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Online gaming race turns corner

Sony says it now expects to have sold a million Internet adapters for PlayStation 2 by the end of the month--double previous forecasts.

Electronics giant Sony announced Wednesday that it expects to have shipped 1 million Internet adapters for its PlayStation 2 video game machine by the end of March, double previous forecasts.

The PS2 network adapter, which went on sale late last summer, includes a modem and an Ethernet adapter, allowing the console to tap into a dial-up or broadband Internet connection for online games.

Initial expectations for the $40 device were modest, especially as game publishers have struggled to figure out workable business models for providing potentially expensive online services.

Sony is competing with Microsoft, which rolled out the Xbox Live service for its Xbox game console in November. Microsoft announced last week that it had signed up more than 350,000 Xbox Live subscribers.

Microsoft is betting heavily on online play to distinguish the Xbox from competitors. Xbox Live differs from Sony in several major regards: It only works with broadband Internet connections, and all games are hosted by Microsoft, which collects a subscription fee.

Sony is leaving the details to game publishers, many of whom are offering online play as an extra service. Electronic Arts, for example, has had more than 400,000 people sign up to play its "Madden NFL 2003" football game online via the PS2.

David Cole, an analyst for research firm DFC Intelligence, said the 1 million mark is impressive for Sony, especially given the limited online content available for the PS2 to date.

"A lot of the developers have been taking a wait-and-see attitude as far as online support," Cole said. "That 1 million mark is the kind of landmark that will really get their attention...I expect to see a lot more publishers get on board with online content."