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Sony Online to launch free-to-play Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures virtual world

Sony Online Entertainment and LucasArts are teaming up to create a new virtual world for kid fans of the Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures television show. It’s the latest attempt to make sure that Star Wars gets its hooks into generations of fans, not just those who grew up with the movies.

“Star Wars heavy” wasn’t the biggest online gaming hit. So now it’s time for “Star Wars light.” That’s one way to interpret today’s announcement.

I call it “Star Wars light” because it’s an attempt to draw younger fans in with lighter, cartoon-style fare. “Star Wars heavy” was Star Wars: Galaxies, a realistic-looking online game world that Sony launched six years ago for hardcore game and Star Wars fans. That heavy game wasn’t a complete success. The new light game will debut in the fall.

In the big picture, it makes sense for the companies to try to grab a new generation of players. As with Disney’s famous properties, Star Wars has the potential for multi-generational appeal. Kids could play with their parents, and the potential audience could become vast and perpetual, if it succeeds. Coincidentally, Marvel is working with Gazillion to create Marvel Super Hero Squad, another online game world aimed at kid fans.

San Diego-based Sony Online Entertainment will make the free-to-play virtual world based on the storyline of The Clone Wars animated television series on Cartoon Network. The rights are being licensed to Sony by LucasArts, the game division of George Lucas’ Lucasfilm. Clone Wars Adventures will launch online and in retail stores this fall. Players can start playing for free and then pay real money for virtual goods when needed. That business model is sweeping through the game industry now in everything from massively multiplayer online games to Facebook games.

Clone Wars Adventures will include mini-games, dynamic activities, social events and thousands of customization options. You can battle alongside Star Wars characters like Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Ahsoka Tano. John Smedley, head of Sony Online Entertainment, said his team has worked to seamlessly integrate the game world with the TV series, dubbed The Clone Wars. Players can become heroes of the Republic, fly through space in a starfighter, play speed-bike racing,  fight against waves of battle droids in a “Tower Defense” style game, and play droid programming puzzles. Players can buy Star Wars outfits, items and accessories via micro-transactions using Station Cash, which is Sony Online Entertainment’s virtual currency.

Of course, no one is forgetting about the hardcore gamers. Electronic Arts is also going for heavy again with Star Wars: The Old Republic, an upcoming game that is a massively multiplayer online world in the Star Wars universe. EA’s BioWare division is developing the game under license from LucasArts.

If anyone can make the free-to-play games work, it’s Sony Online Entertainment. The company’s Free Realms game is a runaway success in terms of attracting users. Started in April, 2009, the fantasy online-role-playing game world has more than 10 million members.


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