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Sony focuses on online gaming

Firm acquires new exec, Verant

Realizing that much of its annual revenues already come from its blockbuster PlayStation vidgame franchise, Sony said Thursday it will try to further tap into the $7 billion gaming biz by turning Sony Online Entertainment into solely an Internet gaming unit.

As part of the strategic move, Sony has tapped longtime vidgame exec Kelly Flock to serve as prexy and CEO of its San Diego-based SOE division and also acquired online gamemaker Verant Interactive Inc.

In his new post, Flock will supervise the development of new interactive games by SOE and Verant, and will oversee SOE’s Web site, TheStation@sony.com, which already features playable versions of “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy” and Trivial Pursuit Online.

SOE will be run from Verant’s San Diego offices, where SOE’s own 200 staffers will continue to be based.

“We are delighted to welcome Verant and Kelly into the fold at a time when interactive gaming is an increasingly important part of our business portfolio,” said Mel Harris, co-prexy and chief operating officer for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Huge toy chest

With a staff of more than 150 software developers, Verant has been responsible for creating and distribbing the popular online games EverQuest, Star Wars Online, Tanarus and Sovereign.

Verant prexy John Smedley will remain with SOE as executive veep and chief operating officer.

“The acquisition of Verant is a very natural fit for us, considering the way our companies have worked together on games like EverQuest,” said Yair Landau, prexy of SPE’s recently created Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment division. “Kelly is a world-class executive who commands enormous respect in the interactive gaming universe.”

Acquisition of the already-successful and paying subscriber-based Verant should help fill Sony’s coffers even further.

Online gaming is expected to be the next major platform to take off since vidgame consoles hit the market. PlayStation has sold well over 60 million units of its system, with enhanced sequel PlayStation 2 expected to hit U.S. shores later this year. PlayStation alone generates nearly 40% of Sony’s annual revenues, surpassing film, music and television earnings as its most successful business venture.

Overseer of EverQuest

Flock was most recently prexy of Sony’s inhouse game developer 989 Studios — which produces titles for PlayStation — and oversaw the growth of EverQuest, which reaches more than 250,000 paid subscribers and has sold more than 350,000 units since its launch last year.

During its peak, more than 60,000 people play EverQuest simultaneously, acting as adventurers and dragon slayers in cyberspace.

Before Sony, Flock held senior exec posts at gamemakers LucasArts Entertainment, Electronic Arts and Activision.

The recently formed Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment oversees Sony’s digital production and online assets, which include f/x arm Sony Pictures Imageworks, Sony Online Entertainment and Web site developer and marketer Columbia TriStar Interactive.

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