Dedicated entertainers

It's games galore as E-On launches.

Last week's ECTS entertainment software show witnessed the debut of what is claimed to be "the world's first dedicated online entertainment channel". But don't reach for the TV knob. This channel is on the Web.

E-On is being introduced by a new company called Entertainment Online. Set up by Hermann Hauser, founder of Acorn Computers, and Mark Bernstein, previously a director of Virtuality, a successful virtual reality company, the company has backing from several sources including Associated Newspapers.

Its main offering will be games. E-On will initially offer around 25 games that users will be able to download simply by entering a Personal Identification Number (PIN), while there will be six that subscribers will be able to play against each other. The company has already signed deals with Virgin, Sony/Psygnosis, US Gold, Gremlin, Gametek and others for classic (in other words, old) games such as Lemmings 2 "The Tribes", Zool, Elite 2, Striker 2, Pinball Dreams, Scottish Open Golf and Lotus 3. There will also be some "edutainment" software such as typing tutors and some straight education software.

Special software allows the games to be installed easily once the software has been received over the telephone line. To prevent illegal copying, the games will only play on the PC they have been downloaded on to, and after a month the software will ask the user to re-register the game.

The big problem is likely to be the time and expense of downloading games. Some need three megabytes of hard disk space, and could take more than an hour to download. Quite how mum will take to little Johnny tying up the family phone for an hour or two in the evening remains to be seen.

As well as the old favourites, E-On will offer a specially commissioned range of multi-player games. Players will be able to log on to a game, invite others on the channel to join in and enjoy the fun. Titles available at launch will include the 3D tank simulator Tank Warrior, a 3D role-playing game, Realm 3D, L5 Assault, Magic Realm and a games room featuring more traditional games such as chess, poker, blackjack and draughts.

E-On will also offer a "Digital Shop" that will sell entertainment software, CDs and videos direct to the home. Customers will be able to make a selection, input a small amount of information and simply push a button to complete the order. The system will use secure methods to pass on credit card details and goods will be distributed in the normal way.

E-On is due to launch next month. It will cost pounds 8 plus VAT per month, but if your Internet service provider has signed up as an E-On "distributor", it will cost pounds 5. For more information, see http://www.e-on.com.

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