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"Myst" adds twist to online gaming

As the Internet-gaming market seeks mainstream appeal, the creators of one of the most popular PC games ever propose a new, TV series-like model.

LOS ANGELES--The creators of "Myst," one of the most popular PC games of all time, are working on an online version of the adventure game, publisher Ubi Soft Entertainment announced Thursday.

"Myst Online" will go on sale next year at a date to be announced, the company said at the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show here. The game will include both a boxed software product and a subscription online service, the company said.

The announcement marks the latest attempt to expand the popularity of the potentially lucrative online gaming world, currently dominated by fantasy games such as Sony's "EverQuest," which has hundreds of thousands of players paying monthly fees to access its virtual world.

Analysts have said that for online gaming to expand, publishers will have to develop titles likely to appeal to more mainstream consumers. Leading candidates include "Star Wars Galaxies," a role-playing game based on the film series, and "The Sims Online," an online version of the hit PC game.

Jason Rubinstein, general manager of Ubi Soft's online operation, said the company expects "Myst Online" to replicate the broad appeal of the original games, which have sold more than 11 million copies.

Rand Miller, CEO of "Myst" developer Cyan Worlds, said that instead of creating a "massively multiplayer" online world that can accommodate thousands of players at once, "Myst Online" will focus on offering players an ever-expanding environment to explore. The game's world will be expanded with regular updates, creating an episodic approach to gaming similar to a TV series, he said. Such an approach is more likely to appeal to mainstream consumers than potentially addictive role-playing games would.

"I think to have mass-market appeal, you can't require the level of attention a lot of these online games demand," Miller said. "Most people don't want to hang around with a thousand other people. They want to explore interesting places with a few of their friends."

The episodic format will create ongoing deadline challenges, acknowledged Miller, who became notorious in the industry for repeated delays in delivering "Riven," the first sequel to "Myst." "That's the strength and the challenge: We have got to build stuff continuously that will keep people engrossed and wondering what's going to be there next week," he said.

Ubi Soft said pricing for "Myst Online" will be announced closer to the release.