Microsoft Corp. said on Thursday it won exclusive rights to develop and publish multiplayer online games starring Marvel Enterprises Inc.'s super heroes, including Spider-man, the X-men and the Hulk.

The deal covers massively multiplayer online (MMO) game titles developed for Microsoft's upcoming Xbox 360 gaming console and published by the software giant's game studio.

The deal is Marvel's first MMO pact. The first title is expected in 2008.

"This is our one and only," Tim Rothwell, worldwide president of the Consumer Media Group at Marvel Enterprises, told Reuters, referring to the MMO pact.

The MMO deal is Microsoft's first for a console, although the company has previously had MMO deals for the PC.

MMO games allow players in various locations to compete. Such game play is popular with PC gamers in Asia. Some analysts estimate that as many as 2 million people are MMO game players

Online capabilities will be central to new game consoles and Microsoft sees MMO games as a large opportunity.

The Xbox 360, Microsoft's next-generation game console, is due out this fall. The company launched Xbox Live, a fee-based online console gaming network, in November.

"Online gaming is reaching a point of acceptance. We will use as many of the Marvel characters as we can" in the MMO game, said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of worldwide marketing and publishing for Microsoft's Xbox.

New York-based Marvel Enterprises owns a library of more than 5,000 characters, also including the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. It reaps revenue from licensing its characters for clothes, movies, games, snack foods and toys. It also publishes comic books and sells toys of its own.

Marvel has video game deals with Activision Inc., Electronic Arts Inc., Vivendi Universal Games, THQ Inc. and Majesco Entertainment Co.


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