Hot on the heels of our coverage of John Smedley’s interview with Virtual Worlds News, Sony Online Entertainment confirmed the launch date of the PC version of their highly anticipated family friendly, free-to-play title ‘Free Realms’ at a press preview in London yesterday. Associate Art Director Sebastian Strzalkowski also noted that the beta testing phase will commence within “a couple of weeks”.
While this launch is only for the online PC version, is on track for a PS3 launch in Q3 09. Bringing the free-to-play online with the PS3 somewhere between July and September could be a very wise move for SOE, as this will give them time to properly spotlight the project, as well as enough time to work out any kinks or bugs before the holiday shopping season gets underway. The PS3 launch of Free Realms is slated to include additional exclusive content in order to celebrate the console platform launch. The PS3 version will be available as a free download from the PlayStation Store.
The PC version of Free Realms streams from a launch website, with the initial client download clocking in at around 25MB. Sony sees Free Realms as a multi-platform title, and Strzalkowski stated that a Mac version was “definitely on the list of platforms we want to develop for”, but could not confirm any details. Also on the SOE radar are Flash and/or Java based extension to make the game playable on mobile phones (want to watch how fast this one rockets up the iPhone app store top 25 list?)
Confirming what Smedley discussed earlier this month, microtransactions are priority 1 in the revenue stream department. Free Realms is slated to offer almost everything but the kitchen sink: Cosmetic upgrades, racing vehicles, and consumable potions to name a few. These items will be available exclusively via SOE’s Station Cash service. And lest we forget, SOE is also bridging the gap between real and virtual worlds with a Topps collector card series that ties directly into the game.
While microtransactions are a key focus for SOE in the initial entry to the free-to-play market, they’re not selling themselves short, and are offering an optional subscription service for $4.99 that provides players with VIP access to premium content. Again, this is an optional service, and not necessary. Should players not choose a subscription service, they will be required to opt into seeing in-game advertising and sponsorships, which if done right could even heighten the experience and add a ‘real-world’ touch.
Sony Online Entertainment is aiming the title at the 10 – 14 year old market, but from what I’ve seen, this is a fun and engaging title that is fully capable of spanning multiple generations. But don’t take my word for it, have a view of what John Smedley and Creative Director Laralyn McWilliams have to say about Free Realms (try to ignore John’s announcement that the title is slated for a Q2 release. Even the best of planning can sometimes goes awry).