people will come to Free Realms with the express purpose of ruining it, and even more than in other MMO, they need to be stopped.
p.s. I am available for hire.
8 pm. 1st of June. I updated with a few extra thoughts culled from an brief email discussion I had on the subject. I should also add that today I was able to get the /report function to work (or at least it did not give an error message. Instead there was no response at all.). I did not do anything different to all the other times I have tried.