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Bushnell's game plan on track

Entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell's planned return to the video-game business undergoes big changes but stays on track for next month's rollout.

Entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell's planned return to the video-game business has undergone some big changes, but the venture still is gearing up for a national rollout next month.

As reported, a group including Bushnell, who invented the game "Pong" a generation ago, plans to offer pay-per-play Internet games in sports bars, restaurants, and hotels. Since then, Bushnell's venture, Aristo International, has been renamed PlayNet Technologies (PLNT). There also have been some management changes and relocation of production offices. The names of the games have been changed too in an effort to incorporate "PlayNet."

Photo courtesy of Next Generation Online
The moves come as other companies, such as the Total Entertainment Network, MPath, Engage, and Microsoft are expanding into online gaming. The only difference: these others are designing games largely for home use.

The new technologies include PlayNet, which allows game play, as well as email, chat, and information services; PlayNet Music, a digital music jukebox; and PlayNet Team, which allows for interactive game playing in multiple locations.

Not all the details are ironed out, either. For example, PlayNet is still negotiating deals for labels and titles for its music game, officials said. Pricing hasn't been finalized, either. PlayNet now is looking at prices of $1 up to $5 or $10 per game.

This week, the games are being shown at the Nightclub and Bar Show in Las Vegas, an industry trade show. A beta test of the games is underway at sports bars in San Jose, California, and Philadelphia.

The flamboyant Bushnell also was the founder of Atari and the Chuck E. Cheese chain of children's entertainment centers. Another more recent Bushnell project, gaming and dining centers called E2000, was postponed.

While growing in popularity, online gaming has a way to go before it can live up to its hype. The industry is supposed to generate annual revenue of $1 billion by the year 2000, according to a report by Jupiter Communications.