Microsoft Corp unveiled on Wednesday new online services for their video game consoles to showcase games by independent developers, part of a push by the companies to tap enthusiasm for so-called casual games.

The $18 billion U.S. game industry, increasingly dominated by sequels and licensed properties, is turning to independent developers for inspiration much as the movie industry uses festivals like Sundance for fresh ideas and to discover new film-making talent.

Microsoft said trial versions of the first independent games, with titles such as "JellyCar" and "The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai," were available immediately, and it expected hundreds of games to hit the service by the end of the year.

Microsoft used its keynote at the Game Developers Conference to officially launch the service for its Xbox 360, underscoring the importance it expects such simpler games to play in broadening the appeal of that machine.

"Now we have another entry point, which is games made by people in their bedrooms," John Schappert, vice president of the Xbox Live online platform, said in an interview.

Microsoft, playing to its traditional strengths in software development for personal computers, began offering game production tools to amateurs and hobbyists about 18 months ago under an initiative dubbed "XNA".

"We've seen the democratization of game development, but it will also take something new, the democratization of game distribution," Schappert told the conference.

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