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M$ signs Electronic Arts for Xbox

Won't say how much it paid, though...

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Microsoft has improved Xbox's chances in the videogame console league by signing Electronic Arts, the world's leading independent PC and PlayStation games developer, onto the team.

Of course, nothing comes for nothing, and clearly some of Microsoft's extensive Xbox budget has been spent persuading EA to join it. Neither Microsoft's Xbox chief, Robbie Bach, nor EA head Larry Probst would discuss the financial terms of the two companies' alliance.

Rumours that they were in talks have circulated for some time. Bach admitted, according to Reuters, that "we've been working together really since the beginning. EA was one of the first we briefed on our thinking".

That really shouldn't surprise anyone, given EA's status in the games market. The company is an important player to have on your side, so Microsoft has no doubt been chasing this one for some time.

That said, Microsoft already has some 200 games developers signed up, including the world's second biggest independent developer, Activision, so it's not like it needs EA. Some 18 of them are working on exclusive Xbox titles. However, every little bit helps, and EA's sports games will be particularly welcome among the Xbox stable of titles. Microsoft has also been acquiring smaller developers, such as Bungie and, more recently, Digital Anvil.

EA doesn't really need Xbox either, which no doubt explains the caution behind its Xbox roll-out plan. It will offer ten Xbox titles on or within six months of the console's retail debut, currently set for late 2001. Further titles are contingent on Xbox proving what it can do in the market.

"If any platform is successful then we will support it fully,'' Probst said.

Of course, EA is also a PlayStation developer, and will no doubt be working on PlayStation 2 titles too. It clearly doesn't want to sour its relationship with Sony.

Then again, we hear it has been hit financially by the slowdown in PC sales as gamers wait to see what PlayStation 2 can do, a wait exacerbated by the supply problems Sony is having. EA isn't alone here - other games companies, such as the UK's Eidos, have at least in part blamed recent financial troubles on PlayStation anticipation. ®

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