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Verizon makes play for PC gaming with subscription service

August 22, 2010 |  9:00 pm

Details Next time you call your phone company, the sales rep may offer you, in addition to a new cable TV package and a text-messaging plan, a subscription to download computer games.

Telecom giant Verizon Communications leapt further into the heating PC gaming market Monday with a revamped subscription program called Verizon Games. For $15 a month, customers can download from a catalog of more than 1,800 games.

Similar to a free HBO trial that your cable provider might offer, Verizon gives you seven days free -- no credit card needed. If you agree to sign up after that, you get another seven days before the monthly subscription kicks in. If you don't, you can still access 10 games that Verizon chooses.

This isn't the telecom's first foray into gaming.

Verizon began selling PC games through subscriptions and as a la carte downloads in 2006. The former proved a more successful model, so Verizon shut down the pay-per-game store last year and launched a new subscription application, partnering with a company called Exent Technologies. However, Verizon and Exent are preparing to introduce another a la carte store in the next few months, said Jason Henderson, Verizon's product manager for game and music services.

"The PC is where most people do their gaming," Henderson said in a phone interview last week. "The world seems to be obsessed with the console universe, but the fact is that online gaming and PC gaming [together] is an extremely large, and growing, area."

Indeed, the Internet gaming sector is poised to experience major growth, analysts and industry influencers say.

Google recently acquired social games developer Slide, as well as Jambool, which has a virtual currency platform. These moves boost Google's ability to play in the online gaming market.

Zynga Game Network, which makes popular Facebook apps including FarmVille and Mafia Wars, has an implied value of $4 billion, according to filings in May. Haven't heard of Zynga? Pick up a Slurpee. The company has a partnership with 7-Eleven, which includes in-store promotions and Zynga-branded Slurpee drinks.

A co-founder of Canadian game developer BioWare left the influential Electronic Arts subsidiary to start an online games distributor called Beamdog. And EA acquired Playfish, another social-game developer, for $400 million last fall.

Last month Walt Disney bought Playdom, yet another social-game company, for $563 million.

So Verizon Games will need to find a way to set itself apart -- aside from Verizon's marketing might. The program has a visually rich interface and some unique features. It harkens to the era of collecting tickets at the arcade with its point system, which lets players redeem virtual currency for gadgets and gift cards.

Over the last four years or so, hundreds of thousands of gamers using Exent's application have logged an average of 50 hours per month with the service, said Jason Akel, Exent vice-president. While Verizon subscribers can charge the service to their monthly cable/phone bill, the program is open to anyone with a credit card.

-- Mark Milian

Image credit: Verizon