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Nintendo Slates Online Gaming Rollout

Nintendo of America is expected to use the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) to announce its strategy for bringing online gaming to its Gamecube platform.

In the days leading up to the show, the company revealed that the first online Gamecube titles –Phantasy Star Online Episodes I & II – would arrive this fall from former rival Sega.

Nintendo stated its strategy for developing the online gaming market is to proceed cautiously, without over committing its resources to the new market niche. To get started it will offer titles that are both compelling and affordable. At the same time, Nintendo is employing a development program that is said to be favorable to game publishers and will offer full support for both broadband and dialup Internet users.

Nintendo said it will not require royalty fees from revenue generated by a publisher’s game played online through the Gamecube. The “low-risk model” is intended to encourage developers to consider new genres of games for online play, Nintendo said. Nintendo also has several internal development groups researching online projects, but the company said none will be announced at E3.

Nintendo is now offering software development kits and will begin selling both the Nintendo Gamecube v.90 dial-up modem adapter and a broadband adapter this fall, each at a $34.95 suggested retail price.

“We understand the strong appeal of online gaming to a select group of video game players, and indeed, it’s one way to increase their satisfaction in exploring new types gaming,” said Peter MacDougall, Nintendo sales and marketing executive VP in a prepared statement. “To make online more appealing to the rest of the game-playing population, we’re taking concrete steps to aid our development partners in overcoming some of the inherent technical and financial obstacles to successful online games.”

In other news, Nintendo said it will launch its WaveBird wireless Gamecube controller in the United States on June 10.

The controller, which is to carry a $34.95 suggested retail price, will transmit IR signals to the console from up to 20 feet away. Special receivers plug into the Gamecubecontroller slots. Each controller will have access to 16 different frequencies, and up to four wireless controllers can be used on the Gamecube at one time. Two AA batteries are required to power a controller for approximately 100 hours of game play. Also, Nintendo said it has cut the price of its standard wired Gamecube controller to $24.95.

The company also said it has reached an agreement with Namco to bring multiple Namco software titles to the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance systems.

Namco plans to offer six Gamecube titles by the end of 2003, including the Soul Calibur and Mr. Driller series. Under the agreement, Nintendo and Namco will jointly develop a Nintendo Gamecube space shooter game based on Nintendo’s Star Fox franchise.

Eight Namco titles are scheduled for Game Boy Advance by the end of next year.

Another new franchise that could soon arrive in the Nintendo family are the popular Japanese characters Hamtaro and his hamster pals, the Ham-Hams. ShoPro USA, an affiliate of Shogakukan Production Co. said it has reached licensing agreements with Nintendo for video game titles. Hamtro is the subject of a cartoon series coming to the Cartoon Network June 3. The series is expected to receive extensive marketing opportunities in books, videos, toys and clothing, in addition to video games.

The Hamtaro property is said to be one of Japan’s strongest children’s brands, having exceeded $2.5 billion in retail sales since the television launch in July of 2000.