Hitachi trials broadband game portal to rival Sony

Motivated by a recent increase in the number of Japanese houses using broadband services, Hitachi Ltd. launched a trial Web page portal site specializing in games that use broadband technologies, the company announced Tuesday.

The "Level Up" Web site is operated by Hitachi in partnership with Lycos Japan Inc., Media Works Co. Ltd. and Battle Top Japan Co. Ltd., Hitachi said in a statement.

Hitachi will be in charge of the broadband technologies, while its partners will distribute content, the company said.

Media Works, a game magazine publisher and software vendor, provides the same news and information to Lycos' Japanese portal site, Hitachi said. But on the Level Up site, users can browse this content in more detail and with moving-images, the company said.

Battle Top Japan, which runs its own online game players' ranking site, provides two types of game services. One is a Web-based game service for casual users who visit and participate in online gaming via the Internet, Hitachi said. The other is for more serious game players and requires users to install game software in their PCs in order to play a networked game, the company said.

The online ranking game has been popular in South Korea -- where Battle Top is headquartered -- according to Tomonori Okazaki, a spokesman for Battle Top Japan. For example, the Battle Top service has more than 60,000 members in South Korea, some of which are professional game players in the Korean Internet Game League, Okazaki said.

Battle Top currently has less than 1,000 members in Japan, but through the Level Up portal, Battle Top Japan and Hitachi hope to establish a community similar to the one in South Korea for the online ranking game, Okazaki said.

Hitachi will continue the trial until Oct. 15 while it concentrates on developing its technologies, such as streaming and networking, according to Yasuki Ueno, a spokesman for Hitachi.

During the trial period, the site will be free for users, though the company will charge game software companies for their place on the site, Ueno said. Hitachi also plans to generate revenue by selling DVD-based video newsletters, Ueno said.

Most of Japan's broadband service providers don't have experience in providing content portals and Hitachi admits it is an unusual company to run a portal site, Ueno said. Even so, the company believes that the game portal site holds great potential for the broadband Internet services -- and Hitachi itself -- to generate revenue, Ueno said.

According to Ueno, even though Hitachi does not have its own game-related platform like Sony Corp. and its Playstation game console, it believes that the portal site will become competitive with Sony because the site, which is open to other vendors, makes it easier to create new games. As a result, Hitachi hopes Level Up will become a major community loaded with various kinds of games, Ueno said.

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