Online Gaming Around the Corner [08/14/02]

With the new push for online console gaming around the corner, we'd like to focus on the three major consoles and their respective plans for online gaming. Never mind the fact that you could already play Halo (Xbox) and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 (PS2) online through less official means and that the Dreamcast has been online for some time. We're here to talk about the official online plans for the three consoles competing for your cash.

Playstation 2 - Shipping on August 27th is Sony's Online Adaptor, for $39.99, which will come with a startup disc including playable demos of Frequency and Madden NFL 2003, video demos of ATV Offroad Fury 2, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, and Tribes Aerial Assault, and a Mail-in coupon for a free copy of Twisted Metal Black Online. The service will support both broadband and dial-up connection in one single unit (see right). Sony's service seems to be focused on letting each online game be maintained by the separate game developers and as far as we know, Sony isn't charging for the first party titles. While not too many specifics have come up yet as to cost on third party titles, it is known that Final Fantasy XI does have a charge. And, as of yet, Final Fantasy XI is the only title that seems to also require the HDD add-on.

Online titles include Final Fantasy XI, ATV Offroad Fury 2, Auto Modellista, Madden NFL 2003, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, SOCOM Navy Seals, Tribes Aerial Assault, along with a number of titles that are solely online or to be built with online features in the near future like Hot Shots Golf Online and Resident Evil Online.

Sony's take: "After leading this industry for many years, we know our market and understand our core competencies are consumer-based hardware and in-home entertainment. The world of online gaming and broadband-based network services, as it currently stands, is not a one-stop experience. Any company entering this space needs strong partners in various business areas to succeed. With the help and support of our partners, whether on the content or technology side, we will be able to offer online console gaming through PlayStation 2 that is consumer friendly, and most important, fun." - Kaz Hirai, president and chief operating officer, Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc.

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Xbox - Microsoft's Xbox Live will go live on November 15th, one year after the console's launch and will be a broadband only service. Unlike the competition, you won't have to buy any add-ons as there is a port already built into the back of the console. You will have to buy the Xbox Live starter kit for $49.95, which will include the headset (see left), demo disc and one-year subscription. After the initial 12 months, current plans point at the service being $9.95 a month.

At the launch of the service, a number of titles will be available, including NFL Fever 2003, Whacked!, MechAssault, Unreal Championship, Ghost Recon, and NFL 2K3. Later titles that will be online or feature online components will include Halo 2, Project Gotham 2, ToeJam & Earl 3, Rayman Arena, XIII, Phantasy Star Online, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, Star Wars Galaxies and Amped 2.

With the already built-in hard drive for the Xbox, developers have already commented on adding downloadable content and upgrades for some of their games, much like the booster disc for Dead or Alive 3 was. Sega has already stated that they had roster updates for NBA2k3 ready for the online service.

Microsoft's take: "Online technology is the next revolution in video games. It will fundamentally transform gaming into a new form of social entertainment." - J. Allard, general manager of Xbox.

Gamecube - Unlike their competition, Nintendo has taken a wait and see stance. They are releasing a modem adaptor on Sept 16, 2002 and a broadband adaptor (see right) on Sept 30, 2002, each retailing for $34.95. Instead of the massive push for their services, Nintendo is allowing game developers deal with online gaming on their own.

The only title on the slate for Nintendo's online plans is Sega's Phantasy Star Online 1 and 2. Nintendo themselves have not revealed any online titles, but they have made steps to make it easier for developers to work on online titles by announcing that there would be no royalty fees for revenue earned through online games. Fees for gamers will be on a case by case basis, depending on the game developer.

Nintendo's take: "Nintendo is known for great gaming and our first priority is to continue that legacy. Game content developed with that sole mission will enhance the joy of video gaming. The profitable part of the online business is very likely several years away. Entering the business because it's the hot topic of the day doesn't make a profitable business nor satisfied customers. That's why it will be a part of Nintendo's strategy, not the mainstay, as other companies are attempting to do. There still are too many barriers for any company to greatly depend on it." -Satoru Iwata, director, corporate planning, Nintendo Co. Ltd.

- - Kinderfeld

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