Free Realms to launch in early April

Beta within weeks, PS3 version in Q3.

At a press preview of its free-to-play, family-friendly MMO Free Realms in London today, Sony Online Entertainment confirmed that the PC version of the game will launch in early April.

The beta test will begin very soon - within "a couple of weeks", according to associate art director Sebastian Strzalkowski.

Free Realms is also in development for PS3, but that version is further down the road. Strzalkowski said it was on track for a release in the third quarter of this year - so, some time between July and September.

There will be additional content exclusive to the PS3 version to make up for this delay. While the PC version streams from a launch website - the initial 25MB download taking around a minute on your average broadband connection - the PS3 version will be available as a free download on the PlayStation Network.

SOE sees Free Realms as a "multi-platform" title, and Strzalkowski said that a Mac client was "definitely on the list of platforms we want to develop for", although there are no firm plans yet. He also mentioned the possibility of Flash or Java-based extensions to the game for mobile phones.

Although free-to-play and aimed primarily at 10- to 14-year-old children and the casual market, SOE is taking the development of Free Realms very seriously, with a team of over 100 dedicated to its development at the company's San Diego headquarters. What was shown at the presentation was certainly very slick and attractive.

As far as revenue streams are concerned, SOE is leaving no stone unturned for its first entry into the free-to-play market. Cosmetic items, pets, racing vehicles, and consumable potions will be available to buy through SOE's Station Cash service, and cards for an intergrated trading card game will be on sale in shops.

Meanwhile, a subscription costing USD 4.99 will provide "velvet rope" access to premium content, although there may be other ways to access this for free - agreeing to in-game advertising and sponsorship, for example. However, all the game's launch content will be free to all players.

You can find more info, including a preview from last year's E3, at the Free Realms gamepage. Expect furhter details as soon as we get our hands on the beta.

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