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Net firms debut game services

Portals Excite and Infoseek team up with Total Entertainment Network for free multiplayer games, while Microsoft adds to its game roster.

The Net gateway sites are getting into the game--literally.

Excite and Infoseek today announced alliances with online gaming service Total Entertainment Network (TEN) to offer Java-based, multiplayer "classic" board and card games.

Excite's Games Channel is offering card games such as Spades, Euchre, and Hearts beginning today. In the next four weeks, it will add Chess, Checkers, and various word games, the firms said. Also slated to be added next month are individual player evaluations on game performances by TEN's automated rankings system, tournaments, and other events, according to Excite.

Infoseek's offering, which is scheduled to launch in mid-July, will be located within in its Entertainment Channel and will include Hearts, Spades, Euchre, Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, Crossword, and Word Search. Poker, Blackjack, Bridge, and Bingo will be added in the "next phase," according to Infoseek.

Today's announcements are further examples Portalopoly of how the Net gateway or "portal" fight has shaped up: in an effort to become the home page for as many users as possible, these portal sites--such as Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, Infoseek, and others--offer an array of features such as free email, stock quotes, and paging services. Yahoo began offering free Java-based games in March--so it wouldn't be long before the other players would ante up with their own services. Lycos debuted its game area earlier this month.

Other content sites that are not "traditional" portals also have been beefing up to become start pages--often offering features similar to the Net gateways. The New York Times, for example, launched a new game feature in February--though that service charges a subscription fee.

Microsoft, which is planning to enter the portal space with its long-awaited "Start" page, today announced plans to launch UltraCorps, a subscription-based online-only game, within its Internet Gaming Zone on June 25. The turn-based strategy game is currently in open beta testing, which users can access by going to the Strategy Games section within the Internet Gaming Zone, Microsoft said. There is no charge to take part in the beta test. Pricing for UltraCorps has not yet been announced.

With UltraCorps, developed by VR-1, "Players command one of 14 alien races, develop new technologies and weapons, dispatch fleets to colonize other planets, and manage resources to maintain their growing empires," according to Microsoft.

The firm also plans to roll out two more multiplayer games in the Internet Gaming Zone along with an upgrade to its popular Fighter Ace game later this year. It already offers classic board and card games such as Spades, Bridge, and Backgammon.