This is pretty much an open thread for comments/reactions about SOE's Free Realms.
I haven't had time to play with it yet, but there sure has been buzz and the rarely impressed Scott Jennings even seems to be sort of impressed, which impresses me. Wagner James Au seems not too impressed, but I'm not sure he's right that kids are dying for Habbo-style retro 2.5D graphics. He has a point about the downloaded client, but that hasn't held Maple Story back -- tweens will probably cross the install hurdle.
So my first impression, which is based entirely on the launch video below, is that this is pretty big. By giving FREE title credit, they're billing that they're not billing, which targets the zillions of kids now on Runescape, WebKinz, Maple Story, and Club Penguin.
But more importantly, I watch this video and I think: "Hey, isn't that Goldshire? Haven't I seen that guy before in IMVU, There, and Home? Is that a Nintendog? Aren't those Pokemon cards? MarioKart?" It is clear that SOE has done its kids media business homework really well -- as Scott puts it, tweens are "bracketed with laser-beam accuracy". Free Realms taps into the appeal of many of the choicest bits of the most popular properties out there for the demographic. They seem to be rolled together into a shiny integrated package.
Of course, one can't judge a virtual world by its cover, which I why I'd like to hear your reactions. Does it grind? Is it buggy? Does it feel coherent? Does the micro-payment model seem to work? But something about this video reminds me of seeing the first screenshots of World of Warcraft -- probably because they looked a lot like this. This is free, though.
Update: Good thoughts from Rocks, Paper, Shotgun ("all things to all children") More links to thoughtful analysis would be great.