Obituary: Former Free Realms creative director Laralyn McWilliams has passed away


I’m sorry to report this morning that game developer Laralyn McWilliams has passed away at the age of 58. MMO fans will remember her straightaway as the creative director of SOE’s kid-friendly MMORPG Free Realms, though she worked on multiple other influential titles at EA, Bethsoft, Disney, Marvel, and Activision (she even worked on one of my pet old-school favorites, Daggerfall).

In December, McWilliams posted to Bluesky that she had been hospitalized for tachycardia and discovered that she had a bicuspid aortic valve, which had been exacerbated by severe aortic stenosis, an unhappy effect of radiation from not one but two bouts of cancer (head/neck and lung) around a decade ago. Her last Bsky post came December 21st, when she said she was about to undergo open heart surgery to replace her aortic valve.

“I know how risky chest surgery is after the huge amount of cancer radiation treatment I’ve had. So yes, there’s some anxiety,” she wrote. “But there’s also joy and gratitude. For about 4 months in 2016, I had terminal metastatic lung cancer. I’d be lucky if I lived two more years.”

“It was an honor to work with you on Free Realms, Laralyn,” Daybreak’s Melissa Comeau wrote on Twitter. “You were a true icon to the gamedev community.”

GDC awarded her a lifetime achievement crown in 2021. RIP queen.

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