Microsoft may delay Xbox online service

Multiplayer gaming is key for the success of Xbox against PlayStation2, but it may not arrive for some time, sources say

Microsoft may not take its Xbox online until as much as a year after launch, according to a new report.

The software company, which is preparing to challenge dominant console player Sony Computer Entertainment and its PlayStation2 platform, plans to focus on gaining the loyalty of hardcore gamers before it launches into online gaming, according to a confidential document cited by Bloomberg.

Online gaming, letting thousands of players pit their wits against each other over the Internet, is the fastest-growing segment of the games market. It is considered an important factor in Xbox's campaign to overtake PlayStation2, whose online capabilities will be activated in Japan this month.

On Thursday Microsoft highlighted its commitment to online gaming by announcing that NTT Communications will provide Xbox's Internet connectivity in Japan via its high-speed ADSL service.

"The key part of the deal is enabling online gaming," said Robert Bach, chief Xbox officer in charge of Microsoft's new game platform.

But in a confidential document distributed to games developers at a Japanese briefing this week, Microsoft says it will focus its investment on attracting core 18 to 30-year-old games players before it ramps up online services.

Xbox will launch in Japan this autumn. Trials of online gaming services using broadband high-speed Internet connections will begin this year and online services are set to be launched in 2002, Bach said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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