Sony is set to launch its online gaming offering for the PlayStation 2 in the USA on August 27, with the release of the official PS2 network adapter and some of the first titles to support online play - giving it a headstart of over two months on Microsoft's competing Xbox Live service.
The online plans for PS2 all revolve around the network adapter, which offers both Ethernet and modem connectivity in one package - expected to be priced at around $40, slightly cheaper than Microsoft's Xbox Live starter pack. Unlike Xbox Live, no annual subscription fees apply to basic PS2 online services, but companies are free to design their own subscription models and infrastructure for individual games in a system reminiscent of the way that PC online gaming works at the moment.
Sony plans to ship 250,000 network adapters to US retail for the launch of the service, and hopes to sell 400,000 of them by the end of the year - giving the PS2 a vital critical mass of online gamers early in the life of the service. Users wanting to bring their PS2 online will need to have a separate ISP account, either for dialup or broadband - for those who don't have one, however, the startup disc provided with the network adapter contains setup software for a variety of US ISPs.
Five software titles will support the network adapter at launch, three of them American Football games - NFL GameDay 2003, NFL 2k3 and Madden NFL 2003. Released on the same day as the network adapter will be SOCOM: US Navy SEALs and Twisted Metal Black Online, both of which support the service.
Looking forward, ATV Offroad Fury 2 is due to support the service and is launched on November 12, with the other autumn releases of online-capable titles being Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, NBA Live 2003 and Tribes Aerial Assault. Capcom's highly-anticipated cel shaded racing game Auto Modellista will support the network adapter when it launches late this year, and looking forward to 2003, My Street and Frequency 2 are both set to include online support.
Other key titles which have been confirmed for the PS2 online are EverQuest and Final Fantasy XI, both of which will launch some time in 2003, and Lucasarts has confirmed that a PS2 version of the forthcoming Star Wars Galaxies MMORPG is in the works as well.
"Our company studied the U.S. market for three years, and feel confident that it's finally ripe to introduce consumers to online console gaming. We will be the first to do it successfully", according to SCEA president Kaz Hirai. The confident announcement is in keeping with Sony's tone of late; earlier this week, SCEI president Ken Kutaragi told the Wall Street Journal that he is unconcerned by competition from Microsoft, saying that "if they cut the price to half, I don't care".