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Online is where it's at

Sony has announced further details of its PlayStation Network Platform (PNP) at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose. Sony's PS3 rival to the Xbox 360's Live service looks set to place itself halfway between the current decentralised PS2 online offering and Microsoft's sewn-up-tight Live service.

Sony's PNP (the name is only temporary – a snazzy consumer brand is expected by E3 in May) will feature a user-created identity that's held across all games, as well as worldwide ranking, matchmaking and lobby services and, most importantly, multi-player options. In other words, you'll be able to play online against other people, and like with Xbox Live, PNP will handle the chatting to people before playing, queuing for a game, then the online multi-player, the end results, and therefore make sure you play people of appropriate skill levels.

Also stolen from Live's playbook are micro-payments and downloaded content via a central market - an option that's proving phenomenally successful on the Xbox 360, where the marketplace has already seen over 10m downloads, faster than iTunes took off. Over half of Xbox 360 owners have connected to Live, and of them, 85 per cent have downloaded something from the marketplace.

There the differences between Xbox Live and PNP start to emerge though. Firstly, Sony's PNP service will be free. Xbox Live costs £35 annually. But with Sony's service, based on infrastructure from Sony Online (makers of EverQuest), individual publishers will be able to add on premium services at their own whim. So some publishers may charge you for some multi-player options.

Sony has also configured its download system so you'll be able to buy extra content within a game. So if you want to buy a new gun for your Killzone character you won't have to wade through other games. It seems as though Sony has been watching Microsoft's moves closely. But despite smartly copying some Xbox Live tricks, it remains to be seen whether Sony actually has the expertise to pull them off. Either way, with Xbox Live in the ascendant and Sony's PNP following close behind, online's where it's at for the next generation.

Nokia readies next generation of gaming mobiles

Its last attempt at cracking mobile gaming ended up an ignoble failure. But despite the mistakes made in the N-Gage saga, it looks like Nokia is set to return to gaming-focused mobile phones early next year, as mobile phone gaming finally takes off. Over the last year, mobile gaming downloads have risen and risen, and perhaps just as importantly, a host of big games industry players have got in bed with mobile gaming experts.

The time is apparently right for Nokia to consider stepping back into the mobile gaming arena. According to In Stock, a games industry news magazine, Nokia has announced new gaming handsets for the first quarter of 2007. Alongside the announcement, made at Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Jose, Nokia also unveiled toolsets and middleware to make it easier for games programmers to make mobile phone games.

Nokia has already promised a new generation of smartphones with enhanced gaming functions – and gaming power akin to current generation handheld consoles. The problem then is whether Nokia's new game phones can compete against the PSP, DS and theoretically even an "Xboy" in an increasingly crowded handheld games market.

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