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Microsoft debuts pay-for-play game

The giant jumps into the fee-based game market with Fighter Ace, taking on the likes of America Online and Kesmai.

Microsoft (MSFT) today jumped into the pay-for-play online game business with Fighter Ace, taking on the likes of America Online and Rupert Murdoch's Kesmai Corporation, among others.

It is another example of Microsoft's foray into the consumer space to complement its strong position in the business arena. Online gaming is a potentially hot market: The industry's revenues are expected to hit $540 million by 1999 and jump to more than $1.6 billion by 2001, according to Forrester Research. Jupiter's estimate is at $1 billion annually by the year 2000.

Microsoft is charging $1.95 per day or $19.95 per month for Fighter Ace, which allows more than 100 gamers to play simultaneously in the same flight arena. For now, it is offering a free 24-hour trial. Players can "fly" historical aircraft in free-for-all or team areas, or they can arrange private games with friends. Fighter Ace was developed by VR-1 of Boulder, Colorado.

Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone was launched in October 1995. The company bought Electric Gravity in May 1996 to bolster the offering.

Despite Microsoft's clout, competition is stiff in the online gaming market. At Jupiter's online gaming conference in Los Angeles last month, a number of online gaming partnerships were announced. One, for example, called for Mpath to team up with Time Warner's CNN/SI to build a sports area for multiplayer games, online tournaments, and real-time news and sports statistics.

The foray by giants such as Microsoft and AOL into online gaming is raising controversy, however, from some users who worry that their dominance will stifle competition and creativity. In September, Kesmai sued AOL, charging "flagrant violation of federal antitrust laws" in online gaming. Kesmai contends AOL limits consumer choice. AOL has denied the charges.