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MS to charge for game play

Microsoft jumps into the pay-for-play arena with a new shoot-'em-up at its Internet Gaming Zone.

Microsoft (MSFT) jumped into the pay-for-play game today with a new shoot-'em-up at its Internet Gaming Zone.

For $1.95 a day or $19.95 a month, Netizens will be able to play Fighter Ace, a World War II combat game that allows more than 100 people to play at once.

MSN has planned for several months to introduce pay-for-play gaming. Fighter Ace will be launched in this winter, according to Microsoft spokeswoman Deb Hagen. She added that each game will be priced differently.

Pay-for-play gaming has not always been greeted with the greatest enthusiasm in the online world. People don't like paying for goods they once got for free.

When MSN competitor America Online (AOL) introduced premium gaming back in early June, many members were outraged and went so far as to start a petition drive. They saw it as a surcharge, charging them for content that they once got for free.

That is why Microsoft is making it clear that it has no plans to charge for existing games or for Zone membership, now at more than 500,000, according to the company.

But while there is no fee for entering the Zone and playing free games, players need to have other Microsoft software. The Zone only works with those who are using Windows 95 and connecting with at least a 28.8-kbps modem. Users also must have Internet Explorer 3.0 or higher, not Netscape's browsers, to enter the Zone.

Microsoft, Hagen said, "wants everybody with Internet access to have access to the Zone." Now that engineers have completed the first game, they are making software compatibility issues their top priority.

She added, however, that the incompatibilities with Netscape's browsers have not prevented some users from joining.

The software giant is sure that people will be willing to pay more for a game they can only play on the Net--to fight what amounts to as a virtual war--with dozens of people on each side.