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John Smedley shows off Free Realms during GamesBeat keynote

March 24, 2009 |  4:11 pm
Free Realms
Free Realms, an online game for kids. Credit: Sony Online Entertainment.

John Smedley, creator of EverQuest, took the wraps off Sony Online Entertainment's new game, Free Realms, this morning at the GamesBeat in San Francisco.

The game, scheduled to open its virtual doors in April for folks to try out, is aimed at 10- to 12-year-old boys and girls. It also has the same avatar-building tools familiar to most players of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games to let kids endlessly tweak their characters. As with EverQuest and World of Warcraft, kids can pursue quests and cultivate skills.

But it also differs from MMOs in key ways, as we reported in a story in Monday's paper. Instead of slashing and burning, Free Realms features farting and burping. It also has quick games that take minutes, not hours, to play. 

"Kids game in 10-minute attention spans," Smedley said. "We're trying to reach a market we've never gotten to before. And that market is kids."

That's a change for Sony Online Entertainment, whose games tended to reach older men. For example, the average player of its EverQuest fantasy game is 33, Smedley said, and 85% of the players are male.

Smedley, a 40-year-old developer, also is motivated by a desire to make games that his four children would want to play. "It was super important that we made a game that our families can play together," he said.

Unlike some of Sony's shrink-wrapped games, Free Realms will be free to play and entirely distributed online. Digital sales makes up about 80% to 85% of his group's business, Smedley said.

Sony plans to make money from the game by offering a premium subscription for about $5 a month and by selling virtual goods via gift cards that parents can buy at retail stores. It's also gearing up to release the game on Sony's PlayStation 3 console. 

-- Alex Pham