Square offers free trials for new online gaming service

Square Co. Ltd., the game software maker behind the Final Fantasy series, started receiving applications on Wednesday for its online gaming service trial.

This service, which is designed for the Sony Corp. Playstation 2 (PS2) game console, will allow users to play network versions of various games, including the upcoming Final Fantasy XI game, according to Hideki Tsuchiya, a spokesman for Square.

Specifically for the trial, which is to begin in mid-September, Square will give away free starter kits to 500 invited beta testers, Tsuchiya said.

The beta edition of the Playonline service includes e-mail, chat and online gaming that requires users to install the software starter kit consisting of a browser for Playonline, Tsuchiya said.

Testing on the newest version of the popular Final Fantasy games will begin in December, Tsuchiya said.

The commercial service, which will collect fees from users, is expected to begin in the second quarter 2002, with Square hoping to attract up to 1 million users by 2003, Tsuchiya said.

Square has yet to decide if the starter kits will be included with the commercial service or if users will be charged an additional fee for the kits, he said.

Namco Ltd. and Enix Corp., two other major game developers, are also expected to provide content for the service, and the three companies are planning to form a joint venture for Playonline, according to Tsuchiya.

Since Sony Corp. plans a similar online gaming service for PS2, Square will look for ways to market its product so as to avoid direct competition with Sony, Tsuchiya said.

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