Sony, Microsoft Race to Dominate Broadband Games

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- While many of those gathered at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, are waiting for Microsoft to unveil details about its Xbox video-game console, others are peering eagerly
Sony PlayStation.
into the broadband future.

Thousands of journalists, software publishers and interactive entertainment vets have gathered in here for E3, where today Microsoft Corp. unveiled details on pricing, games and marketing for its new game system, which debuts this fall.

Not to be outdone, Sony Computer Entertainment America, whose PlayStation franchise is by far the most popular video-game system, has fired off a string of announcements trumpeting its plan to bring gaming to the masses via high-speed broadband Internet connections that would deliver enhanced content to games.

Bully for broadband
Sony and Microsoft tout the ballyhooed, but not quite here, convergence of content, games, movies, PC software and digital storage. When the infrastructure for broadband falls into place, it won't be a stretch to envision a pay-for-play business model, emphasizing subscription-based music and movie download services and other content delivered via a fast pipe. There are already a few subscription- and fee-based game services, but their deployment is expected to accelerate when broadband becomes a reality for the public.

But broadband deployment to homes have been slow in coming, to say the least.

Sony has for months signaled that its PlayStation will morph into a kind of digital entertainment hub with which people can enjoy not only games but other kinds of enriched content such as music downloads and movies via a broadband pipe.

Sony's deal with AOL Time Warner's America Online involves incorporating some of AOL's most popular features -- e-mail and instant messaging -- with PlayStation 2. The alliance with AOL signals Sony's intent to blur the line between Internet content, games, PC and console technologies.

From desktop to living room
Microsoft has made no secret that it also wants to be in the living room -- witness its UltimateTV product, for starters, and now the Xbox. While Microsoft retains its dominance in the software realm, it's eager to extend beyond the PC.

Microsoft said the Xbox will be available throughout North America Nov. 8 at $299 per unit. Robbie Bach, general manager of the Microsoft Games Division, said the company would have 600,000 to 800,000 units on hand at launch, and it expects to sell 1 million to 1.5 million systems through the Christmas holiday.

Mr. Bach said 15 to 20 games for Xbox would also be available Nov. 8, and that 80 more titles exclusive to the system were in development.

Xbox, Mr. Bach said, will also be the exclusive platform for a game based on Steven Spielberg's upcoming movie, AI.

RealNetworks deal
Sony already has about 30 million PlayStation 1 and 2 owners and scores of devotees of its consumer electronics products.

Sony has also inked a deal with RealNetworks, whose audio and video software will be integrated into the PlayStation 2, which will enable gamers access to Internet media, sports and other content via RealPlayer.

Sony also will release a series of peripherals for PlayStation 2, including a network adapter designed to facilitate analog online connection and high-speed Internet access. The adapter, due out in November for $39.95, and other peripherals will enable consumers to access online games to play on the PlayStation 2 and other devices simultaneously.

Also in the works is a hard disc drive that will give consumers access to AOL features and Internet games on PlayStation 2.

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