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Cyberspace Invaders

Top gamemakers are offering Internet connections faster than you can

By Gloria Goodale Arts and culture correspondent of The Christian Science / June 4, 1999


David Bowie may look like a rocker out of the past, but he sounds like the future. The pop icon has just produced a soundtrack for a new interactive video game, "Omikron," because, he says, "Interactivity is the future of the entire entertainment industry."

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Former film producer John Platten designs video games today. In 1993, he reckoned that "within five to 10 years, the video[-game] industry would be as big or bigger than TV or film." He was right: This year video games will earn an estimated $7 billion, passing the $6.8 billion of the film industry.

Mr. Bowie and Mr. Platten are part of a video-game industry that has been under intense scrutiny recently for its violent content. But they also represent what many say is the front line of a technological revolution that will affect the way we live and play well into the next century.

The key word: convergence. Soon we will get music, television, film, video games, and all sorts of other information streaming into our homes on request. Just how they will arrive and who will provide these services isn't clear quite yet. Will the point industry be film or TV, telephone companies, computer giants - or just maybe video games?

"I think it will be the video-game industry," says analyst Don Tapscott. "The entertainment industry is on the threshold of a fundamental change," he says. "As technologies are converging, they are creating new [entertainment] mediums. It's a struggle for the leadership mantle."

This is true in part because game-playing started the first big technological shift in entertainment, he says. "Entertainment used to be done to you," says the chairman of the Alliance for Converging Technologies. The video-game industry began the switch to interactive technology as an entertainment tool. "This industry was the first to push that graphic user interface, hardware and control devices, all interactive, all run by the user," he explains.

Today, the Internet is providing a vast, complex interactivity. Tapscott dubs this emerging world - NIM or Networked Interactive Multimedia - as the infrastructure for a new economy. "It will change the way we play, learn, create commerce, and maintain our development as a society," he says.

While some observers say that total convergence is years away, the hottest announcements at the video-game industry's recent trade show in Los Angeles, E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), suggest the top manufacturers are heading that way faster than a Pentium III chip. Vast online communities already have sprung up around some of the top games created for personal computers. Now, two of the latest machines from the three fiercely competitive top consolemakers - Sony, Nintendo, and Sega - have announced Internet connectivity. All have technologies such as DVD-ROM players and mind-bogglingly powerful computer chips. Some particulars:

*Sony's PlayStation 2, to be ready by late 2000, will have a modem connection and run on a computer chip three times more powerful than a Pentium III chip.