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Online Capability Of Game Systems The Focus Of E3

LOS ANGELES — Two of the interactive entertainment industry’s platform developers sent a loud and clear message to their constituencies at the 2001 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3): the future of video gaming is online. But gaming veteran Nintendo chose to stress entertainment over technology in unveiling its GameCube in the United States for the first time.

Microsoft and Sony each announced plans to enable analog and broadband Internet access through their new generation consoles. This will allow players to interact with and play against other remote players and download games and A/V content, including streaming music and video.

Microsoft said its Xbox gaming console will ship to dealers Nov. 8 at a $299 estimated selling price. Microsoft plans to have 600,000 Xbox consoles available at launch. The company predicts sales of between 1 and 1.5 million units through the holiday season.

Between 15 and 20 games will be available on day one. Microsoft plans to develop 30-35 percent of the content, with the rest coming from third-party developers. About 80 Xbox exclusive titles are now in development, with some 40 of those are from third parties.

The platform includes connections for analog and ethernet broadband modems and a built-in hard drive that will eventually download games and demos from the Internet to play online with remote competitors.

Taking the concept a step further, Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s chief Xbox officer, revealed that Xbox was designed in large part with online gameplay in mind. He stressed the critical importance of “moving online gaming from the novelty it is today to the necessity in the market that it is going to become.”

Microsoft’s strategy stressed that online gaming has to be fast, secure and easy for people to use. For that reason, Xbox was designed with an “all-in-one-box” approach.

An element that Microsoft thinks will make online game play more rewarding is communication between players during game play. Bach announced the Xbox Communicator, a headset that will provide two-way voice contact during game play, that will be available to users.

Meanwhile, Sony Computer Entertainment America president Kaz Hirai said Playstation 2 is about to “enter a new era of broadband entertainment,” which will be “an extension of the immersive and compelling game play that millions of consumers have come to expect and love on the Playstation.”

Beyond that, Hirai said, Sony sees a world of convergence through Playstation 2 that includes “not only interactive entertainment, but film, music and broadcasting, as well.”

Hirai said Sony’s overall mission is to fully execute an integrated PS2 online experience by next year, starting with online gaming through select titles beginning this fall. Sony said it is lining up partners that can help build the infrastructure to extend the experience for the PS2 consumer in the online environment.

At the show, Sony announced it is teaming up with America Online to put components of the AOL service – such as instant messenger, chat and email — on PS2. Sony will also work with AOL to bring its Netscape browser onto the PS2. Eventually, PS2 owners with AOL accounts may be able to access AOL through the PS2.

Hirai called Sony’s installed base of more than 30 million North American Playstation 1 and 2 loyalists and AOL’s 200 million worldwide subscribers “a combination that is very hard to beat.”

Sony has also teamed with Macromedia to bring the Flash Player to PS2 and Cisco will work with Sony to develop new IP software optimized for the PS2.

Cisco will bring an IPv4/IPv6 dual-protocol stack to the game console. To enable Internet connections to the PS2, this fall Sony will release a $39 suggested retail price network adapter, which was called a hybrid analog/Ethernet connector. The adapter will connect to the PS2 through a device bay on the back of the console. The bay will also accommodate a 40GB hard drive, which Sony will introduce this November at a price yet to be announced.

To complete the package, Sony will offer a full-sized keyboard, mouse and LCD desktop monitor, which effectively turns the PS2 into an Internet appliance.

Nintendo followed Microsoft by giving the forthcoming GameCube system its U.S. debut and announcing the player will ship to dealers on Nov. 5 — three days before the Xbox launch. However, pricing for the unit was withheld for an upcoming financial review meeting.

During a demonstration of new GameCube titles, company executives said they worked with key development partners IBM, API, Matsushita, and NEC “to eliminate troublesome bottlenecks” to game development without concern for peak performance.

The result, Nintendo said, is a platform that renders high-quality graphics in a smooth, effective way, while giving developers exponentially more capability than the prior N64 system.

To operate the GameCube, Nintendo will offer a newly designed standard wired controller and an optional wireless controller called the Wave Bird. It will operate the GameCube system from up to 30 feet away. Additionally, the unit can be controlled by connecting Nintendo’s newest handheld platform, Game Boy Advance. The 32-bit portable will ship to dealers June 11 at a $99.95 suggested retail, along with a slate of 17 titles, and will be backed by a $20 million ad campaign.

Peter Main, Nintendo of America executive VP, said the company is set to deliver 500,000 pieces at launch and another 500,000 two weeks following that.