[A notable keynote announcement for our colleagues' GDC Austin event next month that we thought we'd pass along to GSW. Free Realms has been quite successful for SOE, so it'll be interesting to hear Smedley discuss its birth and progress.]

2009 GDC Austin organizers have announced that Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley will keynote next month's event, discussing the success and lessons learned from the firm's recently launched, family-friendly free to play MMO Free Realms.

Smedley, who heads up the long-time online game publisher/developer and creator of EverQuest and EverQuest II, will present a keynote entitled: "From Dragons and Daggers to Kart Racing, Cooking and Concerts ... It's a Whole New MMO World".

He will discuss how the critically-acclaimed freely available tween and teen title Free Realms, originally announced during GDC Austin 2007, has worked to expand the base of players engaging together in online worlds.

The online game, launched in April 2009 and monetizing via item sales and optional membership, saw 1 million registered accounts in the first ten days, and has already seen users reach nearly 5 million, according to a Comic-Con panel.

According to the announcement, Smedley "will inform attendees about the challenges and lessons learned when creating a full-blown MMO for younger audiences", with empirical research and insights.

The keynote will "speak to the challenges and boundless opportunity of connected games, and will also describe how to re-educate development teams to move away from stagnant MMO designs towards mass market success."

The SOE executive's talk joins an already-confirmed Blizzard keynote on 'The Universe Of World Of Warcraft', as well as a number of major online game-centric sessions at the event, which has three days of main conference content focused on connected games, online games, virtual worlds, and social networking game play.

GDC Austin (part of Think Services, as is this website) also has four two-day summits including the Game Writers, Game Audio, iPhone Games and Independent Games Summits, takes place at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas September 15-18, 2009. More information is available on the official event website, and early registration discounts will end on August 13.