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Zodiac Gaming Launches Cable Box Game Service

16 Dec, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

With cable TV providers scrambling for new products to offer their viewers, a startup company called Zodiac Gaming is shopping its service that lets cable operators offer subscription video games to viewers through a standard digital cable set-top box.

The upside is that Zodiac games require no special console or player, just a standard digital cable set-top box and a game controller that plugs in via a USB port. The capacity of the set-top determines whether it has enough juice to run the full selection of games, but according to the company even lower-end set-tops can access about 40 percent of the Zodiac library, which includes driving, arcade, sports, educational, board, puzzle and strategy games. New games will be introduced each quarter.

The downside is that since games are piped through the cable box, there is no 3-D graphics chip to offer the splashy appearance available on console games.

Zodiac has a library of 100 games -- most proprietary but a few adapted from PC games -- that cable operators can offer by monthly subscription. The games skew young, with the company targeting the Nickelodeon set.

The company is targeting “pre-PlayStation/GameCube-age” youngsters with “Mario-quality” games, said Zodiac president and CEO Alexander Libkind. “This will never replace Xbox or PS2,” Libkind said. “We see it as more of a bridge.”

The idea is for cablers to offer nine to 12 games a month for about $5 a month, letting subscribers change which games they receive each month. None of the cable operators offer Zodiac yet, but Libkind said he is busy developing deals and expects the games to be widely available by mid 2004.

Zodiac is also developing multiplayer games that will allow up to 32 players at a time, all playing over their cable network, by the end of next year.

BskyB has had great success offering games over cable in the U.K., Libkind said, so this is a natural extension for U.S. cablers, which are looking for programming that encourages users to upgrade to digital cable.

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