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Games may improve online communication

Supporters of real-time communications on the Internet may have found a new ally in fans of online multiplayer games in trying to overcome a critical technological hurdle.

LOS ANGELES--Supporters of real-time communications on the Internet may have found a new ally in fans of online multiplayer games in trying to overcome a critical technological hurdle, according to experts speaking at the Electronic Entertainment Expo here.

While a number of private gaming networks have existed for years, including the ImagiNation Network, online gaming is trying to gradually move to the Internet to capture larger audiences. But to do that, game developers and Internet service providers will need to resolve latency problems, or delays in transmission of data, before online gaming experience becomes compelling on the Net. This same problem is faced by vendors of Internet telephony software and other real-time communications applications like videoconferencing.

"We keep hearing about bandwidth. There's this huge misconception that we need more bandwidth for more interesting products," said Gilman Louie, chairman and CEO of Spectrum Holobyte. "The problem is latency. You can't guarantee latency from an ISP. If you throw a punch in Mortal Kombat that has to register immediately."

Some ISPs, however, are beginning to consider so-called "quality of service" guarantees that would reduce latency and improve all real-time communications.

Mpath Interactive has forged a deal with PSINet to provide low-latency network services for Mpath's MPlayer, an Internet-based gaming service that will launch this summer. Although users can access games from any ISP, PSINet will direct the bulk of game traffic through its high-speed backbone, reducing delays in communications.

Similarly, MCI Telecommunications announced yesterday that it will offer a service in conjunction with British Telecom in the United States called Wireplay that will offer a variety of real-time online games through MCI's Internet backbone.

Whether and when such compromises will be available for Internet telephony or videoconferencing is unclear, but the vast audience for these online games should increase the attention paid to the problem.