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PlayStation2: The Internet generation?

Sony exec sees a broadband future for the platform where customers can buy games and download them direct to the PlayStation2

Sony Computer Entertainment America plans to make the PlayStation2 the centre of digital entertainment in the future, said Phil Harrison, the game maker's vice president of third-party relations and research and development, during a speech at the Game Developers Conference on Saturday.

Specifically, Sony envisions that the life of games could be extended by allowing additional levels or materials to be downloaded, by creating an episodic game, or by making pay-for-play events. "We should stop thinking about the disk containing the entire contents of the product," said Harrison. "There are TV producers that have four or five hit shows that make millions of dollars. There is no reason that video games could not do the same thing."

Harrison imagined that software makers could allow users to test drive software before they decided to buy, and then sell and deliver the software over the Internet.

The strategy comes as no surprise to Sony's rivals.

On Friday, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, showed off plans for his company's own game console, dubbed the X-Box, which will be able to connect to the Internet via its Ethernet port and an additional broadband modem. Microsoft plans to put a hard drive in the console -- due out in autumn 2001 -- to cache games downloaded from the Internet; Sony will include a hard drive as an add-on component.

Sega has already started its foray into the online world with a modem integrated into its Dreamcast system. "They are a year and a half away from getting on the Internet," said Peter Moore, senior vice president of marketing for Sega of America. "By the time they get there, we will have a lot of experience under our belts."

Sony began selling its PlayStation2 in Japan a week ago. So far the next-generation system -- which can play DVDs, but not connect to the Internet -- has sold more than one million units. Those sales seem to prove Sony's point about the importance of the Internet. While 600,000 consoles sold in the first week came off retail shelves, almost 400,000 units -- or 40 percent -- had been ordered though Sony's online site. Such results will not please the Japanese consumer electronics giant's retail partners, said Sega's Moore. "If I am a retailer, I need some clarification. How do I make money, if Sony is selling all the software online?"

Such sales are a major part of the game equation. While the original PlayStation shipped more than 70 million units worldwide (26 million in the US), retail outlets sold more than 500 million games for the platform.

Sony's PlayStation2 will start selling in the US this autumn. The company plans to announce pricing and the number of titles that will be available at launch in May.

Take me to GameSpot UK's PlayStation2 News Special.

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