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E3 show: Gamers to get wired

Online gaming is the phrase of the day in California

Connectivity for consoles is the catchphrase at the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) show in Los Angeles this week.

Representatives of both Sony and Nintendo are hawking the new strategy, but only Sony is giving details about taking its Playstation online.

Announcements on Tuesday morning followed Microsoft's Monday introduction of Xbox Online, a broadband gaming package scheduled for release in the Autumn.

Unlike Microsoft's plan for flat-rate access to online games, Sony will release a combination Ethernet port/analogue modem for around £30 in August and open its network to any ISPs.

"Even MSN users are welcome," said Kaz Hirai, president and chief operating officer of Sony Computer Entertainment America, in less-than-subtle dig at Microsoft.

Nintendo, which last week announced it would market both a modem and broadband adapter for its GameCube console, gave only scant details of its plans. Phantasy Star Online will debut this fall on the service, said Satoru Iwata, director of corporate planning for Nintendo.

Sony gave a preview of its online game play, including an eight-on-eight squad combat in SOCOM: US Navy Seals. Half of the players were on-site at E3, and the other half were 300 miles away in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Available in August, the top-price broadband-only game (around £40) will include a USB headset for issuing voice commands to computer-controlled characters or communicating with other real players.

In another preview, John Riccitiello, the president and chief operating officer of Electronic Arts, introduced NFL opponents battling online via Madden NFL Football 2003.

Sony will also let game publishers create their own pay-per-play proposals and share their revenues, Hirai said. This is classic Sony stuff — going the opposite way with working with developers killed Sega.

"More than 60 percent of our users said that their main barrier to gaming online would be having to pay a fee," Hirai added. Clearly, however, he is confident of success: Hirai declared the console war over, likening the gap between Sony and its competition to the Grand Canyon.

Nintendo focused on the connectivity between its handheld Game Boy Advance and its GameCube console, demonstrating new plans for the convergence.

Plugging the Advance into the GameCube will unlock special features in certain games, company representatives said. Also, gamers will be able to download content to the Advance, making parts of their GameCube games portable. Nintendo will take no licensing fees for its network, Iwata said.


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