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Online gaming on track

Online gaming may not be living up to all its hype, but it remains on track to make a dent in the Internet market in 1997.

Online gaming may not be living up to all its hype, but it remains on track to make a dent in the Internet market in 1997.

The Total Entertainment Network said today that it has landed more than 10,000 paying subscribers since its service was offered less than two months ago.

TEN chief executive Jack Heistand called the sign-up rate a "tremendous reponse." Still, TEN has a ways to go before it reaches the 25,000 sign-up rate that Heistand predicted by year's end in an interview with CNET in late September.

But the company still hopes to meet its year-end goal, said Greg Harper, TEN's vice president of business development. One reason is a three-week delay in the release of a popular game called Command & Conquer: Red Alert, which has just begun to ship.

Harper added that the 10,000-subscriber milestone helps "validate" a business model of generating revenue through subscribers, not just advertising.

TEN also disclosed today that it is working with Concentric Network, an Internet service provider, to deploy a Virtual Private Network to allow higher-quality and more consistent performance. The rollout will begin in January 1997.

One of the problems with online game playing is delays, or "latency," in online action--for example, the time it takes for a virtual gun to be fired and hit its target. This so-called VPN is supposed to mitigate the problem.

So far, TEN is the only pay-to-play national online gaming service available. Under an introductory rate plan, TEN is charging $4.95 a month for up to five hourss of Net gaming. After that, the price is 95 cents for each additional hour. A flat-rate plan also is offered at $14.95 per month.

MPath is out, but it is free, and Engage is not yet available commercially. Microsoft recently announced plans to enter the market, but no details have emerged. Sources said they expect the company to stick to simpler games such as chess, checkers, and backgammon, at least initially.

Some analysts are holding out high hopes for online gaming, however. The new industry is supposed to generate $1 billion in annual sales by the year 2000, according to Jupiter Communications. Devices that combine online gaming with Net surfing, such as Sega's Saturn device, also may help the market.

A survey released today by Impulse Research said 61 percent of video gamers want to play on the Net.