October 9, 2008

Microsoft, Sony Unveil Plans For Virtual Communities

Video game makers Microsoft and Sony are preparing to launch new interactive services that will place gamers in real-time interactive computer-graphic worlds.

Both rival companies unveiled their new plans during the Tokyo Game Show on Thursday.

After twice delaying the release of its virtual world, called "Home" for the PlayStation 3, Sony Corp. announced it would be made available later this year. Meanwhile, US-based Microsoft Corp. was more specific about the release of its "New Xbox Experience". Microsoft said the online world would launch worldwide Nov. 19.

Microsoft's service will be adapted to various nations, but people will be able to communicate with other Xbox 360 users around the world, the company said.

Users of the upcoming services will choose their own "avatars" "“ graphic images that represent players "“ similar to Linden Lab's popular online community "Second Life".

Players manipulate the digital avatars that represent themselves, engaging in relationships, social gatherings and businesses.

Internet search leader Google Inc. has unveiled a similar three-dimensional software service called "Lively." Japanese companies have also set up such communities for personal computers.

Ryoji Akagawa, a producer at Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Sony's gaming unit, said 24 game designing companies will provide content for "Home."

"The Home has beautiful imagery with high quality three-dimensional graphics," he said.

But Hirokazu Hamamura, a game expert and head of Japanese publisher Enterbrain Inc., who was at the Sony booth, said he needs to see more to assess "Home."

"You still can't tell what it's all about," he said, adding that "Home" may be coming a little late compared to rivals. "There are so many more possibilities for a virtual community."


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