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Pardon Me . . . Can I Buy You an Internet Access?

Amusement: Atari founder plans to put cyber-game and -music devices in bars, hotels and other public places.

September 09, 1996|From Reuters

WOODSIDE, Calif. — The Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded Atari Corp. and created the Chuck E. Cheese restaurants wants to put high-tech jukeboxes and video games linked to the Internet in bars, hotels and other public places--and eventually make billions of dollars.

"Do you think 'Bubba' can surf the Net? I do," Nolan Bushnell said at a recent news briefing at his home here, about 30 miles south of San Francisco.

Reporters got a look at three devices that will enable people to play video games with opponents in another location, order music as well as hear it, and access the Internet with the drop of a coin or the swipe of a credit card.

Aristo International Corp. plans to roll out the machines worldwide early next month.

Bushnell, who is director of strategic planning for Aristo and has a minority stake in the New York-based company, said he and Aristo have invested more than $10 million to develop the machines, dubbed TeamNet, MusicNet Plus and TouchNet.

Aristo wants to put the devices in sports bars, hotels, restaurants, airports and other public places.

The TeamNet machine, which is the size of a small billiard table, allows two teams of up to eight players each to compete against one another or against teams elsewhere through an Internet connection.

Aristo said it is already seeking corporate sponsors for its tournament games.

TouchNet allows people to use a compact, coin-operated, counter-top touch-screen computer to play games and send messages via the Internet.

The MusicNet Plus product plays high-quality digital recordings and enables customers to buy recordings and merchandise from bands as well as tickets to events.

The U.S. market for coin-operated games has reached $6.8 billion a year, and studies done for Aristo indicate this could grow to $20 billion, Bushnell said.

Bushnell, 53, is no stranger to video games. He founded the Atari video game company in 1972 and sold it in 1976. A year later, he opened the first of a chain of Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, which combine pizza parlors with video games.

Aristo Chief Executive Mouli Cohen declined to say how much the machines will cost, but he said hotel and club proprietors should expect a price that is competitive with current coin-operated vending machines, which generally sell for a few thousand dollars.

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