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BUSINESS 2.0:

Now playing at the movies: Videogames

As audiences shrink, movie theaters are betting that multiplayer games on the big screen will be the next blockbusters. Business 2.0 reports.

By Geoff Keighley, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Audiences across the pond are testing what could be the next in-theater blockbuster: videogames played from the comfort of your stadium seat.

Canadian company TimePlay Entertainment has turned the Odeon Huddersfield cinema in England into a high-tech bingo hall. For $8 per half-hour, audience members use 10-inch color touch-screens to play a single multiplayer game -- tug-of-war, bingo, trivia contest -- competing to win as much as $20,000.

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TRIVIA TEST: U.K. moviegoers are trying out TimePlay's interactive system.

Questions and results appear on the 30 foot screen. "Cinema is a perfect venue for participatory experiences," says Jon Hussman, the 47-year-old founder and president of Toronto-based TimePlay.

It's also a hedge against declining movie attendance and the rise of HD home entertainment.

"We have to embrace interactivity," says Robert Steele, VP for strategy and corporate development at 1,500-screen National Amusements, "or the cinema will quickly disappear."

Steele hopes to install the first TimePlay system in the United States by 2008. A TimePlay installation costs $75,000. (A similar system in Spain, CineGames, costs nearly $400,000 to install; it features high-end PCs and plays games like Electronic Arts's Battlefield 2142.)

Hussman expects his system to be deployed on more than 100 screens by the end of 2008 and is investing $9 million in software development.

Already green-lit: big-screen games based on SpongeBobSquarePants and the game show Deal or No Deal.

Still at the idea stage: a gladiator-style battle with 100 avatars on the big screen, each one controlled by a member of the audience. Top of page

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