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PAX East 2011: Free Realms coming to the PS3 on March 29th

Jef Reahard

Apparently 17 million registered PC and Mac users are the tip of the iceberg for Sony Online Entertainment. The company's family-friendly Free Realms MMORPG is heading to the Playstation 3 on March 29th in an attempt to bring massively multiplayer enlightenment to the unwashed console masses (and reel in a few million new users in the process).

Free Realms originally took a bow in 2009 on Windows PCs and has since seen its pirates, ninjas, pets, and genre-bending gameplay appear on Apple's OS X operating system as well. The title is initially free-to-play, with premium account options available to gamers who want to access an additional 400 quests and level all their jobs up to 20. Free Realms also features a cash shop that will be available via the Playstation Store.

"Free Realms continues to break new ground in the gaming industry -– it will be the first free-to-play MMO to hit any console, the first family-friendly MMO to hit any console, and the second MMO, after our recent release of DC Universe Online, to hit the PlayStation3 to date," says SOE president John Smedley. Head past the break for an exclusive interview with Free Realms lead designer Stephen Bokkes and producer Nick Parkinson.

Gallery: Free Realms PS3 Gallery | 11 Photos

Massively: First off, congratulations on the launch of Free Realms for the PS3. Is this the first MMO to be available on the PC, Mac, and now, PS3?

SOE: Thank you very much! We are extremely excited to see Free Realms come to fruition on the PlayStation 3, as this is not only a milestone for SOE but also the MMO genre as a whole.

How can PS3 players access the game? Will the same subscription plans be available (monthly and lifetime)?

Starting March 29th, Free Realms PS3 will be exclusively available for download on the PlayStation Network. Free Realms is free-to-play at its core, and as far as subscriptions, we decided to go with what we already established on the PC. The game is available for free to all players with membership upgrade options offered in terms of one month, three months, six months, and lifetime -- which is valid for the life of the game.

Will those who already have accounts on the PC or Mac be able to use those accounts on the PS3? Will they also have access to the characters on those accounts? Will PS3 players play on the same servers as PC players?

There will not be cross-platform compatibility between PC, Mac, and PS3. Cross-compatibility would be extremely complicated -- not just for us developers but for players as well. Accounts would have to be linked across platforms, forcing players to create a Station account in addition to their existing PSN account. We decided that convenience and accessibility outweighed the benefits of cross-platform compatibility.

Are there any plans to make use of current PlayStation features, like trophies?

Absolutely. Free Realms PS3 will offer a full trophy set for players to earn, compare, and brag about to their friends. For example, players can earn trophies for completeing a collection, performing a pet trick and/or winning a difficult combat encounter without getting knocked out. Additionally, the game takes advantage of the PS3's voice chat feature, enabling players to speak to one another while grouped. We also support the keyboard for text entry. Of course, chat functions can be disabled through the PS3's parental controls.

Shifting gears a bit to talk about Free Realms in general: There was an update just last week that included the new Treasure Wars game. How does it differ from the Free Realms Trading Card Game?

There are a lot of different playstyles among the population of Free Realms, and while we are big fans of the classic card game, we wanted to add another game that was a little faster-paced with a little bit less of a learning curve. One of the great things about the original card game is that it's a bit more tactical, and depending on what you're doing, can take a little longer to play. With Treasure War, we envisioned a game that was every bit as fun but had a playstyle that was one players could jump right into, pick up, play a few games and then either keep playing or move on to something else. In other words, we're always trying to add great new ways to have fun into the game and a second card game seemed like a great way to do just that. We hope folks like it!

What sorts of rewards can players find by purchasing packs and playing the game? (We're already working toward that cool steampunk cowboy outfit!)

The clockwork cowboy outfit you mention is one of the favorites around here at the office. Players can also look forward to getting things like the new phoenix ride, the ROFLE pet, and lots of cool new wearables and housing items. There's some good stuff to be had for sure!

Will there be physical trading cards for Treasure Wars as there have been for the TCG?

No, Treasure War is an in-game only feature. Right now, there are no plans to do physical cards for it.

Regarding future updates, are there any plans to add new jobs? Can you give any hints on new content in the works?

We've got a number of pretty cool things in the works right now, but I think that the one folks are going to like the most coming up in the pretty near future is going to be our farming system. We've been working on it quietly for a while now, and we're getting close to being able to show it off for everyone. In the next couple of weeks, we'll be doing some previews detailing exactly what it'll entail, but we think folks are going to really enjoy it. We're pretty excited about it ourselves! After that, there's some other really cool stuff coming down the pipe too (quick hint: Watch the rides section starting in a couple of weeks -- you may see a new type pop up!) but I can't spill the beans on it all at once, so stay tuned!

Lastly, Free Realms fans are constantly lobbying for the return of the Pet Trainer job and the Vault. Is there a chance that either one will return?

We are not bringing back the pet trainer job as players previously knew it, but we've got something coming up in the next couple of months that players who were fans of the pet trainer, I'm betting, will enjoy even more. I'm going to be evil and leave it at that for now though! As for the vault items, yes, you can expect to see some of those start popping up as VIP rewards.

Thanks for talking to us!

Massively's on the ground in Boston during the weekend of March 11-13, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about SWTOR or Guild Wars 2 or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!

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