Redmond, Wash., August 25, 1998 — What do you do when you want to play a game and there’s no one around – or at least no one who’s a worthy opponent? The answer is as close as your PC. Microsoft’s Internet Gaming Zone is an Internet-based game site that brings together game enthusiasts from all over the world to compete in games ranging from chess and Scrabble to Fighter Ace and Monster Truck Madness.
Monthly ratings from Media Metrix released this week show that Microsoft’s Internet Gaming Zone has become the number one place to play games on the Internet. The Zone is now home to more than 2 million registered members, up from 15,000 members when it first went live in May 1996. Last month, Zone members logged more than 4.5 million hours of game playing on the site.
“People love to play games with other people,” said Beth Featherstone, Group Marketing Manager in Microsoft’s Entertainment Business Unit. “They really value the community aspect of it. It’s a fun, social experience.”
Launched in May 1996, the Internet Gaming Zone is an Internet-based game site that allows gamers from around the world to come together to play against each other. To play games on the Zone, users must go to the Zone Web site at http://www.zone.com, download the Zone software onto their PCs and sign up for a free user ID. Once registered, users can look for a game that needs players, and use Microsoft’s online chat feature to converse with others as they play.
“It’s really easy,” Featherstone said. “With three clicks of a mouse, you’re in a game.”
Users playing games on the Zone can choose from among more than 40 games intended to appeal to a wide range of ages and interests. They can challenge others to free-of-charge card and board games like spades and backgammon, or take advantage of the site’s free matchmaking service to play retail games already installed on their PCs such as Age of Empires and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. For a small daily or monthly fee, users can challenge other players to premium, online-only games such as Fighter Ace and UltraCorps. The Zone also offers more than 300 member-sponsored game tournaments each month.
“Where the Zone is really unique is that we have the broadest range of games,” Featherstone said. “We have games that appeal to the casual gamer and games that appeal to a hard-core audience. I think that’s why we’re the largest gaming site today on the Net.”
The Zone currently attracts a broad audience that includes females and players over 30 years old, who typically opt for traditional card and board games, and a younger, male crowd, many of whom like the retail and premium games.
Currently, about 35 percent of people who use their PCs for games are playing games online, according to an internal study conducted by Microsoft. And many analysts predict that the Internet gaming market will continue to grow over the next few years. For example, a recent report by Jupiter Communications predicts that online gaming will become a $1.1 billion business in the next five years. Another research firm estimates that 18 million U.S. consumers will play online games by 2001, up from about 7 million in 1997.
Despite the predicted growth of the market, Featherstone said she believes Internet gaming will continue to supplement retail games, not supplant them. “I think there are times when you want to play alone and times when you want to play with other people,” she said.
Microsoft hopes to double the number of games it offers on the Zone over the next couple of years. The company is working continually with top game publishers and developers to bring game titles to the Zone that appeal to its customers, Featherstone said. In addition to increasing the number of games, Microsoft plans to add services that make it easier for players to find competitors at the same skill level. The company plans to create a personal dossier to enable players to describe their strengths and weaknesses to other players. It also plans to establish a ranking system for players who want to play more competitively.
The Internet Gaming Zone fits in with the Microsoft vision of a “Web lifestyle,” in which people use the Web to accomplish a wide variety of daily tasks. The company wants to turn the Web into an everyday tool that assists people with both their business and entertainment needs.
“When you look at what people want to do on the Internet, games come up pretty high on the list,” Featherstone said. “Online games are a huge trend.”