NEWS - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Xbox to get online video-phone upgrade

LOS ANGELES -- Users of Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming network can already talk to each other remotely while logged in - but soon they'll be able to see their fellow player's faces and "tickle" each other, too. The announcement comes at the start of the Electronic Entertainment Expo - known by the nickname E3 - which annually draws thousands of game developers to Los Angeles from around the world to showcase the latest in videogame technology. Other announcements included a new partnership with Electronic Arts, which previously kept its hit sports games off the Xbox Live service, and a nostalgia service that would provide gamers with 1980s arcade titles. Xbox's video-chat service will be launched later this year exclusively in Japan and eventually will make its way to the North American network, Peter Moore, an Xbox marketing executive, told The Associated Press on Monday. "It will be a pilot program," he said. "We particularly like the ability to launch in Japan because of the superior infrastructure for broadband. It's a great petri dish, if you will, for what will be the future. ... You will not only be able to play against your friends, or talk to your friends - now you can actually see your friends." Microsoft has not determined how much extra it will charge to download and operate software for the video-chat option. Regular Xbox Live subscription costs about $50 a year. Video chat also would require users to have a USB camera attached to their Xbox console, Moore said. In addition, the host of the chat session will be able to select background music that all participants can hear through their microphone headsets - which are already available for players to communicate during a game. Then there is "tickling." "You can send a vibration to one of the participants in the chat session, which vibrates the controller they're holding," Moore said.


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