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Sony: Expect PlanetSide Next  Q1/Q2

Plus: The Agency, Free Realms PS3 launches.

Sony Online Entertainment has offered Eurogamer updates on the launches of three new MMOs: The Agency, Free Realms on PS3 and PlanetSide Next, a working title.

The latter we know least about. "We've announced publicly that the game is in development," SOE president John Smeldey tells Eurogamer, "it's a game that's codenamed PlanetSide Next.

"And we haven't announced a release date for it but you can expect it... We're looking at late first-quarter, early second-quarter [2011]."

Smedley blew the whistle on PlanetSide Next ages ago, in October 2009. The last we heard, in December 2010, was that a reaveal was imminent. All we know is that PlanetSide Next aims to do what PlanetSide did but on on a much grander scale. Check out Eurogamer's re-review of PlanetSide to find out more about that series.

Next, The Agency - Sony's modern day espionage-themed MMO shooter for PC and PS3. This suffered a considerable delay in December, tumbling to the latter half of 2011. So is that still the plan?

"It is," Smedley reaffirms. "Late this year."

"We're not giving out a specific date yet because we don't know it," he adds.

"One thing that we've learned over our company's history is that it takes time to make great games. And we're not trying to make cookie-cutter MMOs. There's some stuff coming out in the next two or three months, MMO-wise, and a lot of it is generic copycats of other games. That's not what we want to do. We want to make new experiences for people. So The Agency is a new kind of MMO so we want to make sure it's as good as it can be."

The Agency team is at the moment "slightly smaller" than the DC Universe team of 115 people. But when launch rolls around that number will increase, and Smedley will reserve 50 of those people to continue working on the game post-release.

How's The Agency looking so far? Like "one of the most exciting and original online games in development", according to Eurogamer's chief rat puncher Oli Welsh.

This is The Agency.

What about Free Realms? Unlike the aforementioned games, Free Realms has already been released on PC, and to great success - 10 million accounts have been registered so far.

"This is in submission at SCEA [Sony Computer Entertainment America] right now," says Smedley of Free Realms PS3. "Once it's done with that, once it's through, we'll be launching it in SCEE [Sony Computer Entertainment Europe].

"If I was a betting man," he goes on, "I'm betting sometime early February it gets launched on the PS3 in SCEA. And probably, and this is a guess, sometime in March for SCEE. And that will use a free-to-play business model on PS3."

Free Realms arrived on PC in April 2009, and delivered a bright, cheery world full of collapsible hurdles and omnipresent pats on the back. Oli Welsh strapped on the monocle for Eurogamer: "an effortlessly light and addictive indulgence", deemed he - 7/10.

Alongside those three games, Sony Online Entertainment counts new arrival DC Universe Online and EverQuest Next - the third major EverQuest instalment that looks certain to appear on both PC and, for the first time, PS3.

That's five new, announced games. And, unbelievably, that's not all.

"There are [unannounced projects]," reveals Smedley. "Can't even disclose a number, but a lot."

"We're constantly in development on things. We are a company that wants to make new experiences for players so needless to say that we're working on that hard."

In closing, then, what does John Smedley believe can topple World of Warcraft (a question I asked wide and far in December)? There's no hiding from Blizzard's behemoth.

"The word topple probably isn't the right one. What's going to happen is as more great games come out, it's going to fragment their user-base over time, and you're going to see death by a thousand cuts," Smedley foresees.

"Is there going to be any one game? I don't think so. WOW came out at a time when there were very few big MMOs - we were one of them [EQ1]. Now times have changed. You've got some great games out there - look at the great numbers EVE puts up, look at our own EverQuest II, look at all of the new games coming out.

"The biggest thing that's going to change here in the next few years is the console MMO, and that's why I'm really proud that we've got the first big one [DCUO]."

And this is Free Realms on PC.