GC '07: Sony wants free play for Agency

The PlayStation 3 maker's online division believes that microtransactions and other models are the future of MMOs, not subscriptions.

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LEIPZIG, Germany--Sony Online's latest massively multiplayer online game, The Agency (which has not yet been dated), will feature a number of differences from other MMOs currently on the market. Firstly, it will not be an "orcs and elves"-style game within a fantasy universe, but a modern-day universe featuring two different factions of spies.

Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley told attendees at his talk on "Subscriptions vs. Micro-Transactions" that, "There are quite a few 'men in tights' games out there; we alone have five, and we didn't want to do that."

After showing a short "making of" video of the upcoming Sony spy-themed MMO, Smedley explained that, "We worked to create a world where adults live out their fantasy of being an elite super agent."

The Agency will combine a number of different business models, including in-game ads, and the 'velvet rope' model, with some areas off-limits unless players gain access. Smedley also says that The Agency will eventually be following the business model of Free Realms. He said, "We also see this game going a similar style to that of Free Realms, although I think that the velvet rope model in this case, we're also going to be bringing that in quite a bit because this is also appealing to a more hardcore gamer."

However, he is aware that although gamers are now very accepting of the subscription model for playing online, they are resistant to certain alternatives, like paying for microtransactions such as new outfits, weapons, or characters. He said, "We believe very strongly that this is the future of MMO gaming, but we also know that it is something that players have an issue with... There's going to be an aftermarket, and we want to control it so that players don't get duped into having something switched out from them."

The Agency will also have an in-game collectible card game featuring characters that players can recruit for their team through the purchase of the appropriate card.

The Sony executive also talked about the 2008 MMOG Free Realms. As the title suggests, the game will be downloadable gratis and will carry no subscription fees. The aim is for the game to install itself in under one minute on a broadband connection.

Instead of the traditional subscription model, "we're going to be selling clothing and other items which players can buy," said Smedley. The title will also include in-game advertising with "whimsical placing," and if users do decide to subscribe, the ads disappear.

He explained, "It's designed for a younger gamer and is an optimistic place where everything is fun." The online game will feature a variety of minigames, as Smedley continued: "You can go into an inn and play a game of chess with a person as a quest. If you see some racing karts on the side of the road somewhere, you can get on and race on them like you can in games like Mario Kart."

He concluded by saying that he thought that the online subscription model would continue to decline. "We do believe that if you allow people to play for free, in many cases they will choose to spend more than you would think so," summarized Smedley.

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