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Sega.com Powers Up Online Developer Program

Looking to spark more interest in its versions of massively multiplayer online games (MMOG), Sega.com Thursday launched its new Online Developer Program.

The San Francisco-based online arm of Japanese game publisher Sega Corp. said it is actively looking for quality content to do battle with rivals Electronic Arts , Nintendo and Sony and is even willing to pony up cash and fame in the process.

In addition to making software for consoles, PCs, and arcade machines, Sega is currently focusing on developing game networks, including SegaNet ISP (Internet-based games) and games for wireless devices such as Motorola phones and PDAs. Sega is also developing games for other consoles, including Sony PlayStation, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Xbox.

"With a rapidly growing networked gaming community, Sega.com is committed to providing gamers with quality content and technology they have come to expect from SEGA, be it online or wireless gameplay," said Sega.com CEO Ryoichi Shiratsuchi.

The company could use some serious help. Sega has not had a game among the best sellers in the United States since the first quarter of 2002, according to data from NPD Group.

Under its program, Sega said game developers can tap into its knowledge vault with the help of its Sega Network Application Package (SNAP) services. The tools are sold through Value-Added Resellers (VARs) and Sega.com directly. The SNAP tools also include middleware and hosting to customer service and quality assurance.

Sega said developers who join up with them would get strong global distribution channels and brand recognition. The company would also help developers publish multiple online PC titles and successfully launch their online games.

Game builders can also take advantage of Sega's experience in network gaming technologies and online consumer programs. Many moons ago, Sega's Dreamcast video game console was built to play Internet-enabled games against each other across the network. Sega also built Dreamcast into an Internet service provider, but that service was discontinued in July 2001 and its customers were transferred to EarthLink .

One of the first companies to take advantage of the program is Oceanus and its game "Legacy Online," (currently known as "Star Peace"), which is scheduled to officially launch in March 2003 for a monthly fee of $9.95. The game developer said it is currently in the final beta test program and is looking for players. Sega.com is assisting in the production, hosting, authentification and billing, quality assurance, customer support and frontline marketing services for the game.

"Legacy Online is a game of strategy, success and glory. It lets gamers indulge in and live out millionaire dreams without the consequences of actually losing real money," said Sega.com producer Jason Kinne.

Expect the real money to be made by the ISPs and the companies that host the games themselves. According to industry estimates, some six million game players will spend nearly half a billion dollars by the end of the year subscribing to MMOGs.

The growth will come primarily as a result of increased broadband adoption; 'next-generation' Internet consoles and new titles tied into movies and other media.