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Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Harry Potter and the broadband adventure
By BBC News Online's Mark Ward in Miami.
Fans of Harry Potter will soon be able to study alongside the young wizard at Hogwarts school, and have their own adventures battling the evil Voldemort.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling, Warner Brothers and Electronic Arts are working together to create an online game version of the wizard's world that fans will be able to enter, explore and play in.
The Harry Potter computer game and the online world should be finished by the end of the year, and is just one of the many persistent worlds that Electronic Arts is planning to put on the net over the next few years.
Soon gamers will be able to make and race their own custom cars on the net, fight for or against galactic empires or even live out an alternative existence in a digital town.
John Riccitiello, president of Electronic Arts (EA) made the announcement about the Harry Potter online game at the Accenture 13th annual Global Communications Forum being held in Miami Beach this week.
Games more popular than TV
Mr Riccitiello was reluctant to give too many details about the game but said it would give fans of the books the chance to study to be a wizard at the Hogwarts school just like Harry Potter.
Each of the hugely popular Potter books is based around a new term at the school where young wizards and witches are trained.
The gaming site is likely to be opened up towards the end of the year to coincide with the release of the Harry Potter film.
Mr Riccitiello said the computer and console game business generates around $13bn in revenue every year - about the amount that Hollywood movie studios get from box office receipts.
But, he said, the games industry is growing three times faster, and now many people spend far more time playing a game alone or online than they devote to watching a favourite TV series.
He said the average player of The Sims has spent 40 hours manipulating their virtual people, which is more than double the time the hours they spend sat in front of a TV series such as Friends.
Mr Riccitiello said this figure is only likely to increase as online games grow in scope and complexity and broadband internet connections proliferate.
New online worlds
In 1997 set up the Ultima Online fantasy world on the net and it now has over 240,000 subscribers.
On average these players spend 60 hours per month adventuring in the web-based world.
Later this year EA is planning to launch a series of new online worlds such as Motor City, that will let people build and race cars in a virtual metropolis, and Earth and Beyond which gives people the chance to be a starship captain exploring the galaxy.
Next year will come The Sims online which will create huge communities inhabited by virtual people controlled by real humans.
Making broadband worthwhile
These games could be the saviour of the many net service providers keen to migrate customers from cheap low-speed net connections to expensive high bandwidth links.
Mr Riccitiello said few people will be happy to pay for nothing more than a faster net connection. He said net providers will have to give people more to persuade them to subscribe to services many times more costly per month than existing net links.
"Online games are one of the few applications that justify the incremental cost of a broadband subscription," he said.
"You have to give them more than just a faster internet, no-one is going to pay more to just order their books faster from Amazon."