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7/14/2005
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Microsoft Woos Spider-Man Into Xbox Fold

Deal with Marvel Enterprises gives software company the rights to add Marvel characters to its massively multiplayer online games.

Combine Bill Gates' brain with the Hulk's brawn, and what do you get?

We may never find out, but Gates moved a step closer to superherodom Thursday when Microsoft signed an agreement with Marvel Enterprises Inc. that gives the software company exclusive rights to produce massively multiplayer online games featuring characters such as the Hulk, Spider-Man, and the X-Men. The games, which Reuters reports will start appearing in 2008, will be designed for Microsoft's new Xbox 360, the highly anticipated game console that was previewed in May and will hit the market this holiday season.

The Marvel deal gives Microsoft rights to characters with a lot of momentum. Spider-Man proved to be a strong box-office draw, with major films in 2002 and 2004 that were among the top grossing movies of each year. X-Men enjoyed more modest box-office success with its two films, released in 2000 and 2003, while 2003's The Hulk film was probably best known for being at the center of a piracy scandal in which a studio employee leaked an advanced copy onto the Internet. Microsoft figures to get a lot more marketing mileage out of the deal even before any games hit the market: A third film featuring the X-Men is slated for release next year, while Spider-Man 3 is expected in theaters in 2007.

Microsoft hopes the new Xbox 360, as well as its recently launched Xbox Live online subscription gaming service, will help it capture a larger share of the fast-growing market for massively multiplayer online games, or MMOGs, as they're commonly called. MMOGs such as Lineage, Lineage II, and World of Warcraft, which collectively boast millions of subscribers, according to online MMOG tracking site mmogchart.com, can host tens of thousands-- and sometimes hundreds of thousands--of players simultaneously in a virtual real-time global community of gamers.

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