RealTime IT News

Microsoft to Sony: We Got Game

Adding to its arsenal of games developers, Microsoft Corp. Tuesday hammered out a deal to buy Austin, Texas-based Digital Anvil Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

The software giant will gain the rights to such titles as "FreeLancer," the highly anticipated space-combat simulation game, as well as a yet-to-be-announced title currently in development for the Xbox™ video game system.

The snagging of Digital Anvil doesn't come out of nowhere for Microsoft, which has bought FASA Interactive Technologies Inc., creators of the best-selling "MechWarrior" franchise, Access Software Inc., of "Links" golf simulation titles fame and Bungie Software Products Corp., creators of the upcoming "Halo" -- all in the past year.

Microsoft has developed PC games with the small firm since 1997. Digital Anvil will continue to create titles from its Austin headquarters, but minus founder and Chief Executive Officer Chris Roberts, who will depart to pursue other activities once "FreeLancer" is finished.

"The acquisition of Digital Anvil will strengthen our commitment to producing top-quality PC and Xbox titles," said Ed Fries, vice president of games publishing at Microsoft.

Where Microsoft isn't looking to acquire games developers, it is gathering the rights to some titles and partnering with their makers exclusively. In October, the giant secured publishing and distribution rights to the best-selling "Oddworld" game series, from leading interactive entertainment publisher Infogrames Inc.

Scheduled for release in fall 2001, Microsoft expects Xbox will compete mightily with Sony's PlayStation 2, a feverishly-anticipated follow-up released in October. Due to component shortages, Sony has been struggling to supply them just as retailers have been hard-pressed to keep their shelves stocked.

And, although the Microsoft Games Division seems to be the total package with three core businesses -- PC games development and publishing, console Xbox, and game site Zone.com -- Microsoft is recognizing the importance of moving away from PC-based games to the more casual, sit-on-the-couch-in-front-of-the-TV console it wants to instill with Xbox.

Gaming analysts have speculated that whichever product signs on the most title developers -- Xbox or PlayStation 2 -- may be the deciding factor in the increasing console competition.