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Sony Online Entertainment's John Smedley clarifies Free Realms/Agency RMT

Michael Zenke

Earlier today Sony Online Entertainment and Live Gamer released a joint statement announcing their intentions to collaborate on player-to-player RMT auction services for future titles. Both Free Realms and The Agency, in development at the moment, will offer this moderated transactional element at launch. In past SOE titles, such as EverQuest II, RMT services have been non-existant or highly limited. With these new games, all players will have the opportunity to engage in in-game item trading for real money.

To clarify what the company has in store we contacted Mr. John Smedley, CEO of SOE. In our brief conversation about the announcement we touched on how this might affect the games' interactions with the PlayStation 3. We also talked about SOE's hopes for a farmer free playing environment, and what this might mean for the future of the company's relationship with Live Gamer. Mr. Smedley went even further, giving us a few sneak preview comments hinting at topics he'll be discussing in his keynote address today at ION 2008. Will a Pokemon-esque card battle system will be coming to Free Realms? Read on to find out.

As we began our brief discussion, Mr. Smedley started off with this note about the game's interactions with the PS3: "One of your first questions is, I'm sure, about PlayStation 3. All I can say about that right now is that things are undetermined. It's a process, right? But that's still in the works."

With that out of the way, we asked SOE's CEO about the ultimate goal of including these RMT functions. In his mind connecting players is the ultimate goal, but a much more pragmatic element comes into play as well: "We're designing The Agency and Free Realms to be farmer unfriendly. We want it to be almost impossible to farm. If players want to sell things to each other, it's more about selling cool stuff and customizations than power."

We've previously discussed the topic of RMT with Mr. Smedley, and he reiterated comments he'd made in the past about the relationship between game worlds and auction/real money services: "It's hard to retrofit that concept into an existing MMO, but if you design a game from the ground up in mind, it's definitely a possibility. We haven't finalized the list of what will be traded, or even if operatives will be tradeable. I imagine that lower-level operatives will be tradeable and higher level cards won't be, much in the same way that loot works in traditional fantasy MMOs."

That makes sense for The Agency, but left us wondering what sort of trading would happen in Free Realms: "Player to player trading options in Free Realms will be useful to folks looking to complete collections. Say you're looking to finish a butterfly or flower collection, and another player has finished a quest and grew some flowers in their garden. It's a cool way to complete in-game collections."

Mr. Smedley went on from there to describe some of the game elements he'd be demoing in his keynote address to the ION 2008 conference today. Entitled "Reinventing the MMO", Mr. Smedley's speech sounds as if it will heavily feature Free Realms as a talking point. Certainly, everything that we've heard about the game sounds as if it's a very different take on genre standards. He was adamant that Free Realms is going to provide players the opportunity to "play the way they want to".

Exploration, crafting, gardening, music, skating, sports mini-games, and combat have all been discussed. Add onto that the "hunter", a role that will see players adventuring into the wild world looking to to capture monsters and animals. By using a net gun on the critters, they can be captured and transformed into a card. Though Mr. Smedley was vague on what the cards would be used for, it's not hard to imagine a Free Realms-themed card battle game using systems similar to SOE's Legends of Norrath. Some monsters might end up as pets inside the player housing system as well, allowing more than just cute puppies and kitties to stalk the dust bunnies inside your cottage.

To conclude our discussion, we asked what this new announcement means for the future of SOE and Live Gamer as partners: "We have three big MMOs in development, and we're working with them for two out of those three. We're very hopeful for the future. Time is going to tell. So far we haven't seen any major problems, any major complaints from an EverQuest II player, with the service. We've seen them with a great anti-farming stance so far, and as long as that continues into the future we're hopeful this will continue to be a great relationship. If they stray from that path, that's another thing, but ultimately the players are going to tell us."

Thanks to Mr. Smedley for his time, and make sure to check back later this week for a reaction from Live Gamer.

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