The next hot market is online gaming – plenty hot already, but due for a big push in the next eight months. Many people are joining massive online worlds and investing oodles of time in their online characters. Everquest, Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call – all of them are more popular than you probably realized. There are lots more in the works, and several major players are making huge investments in hardware and software to support the next generation of MMORPG – massive multiplayer online role playing games. Watch for a huge splash when Star Wars: Galaxies is rolled out later this year.

Microsoft is planning a big push for XBox Live, a subscription service that it will roll out in the third quarter. It will give the XBox access to a bunch of online games, including Star Wars: Galaxies and an online version of Halo, one of the most popular XBox games. It’s building huge datacentres and promising all kinds of technical things – great graphics, rich online games, and real-time voice communication between players.

In this article, The Register details the state of the industry, the economics and position of the players, and Microsoft’s plans. The interesting part is the comments on Microsoft’s stated goal of creating a “safe, wholesome environment” for online players – using Disneyland as a comparison. A senior VP said, ‘When you’re at Disneyland, there’s no trash, no violence and you never see security. That’s what we have in mind.'”

The Register makes an interesting point. These services are aimed at teenagers. Sony is going to roll out a similarly ambitious services without as many scruples. It’s pretty easy to predict that a “wholesome” service is doomed to failure.

“The central difficulty as we see it is that kids like doing horrible things online, talking dirty, playing unsuitable games and worse, that online services protect themselves by denying responsibility, and that parents accidentally protect themselves by not having any clear understanding of what their kids are up to in the first place. This system kind of works, just check your son’s palms for hair every now and again, and the Internet facilitates it. Attempts by services to control and sanitise the experience too much are doomed to failure . . .”

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