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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 01:49 GMT 02:49 UK
PlayStation goes online in the UK
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology staff

The PlayStation 2 games console is going online in the UK, with Sony launching its broadband gaming service.

PlayStation 2 with network adapter
The adapter connects to the side of the PlayStation 2
To play, people will need to buy a network adapter kit, which has just gone on sale along with two multi-player titles.

Online gaming on the PS2 has proved a big success in the US and Japan since the service went live last year.

The service has proved immensely popular in the US, where Sony sold more than 500,000 adapters in just six months.

But Sony officials in the UK are cautious about the prospects here, citing the cost of high speed net access as a potential obstacle.

Game on

Online gaming is seen as a key area for the console makers, with analysts predicting it could be a $2bn a year industry by 2005.

Microsoft has a head start in the UK as its online gaming service for the Xbox launched in the UK in March.

But Sony is hot on its heels. As from today, gamers will be able to buy a kit for 24.99 that includes a network adapter for the console and the software they need to set up the service.

Initially, only two games will be available - the military action title Socom: US Navy Seals and car action game Twisted Metal Black Online.

But between 15 and 20 titles are expected to be on sale by the end of the year.

Low expectations

Sony aims to build on the mass appeal of its console, which is in some four million homes in Britain, to tempt more people to try their hand at playing games over the internet,

Socom Navy Seals
Two games will be available including Socom: US Navy Seals
"We hope to bring people online who haven't been online before," said Ray Maguire, Managing Director of Sony Computer Entertainment UK.

The service has proved successful in the US, where more than 500,000 network adapters sold in the six months since launch.

But Mr Maguire played down expectations for the UK.

"We don't expect it to be huge to start off with," he told BBC News Online. "I expect steady growth.

"As we put more games online - and we expect them to be available by Christmas - the bulk of people will come."

Sony sees the cost of broadband as one of the stumbling blocks to a big explosion in online gaming in the UK.

"Connectivity isn't cheap," said Mr Maguire. "But we see broadband and online gaming as driving each other.

"People want more than just fast net access to rationalise the cost of broadband. Gaming puts entertainment back into broadband which is still seen as a technology service."

Paying to play

Sony and Microsoft are taking very different approaches to online gaming.

Green Xbox
Xbox provides a dedicated, paid-for gaming network
Microsoft is investing millions in creating a global online gaming community powered by the Xbox console.

Gamers have to sign up to Microsoft's Xbox Live service and pay an annual fee, and all games are played through the company's servers.

In contrast, Sony is leaving it up to game publishers to decide what they want to offer online.

Once you have bought a network adapter, there are no other charges, though Sony does not rule out fees further down the line.

"At a point in time we are going to have to look at how we make some value out of the experience," said Mr Maguire.

"People expect to have to pay for entertainment, be it going to a football match or to the cinema."

The third player in the console marketplace, Nintendo, started selling online gaming adapters for its GameCube in the US in October.

It has adopted a cautious approach to online gaming. Its strategy is to wait and see how its rivals do, before it makes a major commitment.




SEE ALSO:
Xbox tests European online waters
29 Nov 02  |  Technology
Xbox Live put to the test
23 Feb 03  |  Technology
Nintendo puts its faith in games
22 May 03  |  Technology
PlayStation tempts gamers online
07 Mar 03  |  Technology
Sony revamps the PlayStation
28 May 03  |  Technology


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