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Games and more for hire

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 11, 2000


photo
Into Networks]
Road Runners users on Windows PCs can select from several “channels,” including Games, Kids and Lifestyle, for online applications. PlayNow software for other platforms, including Macintosh, is planned, according to the Web site.
The headaches of a PC family: You spend $40 on a software game for the kids, they get bored in minutes and then they want something else. Or the hard drive is almost full, and no one wants to give up a program to make room for a new one.

PlayNow thinks it has an answer: Don't clog your hard drive with tons of software. Play the games or use other software online. Rent it, don't buy.

"We like to think of it as a whole new way to experience software," said Li Halpern, director of product marketing for Into Networks, a Cambridge, Mass., company that offers its software service to Tampa Bay subscribers of the Road Runner Internet service.

In fact, PlayNow is just the family version of an ASP, or application service provider, the new trend in providing business software over the Web.

The subscription service offers almost 300 software titles on five "channels": Games, Disney, Kids, Living and Office. Titles range from Disney Interactive software such as the Lion King Animated Story Book and Ready for Math with Pooh to the Lotus Organizer and clip art for a home office.

People can rent a single title for $2.99 for 48 hours, one channel for $5.99 a month, four channels (without Disney) for $9.99, or everything available for $14.99 a month. PlayNow is one of two companies rolling out a subscription software service, competing with Media Station Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich., to sign up cable and high-speed digital subscriber line providers.

A high-speed service is required to give the user the same experience online as he would have if the program were installed on a home PC. As for people who get Internet access through slower dial-up phone connections, it appears they will have to wait. Halpern would say only that the company is working on that technology.

But some analysts think subscription software may spark more consumer interest for high-speed Internet access, which is expected to be in about 3-million homes by year-end and 16.6-million homes by 2004, according to the Yankee Group, a Boston market research company.

Michael Goodman, an analyst with Yankee, says such services will entice users who avoid the costs and hassles of installing new software and can justify the higher cost of the broadband connection.

To use the service, people must download software similar to media players that allow playing streaming music and videos on a PC. Clicking on the desktop icon takes the user directly to the PlayNow site, where he can sign up for the service. PlayNow also allows people to try software with a few minutes of free time and plans to allow unlimited free access from Dec. 22 through Jan. 2 for people to try the service.

Also, because users don't download the programs onto their PC hard drives, they can't copy the software. "Think of our content server as a CD drive," Halpern said. But users can save games in progress if the original game allows that.

Parents can control which channels and software their children use and change settings as they see fit. "They can feel confident in the quality of the product," Halpern said.

Since the service is new to the Tampa Bay region, Halpern didn't have numbers on subscribers. However, Orlando was a test market and Halpern says about 16 percent of Road Runner subscribers there have visited the site and downloaded the player since summer.

- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Top home-education software

Here are the top-selling education software titles for October, as reported by market research company PC Data (www.pcdata.com):

Rank/Title -- Maker -- Price

  1. I Spy School Days -- Scholastic -- $23
  2. Mickey Mouse Preschool Ages 2-4 -- Disney Interactive -- $18
  3. Freddi Fish 4 -- Humongous (Infogrames) -- $16
  4. Mickey Mouse Kindergarten Ages 4-6 -- Disney Interactive -- $19
  5. Arthur's Thinking Games -- Mattel Interactive -- $15
  6. Backyard Baseball 2001 -- Humongous (Infogrames) -- $19
  7. Backyard Soccer MLS Edition -- Humongous (Infogrames) -- $17
  8. Adventure Workshop 3rd-6th Grade -- Mattel Interactive -- $30
  9. Mickey Mouse Toddler -- Disney Interactive -- $19
  10. Buzz Lightyear 1st Grade -- Disney Interactive -- $19

-- Source: PC Data

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