Four years ago, Microsoft merely wanted to be a player in the gaming industry. Today, it wants to be the leader. The company unveiled an agreement with Electronic Arts for online interactive games las

Four years ago, Microsoft merely wanted to be a player in the gaming industry. Today, it wants to be the leader.

Two days before the opening of the Electronic Entertainment Exposition (E3), the computing giant presented a number of new gaming initiatives last night (May 10) to a packed house of industry leaders at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Microsoft's plans include the release of new games and software, as well as expanded online services.

The climax of Microsoft's presentation was the unveiling of its partnership with Redwood City, Calif.-based Electronic Arts, the leading game maker. This summer, EA titles will be available on Microsoft's Xbox Live online service, which allows gamers to compete against each other over the Internet. Previously, only users of Sony's Playstation2 console could play EA titles interactively.

More than 15 titles are expected become available on Xbox Live in the coming months, including "Madden NFL 2005," NBA Live 2005," "FIFA Soccer 2005," "Need for Speed Underground 2," "Burnout 3," "TimeSplitters Future Perfect" and the popular online franchise "Battlefield." Xbox Live has 1 million subscribers in 24 countries.

In addition to the EA announcement, Microsoft unveiled its new XNA software, which developers can use to enhance future games, as well as 2004 release dates for some anticipated game titles.

The Xbox game "Halo 2" will be on store shelves Nov. 9. "Halo 2" is the sequel to "Halo: Combat Evolved," which sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, according to Microsoft. The company also will release as an Xbox exclusive "DOOM 3," the sequel to the classic shooter game developed by id Software and distributed by Santa Monica-based Activision, Inc.

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