Network: Welcome to the CD-Rom hire shop

A world of games and 'edutainment' is on its way. Steve Homer reports
It has been a long time coming, but the CD-Rom rental market may finally be about to take off. The Bradford-based company Gamester has come up with what it considers to be a foolproof solution to allow software companies to make revenue from rental without running the risk of their products being pirated or their sales of CD-Roms cannibalised.

The Gamester system consists of three elements: the CD-Rom, a floppy disk and a special ad-in card that fits inside the PC. When someone signs up to use the system they are issued with a unique membership number, and pay pounds 26.99 for the PC card. The system employs sophisticated encryption and the card contains its own clock. When renting a title, a customer takes it to the dealer's terminal, and the dealer scans in the membership number (cross-referenced to the card in the renter's machine) and hands over the CD-Rom and a floppy disk "key".

Gamester will launch later this month in 250 outlets, mainly video-rental stores. The company hopes to be in 1,000 stores by the end of the year. It has already signed contracts with leading games companies including Ocean, Psygnosis and Europress, and will initially offer some 200 games, with more added every month. Titles can be rented for three days, a week, two weeks, a month, three months or for ever. The minimum fee will be pounds 1.99. At the end of the rental period the CD-Rom is thrown away and the floppy disk is the renter's to keep.

The title will play only for the rental period, and on the specific machine. Any fees paid can be discounted against the cost of purchasing a "lifetime rental". With this, the title is the renter's to keep. The only difference between this and a traditional purchase is that the CD-Rom will play only on the PC with the card in it.

The scheme has a lot to offer, especially for families and ardent gamers. CD-Roms can cost pounds 35 or more, and many potential purchasers are at present put off buying what is essentially a pig in a poke.

For the software industry, the scheme offers some enticing prospects, including the ability to generate residual revenue from even quite well- worn properties. "We believe that, at the right price, all software has revenue-earning potential," says Melih Abdulhayoglu, Gamester's managing director. What is more, the system is not just for games. Gamester will include education and "edutainment" titles in its early list, and has also set up a completely separate operation called Curricula to take the business model into the education market.

The company has even more ambitious plans. It has signed a deal with NEC Semiconductors to produce a one-chip solution that can be incorporated on to the motherboard of PCs, starting in October at the rate of 10,000 a month. The agreement is for 1 million chips.

"We expect motherboard manufacturers to start incorporating the chips as soon as they become available," says Mr Abdulhayoglu.