Videogame makers are riding the social-networking wave with a flood of soon-to-be-released titles that let friends play online as teams and even create their own characters.
The world's big three console makers -- Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony -- are providing frameworks for players to connect with hardware and software on which online communities of gamers can have fun and flourish.
Advertisement"Gamers aren't just in it for the high scores anymore," Sony Computer Entertainment of North America president Jack Tretton said, as videogame industry giants unveiled new offerings at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
"Gamers are in it for the social experience."
Sony launched PlayStation Network website for its console users three years ago and is working on a "PlayStation Home" online world, in which players will frolic in the forms of personalized animated characters called "avatars."
Users of Microsoft's Xbox 360 consoles are reportedly signing up for memberships at its online community Xbox Live at a rate of one every five seconds and have spent more than a billion dollars there.
The Xbox Live online site will be revamped by year's end to make it more social, complete with avatars and an online venue for them to gather for parties, according to Live team vice president John Schappert.
"Our vision is to make every experience a shared experience, whether you want to play game or do anything friends might do," Schappert said at E3.
Xbox players will be able to play against each other as avatars in simulated television game shows.
Nintendo has fostered an online community of "Mii" player avatars since the Wii console launched in 2006.
This week the Japanese videogame superstar unveiled Wii Music software that lets people simulate playing any of 50 instruments and join together for jam sessions using the Internet.
An "Animal Crossings" game developed for Wii by Nintendo centers on socializing in an online community and lets players speak to each other over headsets plugged into consoles.
Independent videogame software makers are capitalizing on the "social games" trend and current generation of Internet-connected consoles.
Capcom's "Resident Evil 5" due for release on Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles in March of next year will let friends team-up in an "online co-operative" mode to blast monstrous enemies spawned by a bio-terror incident in an African setting.
British videogame industry legend Peter Molyneux crafted freshly completed cult favorite "Fable 2" as a world in which players' online friends can visit in an instant.
"Orbs you pass on trails are friends, displaying their unique names," Molyneux said while demonstrating the game. "Hit the button and bang they are in your game."
"Fable" characters start out as children and grow up uniquely depending on players' choices, capturing aspects of real world personalities of friends.
Cliff Blizinski of Epic Games crafted multi-player cooperative modes into "Gears of War 2" so colleagues have to work together to solve certain challenges in the eagerly-awaited action game due out in November.
"Little Big Planet" for PS3 lets players create their own mini-games as well as animated characters, according to creator Ted Price of Insomniac Games.
A "Massive Action Game" being developed by Zipper Interactive will allow as many as 256 online players to battle against or with each other at once in a war videogame.
"What I love about this online evolution, what makes it all so special, is the people involved," former US basketball star Bill Walton said while helping Electronic Arts introduce new sports titles with enhanced social play features.
"Players are actually in the game and making all the decisions."
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