Vidgamers to play field on Yahoo!

More than 40 games may be rented with anti-piracy features

Yahoo! will announce today a new service allowing vidgamers to rent and play online more than 40 PC titles from four big publishers.

The service is Yahoo!’s first new entertainment offering as part of its just-announced broadband service, and an important one, because the games can only be played with a connection about six times faster than the standard dial-up connection of most U.S. households.

Publishers Activision, Take2 Interactive, Eidos and Infogames are providing the library of available games, which are mostly culled from their greatest hits of the past couple of years with no current big releases. Titles available include “Civilization III,” “Tomb Raider Chronicles,” “Deus Ex,” “Star Trek Armada II,” “Grand Theft Auto 2” and “Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare.”

David Mandelbrot, Yahoo!’s VP and general manager of media and entertainment, said the companies are only offering catalog titles, though prominent ones, as they begin trying out the capabilities of and interest in the service.

“They wanted to start with the core older titles to test it out,” Mandelbrot said. “They think this can be a viable model to add value to their catalogs.”

But the companies also have committed to providing Yahoo! hot new titles in the future as they are released in retail, and in fact may be released ahead of retail, Mandelbrot said. Game companies often release a few levels of a game online for free, as a way to hook players into buying the whole title when it is released. The Yahoo! service will allow them to do that while still making some rental income.

To prevent piracy, Yahoo! has developed technology that essentially feeds a player’s computer only the parts of the game that are needed at that point. The entire game never sits on the player’s computer, an approach only possible with the always-on nature of broadband connections.

A single game can be rented for $4.95 for three days of unlimited access. Other packages will allow players to rent as many as five games for a 30-day period, for $14.95.

Renters may purchase the games but, as another anti-piracy protection, they will be directed to a separate site, Gamestop.com, which will send them a boxed version of the title. Renters will get a 10 percent discount on their purchases.

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