Verizon Puts on Game Face

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Chess and trivia are two of FiOS TV’s next weapons in the fight for subscribers.

In the first quarter of 2008, Verizon Communications expects to add a wide range of interactive games to FiOS TV as part of its ongoing effort to differentiate the service from cable.

Shawn Strickland, Verizon’s vice president of video solutions, said the games will include fairly simple ones such as chess and sudoku, educational titles for kids and more interactive games originally developed for DVD platforms. For example, one DVD-based game Verizon is considering offering is Scene It?, from Seattle-based publisher Screenlife, which poses pop-culture trivia questions based on video clips from movies and TV shows.

The strategy is pre-emptive, Strickland said: “We want to build a leadership position … to make sure our product set is top-of-mind so that if and when this becomes a must-have, we’re out in front.”

Some FiOS TV games will be offered for no extra charge to subscribers, while others will be pay-per-play or available in monthly subscription packages. “It’s a little bit of new ground here, in terms of finding the models that will attract the highest number of users,” Strickland said.

Others have already played their first hands in TV-based games. EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network offers DishGames, a suite of 16 games, including Asteroids and Centipede, priced at $4.99 per month. And AT&T last month introduced five TV-based games through its partnership with Yahoo — chess, sudoku, mah-jongg, solitaire and JT’s Blocks — in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, and expects to gradually offer those in other areas.

Providers see the opportunity to tap into the popularity of so-called casual games, a segment expected to be worth $1.5 billion worldwide in 2008, mainly through advertising, according to market research firm DFC Intelligence. The Casual Games Association, an industry trade group, estimates more than 200 million people worldwide play such games on the Internet today.

Verizon is licensing the games for FiOS TV from partners, though Strickland declined to name them. Interactive-TV software firms that have developed set-top-based games include PixelPlay, Zodiac Interactive and News Corp.’s NDS Group.

The telco’s current hybrid Motorola QIP set-top boxes, which support traditional cable video and Internet Protocol-based content, will be able to support the new games because most of the heavy lifting is done on the back end, Strickland said: “Effectively, the set-tops render [the games] as a stream, like they would a video stream.”

To develop the DVD-based gaming platform for FiOS TV, Verizon is integrating SeaChange International’s DVD on-demand software into the telco’s own IP-based middleware.