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Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Sony to release online gaming service in November

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Sony Corp, the world's largest maker of computer-game consoles, will introduce an online service when its PlayStation 3 is launched in November as the company battles Microsoft Corp for customers.

A basic version of the service will be free and will allow users to play against each other online, e-mail and chat with friends. Users can also pay to download additional content, said Phil Harrison, the studio head at Sony's game unit.

Adding an online component enables Sony to tap new sources of revenue, such as charging gamers for additional levels or new episodes of games. Microsoft Corp, which released its Xbox 360 console last year, already offers an Xbox Live online service.

Tokyo-based Sony last week delayed the global release of the PlayStation 3 until early November because of a holdup in finalizing standards for the Blu-ray DVD technology.

"Our revenue streams are going to become more complex," Harrison said on Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California. "We can also see a much more vital revenue stream from in-game advertising."

American shares of Sony rose US$0.18 to US$46.68 at 4pm on Wednesday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They have risen 14 percent this year.

Microsoft shares, up 3.8 percent this year, fell US$0.59 to US$27.15 in NASDAQ Stock Market composite trading.

Sony is battling Microsoft for market share in an industry expected to grow to about US$42 billion by 2010, according to market researcher DFC Intelligence.

PlayStation 3 is a key part of Sony chief executive officer Howard Stringer's strategy to use movies, music and games to spur sales of consumer electronics.

Consumers may be able to buy music and movie clips through the online game service, currently named PlayStation Network Platform, Harrison said. The feature will allow third-party game makers to develop their own online services, he said.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said on Tuesday that more than 10 million pieces of content, including game demos and music videos, have been downloaded from Xbox Live.

Sony's first two PlayStation game consoles are bestsellers worldwide, with more than 100 million units sold each. The delay to the PlayStation 3 means that Sony will be a year behind Microsoft's Xbox 360.

Sony will have the capacity to make 1 million PlayStation 3 units a month by the launch date, and expects to ship about 6 million by next March, Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc, said at a conference last week.

Harrison said on Wednesday that he's not worried by Microsoft's head start.

"It doesn't put us at a competitive disadvantage at all," Harrison said at a press conference following his speech. "I have no concerns about the competition."

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