REAL NETWORKS TO RENT ONLINE GAMES
Copyright Reuters

[ October 10th 2001 ]

Streaming media provider RealNetworks Inc. plans to launch on Wednesday the final, non-test version of its RealArcade video game software, including a new online game rental section that will serve as the largest test yet of a still-unproven delivery system.

The system, which uses technology for streaming games, rather than downloading them over the Internet, will allow users to rent PC-based video games and play them online, the company said. The rental system was not present in the "beta", or test version of the software, which launched in May. There are no downloads involved except for a small piece of software from Cambridge, Mass-based Into Networks that loads the software into a buffer as it downloads, the companies said.

This new platform comes at a time when physical video game rentals have fallen sharply. Through the week ending Sept. 23, video game rentals were down 12 percent over 2000, according to the VidTrac report from the Video Software Dealers Association.

The RealArcade software is free but it will cost $4.99 to rent access to one game for seven days, or $14.99 to access all of the games on the site for one month. That monthly rental fee will be discounted to $9.99 for the first month, said Paul Thelen, group product manager for RealArcade. The rental section will launch with 11 games, including titles like "Deus Ex" and "Unreal Tournament", with plans to add three to four games every month, Thelen said.

RealArcade has had 2 million downloads in the five months since the May beta launch, Thelen said. Real expects to have an installed base for the RealArcade software of 5 million users by the end of the year. Real will promote the launch to all the users of its RealPlayer software, including an offer of $100 in free downloadable games and two free rentals for new users of the Arcade software, Thelen said.

FIVE PUBLISHERS ON BOARD

A total of five publishers and 45 independent developers are now participating in RealArcade, Thelen said, including British publisher Eidos Plc and Infogrames Inc. Though the deal with each publisher is different, Thelen said generally each publisher will get a percentage of the fee from each game rental and Into will also get a small percentage on each transaction for the use of their technology.

While Real has an existing deal with Infogrames for streaming content, the Eidos relationship came through Into, said Meredith Flynn-Ripley, the president and chief operating officer of privately held Into. Into has similar, but smaller-scale game rental relationships with retailer Electronics Boutique Holdings Corp. and portal ExciteAtHome Corp., said Flynn-Ripley. "At this point streaming software is only beginning to hit the masses," Flynn-Ripley said, adding that she expected the deal to help grow the overall online gaming pie.

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