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FreeRealms can grow to 100m users - Smedley

SOE president believes free-to-play will be a big part of PS3's future; NGP "perfect" for MMOs

John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, has told that he believes FreeRealms - the free-to-play kids' game that launched on the PlayStation 3 last week - could ultimately reach a user base of 100 million users.

The game was originally launched for PC in 2009, and subsequently for the Mac, and before last week's transition to console as well had notched up 17 users million - but Smedley is confident that the game can emulate the longevity of some of the company's other games as well.

"[17 million] is a phenomenal number, and we're very pleased with its success - and it's really keeping going," he said in an interview published today. "I don't see this thing stopping until it hits 100 million.

Sony's announced the NGP, and if that isn't a perfect machine for doing MMOs on, then I don't know what is.

John Smedley, SOE

"I think it could take five or six years - that should give you some idea [of the time frame we're looking at]. But I don't see any reason why it can't go to 100 million, because there are so many kids out there. And the great thing about a kids' game, and this is different for an adult audience and people don't think about this, is that there are always more kids.

"That endless supply of children that have a hunger for gaming, as long as we keep improving it and make sure it's still relevant - which we do every month with patches - means that we expect the game to have a long life.

"One of our other games, Everquest, has just hit its twelfth birthday - and I can definitely see FreeRealms doing that."

But he was cautious on predicting what proportion of that 100 million might come from the PS3 platform.

"At the moment I don't know," he said. "I wouldn't give out our internal estimates, because they could be radically out one way or another.

"We're trying something new - we're bringing a kids' game to the PS3, and we're hopeful that a lot of adults will try it too. But what we're really hopeful is that the family will game together around the TV, and that it's an online game that parents will be proud to let their kids play - and feel safe with that."

Smedley, who was speaking a day before SOE announced more than 200 redundancies and three studio closures, also looked ahead to the future of free-to-play on consoles and hinted that the recently-announced NGP handheld could provide a solid home for MMOs when it's launched.

"My gut tells me that, just like on PC, it's going to become an increasing part of the business," he explained. "There are a lot of people out there that have, in the past, associated free-to-play with lower quality - and simply put, that's just not true any more. There are a lot of free-to-play games that are great, and I think that's going to come over to console just as well.

"With the console, we're selling to an audience that already has the PS3 obviously - and by the way not the just the PS3, but in the future I can see other devices. Sony's announced the NGP, and if that isn't a perfect machine for doing MMOs on, then I don't know what is.

"So it's too soon to tell for sure but I think you're going to start seeing free-to-play gaming on console as well. People will realise that getting a lot more folk to try their games using that kind of business model will help; it'll just be in addition to the Blu-ray business model."

The full interview with John Smedley is available on now.

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