Working to make play pay

Online game companies shoot for business model that works

In the search for ways to make online gaming profitable, game companies are trying episodic games, digital distribution, and "advergames" that serve as both games and advertisements. So far, the new generation is off to a mixed start.

MOST RECENTLY, Electronic Arts launched one of the boldest efforts with Majestic, an episodic conspiracy game. The game drew critical delight for its creative use of faxes, email, instant messages, Web searching, and cell phones. But it only drew between 10,000 and 15,000 subscribers, forcing Electronic Arts (EA) to shift to a retail CD-ROM model. At $10 a month, Majestic generated approximately $150,000 in monthly revenues, but that was far short of ambitions for the game; it was built to support more than 1 million players.

That disappointment hasn't dampened the ambitions of other game companies. WildTangent, in Redmond, Wash.; The Groove Alliance, in Santa Monica, Calif.; and RealNetworks's RealArcade unit in Seattle, Wash., are still pushing innovation in online games with new titles this fall.

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