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Sony, Partners to Build an Arcade PlayStation

Technology: Alliance aims to take the video game center to the next level in the age of high-speed digital communications.

February 22, 2001|YUKA OBAYASHI | REUTERS

TOKYO — How will teenagers play arcade video games in the future? Giggling away with friends or alone in a networked world, battling anonymous foes in foreign cities miles away, communicating only through blinking screens?

A new video game alliance announced Wednesday by Sony Corp. shows that the arcade centers of the future could well be a combination of the traditional physical game centers of the past and the cyber world of the Internet generation.

Sony said it will join forces with two Japanese arcade game operators, Sega Corp. and Namco Ltd., to build an advanced version of Sony's PlayStation2 to be used in game centers.

The new console, however, will carry some major enhancements separating it from the PlayStation2 it rolled into living rooms last year. These include monitors and video cameras rigged up to a high-speed network to connect players in different centers.

The move, analysts say, reflects a push by Sony to promote its popular PlayStation2 game console as an all-round platform for entertainment in a new era of high-speed digital communications.

The console will be developed by Sony's game unit, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., which expects to launch limited service in Japan at the end of this year and nationwide service sometime in 2002.

"This alliance represents our desire to quickly establish nationwide broadband businesses before households are wired for faster Internet access," SCE President Ken Kutaragi told reporters. "We will try to provide exciting interactive services . . . not only games, but also something like downloading videos or doing electronic shopping."

Analysts welcomed the move and said Sony is hooking up with strong game experts as partners. But they also warned that it might take time for the companies to generate actual profits from the new structure.

"Sony joined hands with ideal partners. But it is not clear how much it will spend on the project and how it will make money," said Yuta Sakurai, senior analyst at Nomura Securities.

SCE officials declined to disclose development cost of advanced version of PlayStation2 and other tools, and they did not say how the total cost would be shared among the partners.

SCE also said that it will start selling cables to connect its PlayStation consoles to "i-mode" Internet-enabled telephones built by Japan's top cell-phone operator, NTT DoCoMo Inc. The cables will be priced at about $30 each.

The cables will go on sale March 29. In April, SCE will release game software titles linking i-mode phones and PlayStation consoles, it said.

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