Up until yesterday, all I'd heard about Earth Eternal was some grumbling about furries and over-long exposition text. Funny, because I saw neither of those when I sat down with the game.
There were anthropomorphic animals, of course. The entire game is rooted in a back story where humans have died off and various animals and machines have evolved to take their place as masters of the planet. However, I don't immediately classify all appearances of humanoid animal creatures as furry fandom—especially since the developer didn't even know what that was until way after they'd developed a working product.
Developer Sparkplay Media's Matt Mihaly explained that when the MMO was first under development at Iron Realms Entertainment, they envisioned a "violent, sexual" game that would push the boundaries of MMO genre. Well, as it happens, they kept that second part by focusing on revamping free-to-play stereotypes and aiming at a 15-22-year-old audience. But I don't think they could have gotten any farther from violence or sex with Earth Eternal unless they'd they'd contracted with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to make: Imagine: Mormonz for the DS (Thanks, Owen!).
Players take the role of either a male or female creature from any one of 22 races. Because this is a free-to-play MMO, the developer wanted to stay away from trying to compete with other fantasy MMORPGs where you've got your stock races with elaborate back stories (elves, dwarves, etc.) and stick to offering as much customisation as possible in a 3D browser-based game created on a tight $US5 million budget.
To that end, you can also have free pick of different class traits from one of the four main classes (Druid, Knight, Mage and Rogue) without too many restrictions. Plus, players get customisable spaces for either themselves or their clans (read: guilds) called Groves. In a Grove, players can edit the terrain, decorate buildings and keep pets. Other functions like mini-games and Player-versus-Player arenas are also planned for the Groves, though none of that will be ready to roll at launch.
There are two big hurdles Earth Eternal will have to jump as I see it. The first, the developer is already bracing for—World of Warcraft clone stigma. All Mihaly had to say on the subject of being compared to Blizzard's giant is: "We are not trying to be WoW." You'd think the free-to-play label would be enough to differentiate Earth Eternal, but Mihaly said they'd heard people justify the comparison solely on the cartoony look of the anthropomorphic animals.
Jeez, what else should the bunny people look like, if not cartoons? Real people with bunny ears? Now we're getting into real furry territory—the sexual kind they poke at on shoes like NCIS and Entourage.
But I digress. Earth Elemental has a second hurdle to hop over with its bunny people and the like—and that is the free-to-play stigma so many MMOs suffer. There's really no way to get around it, though. Some people just don't like the idea of micro-transactions and a gold-to-credit exchange rate; and while you can earn all the items in the game entirely by playing it, the people willing to spend the most real money will get the goods first.
However, Sparkplay is hopeful that this won't be a big deal based on the audience they're aiming at. High school-age kids usually aren't paying for their own MMO subscriptions after all, and (according to Mihaly) they potentially have more spare time to put towards earning in-game gold than Chinese gold farmers. So if they nail the target audience that's too old for Habbo and too young to shell out for a WoW addiction, they'll be in good shape.
Earth Eternal goes into open beta later this month.