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Let the games begin, online

The ballyhooed online gaming industry gets out of the blocks with the commercial launch of the Total Entertainment Network

The ballyhooed online gaming industry got out of the blocks today with the commercial launch of the Total Entertainment Network.

TEN's launch will be the first of many such services that is expected to generate $1 billion in annual sales by the year 2000, according to high-tech research firm Jupiter Communications. The market includes start-ups such as TEN and industry giants such as Microsoft.

TEN hopes to get 25,000 paid subscribers by year's end, CEO Jack Heistand told CNET today. "We are the first to go commercial," he said. "It underscores our time-to-market advantage."

Competitors such as MPath and Engage are not far behind, however.

An MPath executive disclosed today that the company planned to launch its "Mplayer" service within the next month, for a fee of less than $2 per hour. Engage is expected to offer services by November.

TEN said today that it will charge $4.95 a month for up to five hours of Internet gaming. After that, the price is 95 cents for each additional hour. A flat-rate plan also is offered at $14.95 per month.

But those are introductory offers. After December 31 or after the company gets 25,000 subscribers, the flat rate will be $29.95 per month and the hourly rate plan will have a base price of $9.95 per month.

The service will offer games such as Duke Nukem, Dark Sun, and Panzer General. The company will expand its offerings in the next few months.

TEN has held a beta test for the past six months with 25,000 customers. The hottest markets right now are the West Coast, the New England states, and northern Texas, including the cities of Austin and Dallas, Heistand said.