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Sony Online Entertainment announces subscription-free MMO

SOE president John Smedley has announced the development of an undisclosed MMO, which shies away from the traditional subscription model to encourage more gamers.

SOE president John Smedley has announced the development of an undisclosed MMO, which shies away from the traditional subscription model in an attempt to encourage more gamers to try massively multiplayer games.

The new title, which has yet to be named or see any content details released, was announced during Smedley's keynote speech at the Austin Games Conference and is based on a business model pioneered by Chinese and Korean MMOs that gain revenue streams from the sale of in-game items and extra levels, as opposed to the traditional base cost and monthly subscription model.

Revenue will be gained by building up a large enough customer base to justify legitimate in-game item trading, allowing the players to hand over real money for virtual tools, characters, weapons, items and levels. The company has already experimented with taking in-game item trading away from the black-market and into the mainstream with its Station Exchange service, but hopes to further this trend with the new MMO.

The game is scheduled to be released on un-named platforms, which could include the forthcoming next generation console, PS3, in the autumn of 2006. Further details on the title and content of the game are expected to be released shortly.

This isn't the first time that a major MMOG firm has launched a subscription-free title in the west; Korean company NCSoft launched Arena.Net's Guild Wars worldwide earlier this year, and plans to release its first paid-for add on pack in early 2006.

Recent studies by numerous industry observers have suggested that online gameplay, in particular the growing popularity of MMO gaming, is set to soar over the next few years, along with a massive increase in digital distribution. Establishing a new franchise without the need to commit to a monthly subscription fee can only serve to bolster the number of gamers trying out MMO titles, boosting gameplay figures and encouraging more developers to produce exciting, fresh titles within the genre.

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Paul Loughrey

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