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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 01:36 GMT
Xbox mounts online assault
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology staff

Gamers in Britain, France and Germany will be able to compete against others the world over as Microsoft's online gaming service launches in Europe.

MotoGP screenshot
Race against others in MotoGP
Xbox owners will be able to buy a starter kit that will allow them to play games over their broadband connection.

Microsoft is investing heavily in Xbox Live, as online gaming is seen as a lucrative area by console makers.

Sony is planning UK consumer trials for its PlayStation 2 broadband network at the end of the month, with a full launch later in the year.

Promising start

Online gaming on the PC has been around for years, but it is now moving into the mainstream.

Microsoft is ploughing millions into its gaming network.

Xbox's Andre Vrignaud
We're been pleased with our success so far
Andre Vrignaud, Xbox

"We think it is the way we are going to drive the future of gaming," said Andre Vrignaud, Director of Technical Strategy.

"We planned for Xbox Live from the beginning," he told BBC News Online, citing the console's built-in hard drive and broadband adapter.

The 39.99 starter kits going on sale in the UK include the software needed to go online, a headset and one year's subscription to the service.

Xbox Live has had a promising start. Since it was launched in the US in November, more than 350,000 gamers have joined the service.

"We're been pleased with our success so far," said Mr Vrignaud.

"It's just like when you sat on the couch and you were elbowing each other and playing video games in front of the TV," he explained. "All we've done is we've extended that couch to the world."

Microsoft has a head start on Sony in Europe, where the Japanese giant is due to start trials of its PlayStation network at the end of the month in the UK.

But Sony says it is beating Microsoft in the number of people gaming online on the PS2 in the US and Japan.

It says it has sold 500,000 adapters and expects to reach the one million mark by the end of March.

The adapter is expected to cost around 40 when it goes on sale in the UK later this year.

Broadband deals

Online gaming is seen as a key area for the console makers. Analysts predict online gaming will surpass $1bn in Europe by 2006.

Xbox Live
Kit includes software to sign-up to Xbox Live
Both Microsoft and Sony are enlisting the help of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in their battle to conquer the online gaming market.

Microsoft has signed up 15 ISPs across Europe, including BT in the UK, Wannadoo in France and T-Online in Germany.

Sony's partners include BT and Freeserve in Britain and it is still talking to European companies.

The net providers see online gaming as a way to tempt more people to sign up for broadband and as a potential source of revenue.

GameCube owners have the only console that offers connection for 56k modem users in the UK, though there are few games available.




SEE ALSO:
Xbox losses fail to rock Microsoft
15 Nov 02 |  Technology
PlayStation 2 goes online
27 Aug 02 |  Technology
Xbox tests European online waters
29 Nov 02 |  Technology
Gaming comes of age
17 Dec 02 |  Technology
Microsoft talks up online gaming
11 Jan 03 |  Technology
Xbox Live put to the test
23 Feb 03 |  Technology


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