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America Online lets IM games begin

The Web portal says it will integrate online games WildTangent produced into a preview version of its AOL Instant Messenger service.

America Online on Thursday said it would integrate online games WildTangent produced into its AOL Instant Messenger service.

The games will be available on a preview version of AIM 5.5, the newest version of the popular IM service. AIM 5.5 will include a "games" button that will give people the option to play an array of free and for-pay games. The two free games initially available will be sponsored by dnL, a soft drink produced by Dr Pepper/Seven Up, but the remainder of the games will require payments.

The launch of online games on AIM comes amid a push by AOL to rekindle its long-stagnant Internet services. The company has launched a series of revamps to its core online service, culminating in its current version, AOL 9.0 Optimized, in hopes of appealing to the growing number of broadband users. For the past two financial quarters, AOL has watched its dial-up subscriber base decline partially because of defections to third-party broadband services.

AIM, once the giant of instant messaging, has also watched rivals MSN and Yahoo chisel in on its market dominance. The Federal Communications Commission recently waived limitations that forbade AOL from streaming video over IM, a feature Yahoo and MSN have both launched.

Since the FCC's decision, AOL has begun testing the waters to introduce its own video IM feature, but the company did not include the product in AIM 5.5.

"We are working on a video solution, and we are hoping to have a product to market by late this year or early next year," said Derrick Mains, an AOL spokesman.

AIM is not the first IM service to offer games. Microsoft in June released a beta version of its latest MSN Messenger upgrade, which included a free online gaming feature. Yahoo Messenger has an IMVironments feature that lets people customize their chat window with advertiser-sponsored graphics. A few IMVironments include games.

As for WildTangent, the Redmond, Wash.-based company has partnered with AOL in the past. Its online games are a feature on previous versions of Winamp, the MP3 playback software produced by AOL subsidiary Nullsoft.