earth-eternalJoining the fray of free online fantasy games, Sparkplay Media is preparing to launch its massively multiplayer online game, Earth Eternal.

The fantasy game runs in a web browser, with no download required. But it also has a plug-in option that allows gamers to play the game in full 3-D. It’s a light-hearted fantasy game that will eventually come with its own social network. The company hopes the game is unique enough to stand out from the competition as one of the more interesting fantasy role-playing games.

The game is operating in a closed beta now and will be launching an open beta later this summer. The download can complete while you’re designing your game character. Although the game will be free to play, players can pay real money via micro-transactions for virtual goods. For instance, they can buy more powerful swords, or they can earn them for free by accomplishing tasks within the game.

You may be wondering why the world needs another fantasy online game. But Matt Mihaly, chief executive of Sparkplay, says the game combines elements of social networking with an action-oriented fantasy role-playing game. On top of that, it tries to bring the best graphics yet to a free-to-play 3-D browser game.

You can also customize your character in all sorts of ways so that it will look different from other characters created in the same class of animal. There are no elves or orcs, but there are about 22 different animal races that players can use for their avatars, or virtual characters. You can also customize the place where your character hangs out: a kind of tree-covered valley, dubbed a Grove, that you can customize as well. You can drag and drop various landscape items and decorations to create your own unique sanctuary.

Sparkplay was founded in 2006 as a division of Iron Realms Entertainment, a text-based dungeon game company. Mihaly founded Iron Realms  in 1996 to make text-based dungeon adventure games such as Achaea and Dreams of Divine Lands. That company remains focused on text-based games, which are a smaller part of the game market.

Iron Realms spun out Sparkplay in 2007 to create Earth Eternal, advancing it $750,000 in funding. Sparkplay raised an additional $4.25 million in February, 2008, from Redpoint Ventures and Prism VentureWorks. Mihaly’s first idea was to create a “hyper violent, hyper sexualized” online game like Funcom’s The Age of Conan. But the team tamed down the idea over time as it decided to aim at low-end technology requirements (so that the game could run on just about any PC).

The game competes with a wide variety of popular fantasy games, including free-to-play titles such as Sony’s Free Realms, Wizard 101 and Jagex’s Runescape. Other rivals include Acclaim, Outspark, NCSoft, and Nexon. Perfect World is a kind of competitor, as is World of Warcraft. But those games require much heavier downloads.