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Video Game’s Online Future

The future of video game playing is almost here — and it will be online.

So said the makers of the world’s three video game consoles at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) here, where each presented more concrete plans for adding online gaming to their systems’ capabilities. Each however, has a decidedly different approach for taking the machines to the Internet.

Microsoft started the fireworks two nights before the show by announcing the launch of its Xbox Live service, which will enable online multi-player game playing through a dedicated, always-connected broadband service, that Microsoft will operate.

The company will also seek to keep user fees low — Xbox Live will launch with a starter kit that will include a voice communicator that plugs into the controller, an online game called ReVolt and a year’s subscription to the service for $49.95. Users must have a broadband service connected to the Xbox’s built-in ethernet port.

Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s chief Xbox officer, said Microsoft is in the best position to succeed online due to its experience in operating a major Internet entertainment network and its commitment to spending over $2 billion in developing and marketing that service over the next five years. Bach said Xbox Live would be broadband focused in order to deliver a compelling service to users.

Sony Computer Entertainment America president Kaz Hirai, meanwhile, also vowed to dominate the online gaming world, but will offer users the option to select either broadband or analog dial-up Internet access. Players will be able to access the Internet through established ISP accounts.

Hirai cited consumer studies that showed 60 percent of users find an additional fee the main barrier to online game playing. As a result, Sony is working with game developers to reduce or eliminate pay-for-play charges.

Beginning in August, Sony will offer PlayStation2 owners a $40 network adapter kit supporting both broadband and analog ISPs and including a start-up disc with the following: connectivity to the AOL, Earthlink AT&T WorldNet Service, SBC and Sympatic; a help video and documention; game demos for Madden NFL 2003, Frequency, Tribes: Aerial Assualt and Time Splitters 2; and a mail-in coupon for Twisted Metal: Black Online.

Nintendo, meanwhile, sees a promising future for online gaming, but is allowing third party game developers, such as Sega, to develop and market online gaming around titles slated for its Gamecube console. Sega this year will introduce a version of its popular Phantasy Star Online multi-player online game for Gamecube.