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Free at last: Sony brings its biggest online world to PlayStation 3

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Free Realms - Sony

What do you do when your online world has 17 million
registered users?  You venture to
pastures new in search of more.

Consoles are still the great unconquered frontier for online
virtual worlds.  Despite the considerable
success of Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI, released for the PlayStation 2 in
2003, virtual worlds on consoles haven't seen anything like the explosion of
popularity they've attained on the PC, where a World of Warcraft or a Club
Penguin
can attract in excess of ten million players.

Sony Online aims to change that. In January, they launched
DC Universe Online, a superhero-themed game released simultaneously for the PC
and the PlayStation 3.  Now, they've
ported Free Realms, their massively successful free online role-playing game, to
that same flagship console. Launched in 2009 and already boasting some 17
million registered users, Free Realms is one of the few Western online worlds
to challenge the dominance of Blizzard's mighty World of Warcraft - though it's
aided by the absence of WoW's $15 monthy subscription fee.

The transplanted title features all the gameplay features,
zones, playable characters, and quests that are available on the PC version, though
there's no overlap between the two instances of the game's world.  PC users can only play with other PC users,
and the same goes for PlayStation.

Concessions have been made to the simplified gamepad interface
of the PlayStation 3 -- in particular, in-game communication is mostly
accomplished via a series of simple chat commands (greetings, invitations to
trade, emotes, and the like) accessible through a menu.  A keyboard attachment for the PlayStation 3
can be used to make chatting easier, but the idea is to make all basic social
interaction accessible while planted on the couch using a couple of thumbs and
a gamepad.

The simplest way to think of Free Realms is as a sort of
mixture between between World of Warcraft and Club Penguin; like the latter,
it's highly kid-friendly and focuses as much on minigames and socializing as on
traditional leveling, but like the former, it features a lavish, graphically
opulent 3D world to roam around in. Whether completing quests, saving in-game
money for cute outfits and distinctive pets, or playing one of the 20-odd minigames
(one of the most popular is "Pirate's Plunder," a lighthearted ship-to-ship
combat sim), players will find plenty to do. There's even player housing, which
can be customized with thousands of unique virtual objects.

Free Realms can be downloaded on the PlayStation Network for
the low, low price of nothing.  Bonus
contact can be purchased via optional microtransactions.

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