updated 5/11/2004 9:10:44 PM ET 2004-05-12T01:10:44

Users of Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox Live online gaming network can already talk to each other remotely while logged in -- but soon they'll be able to see their fellow players' faces and "tickle" each other, too.

The announcement comes at the start of the Electronic Entertainment Expo which annually draws thousands of game developers to Los Angeles from around the world to showcase the latest in video game technology.

Xbox's video-chat service will be launched this year exclusively in Japan and eventually will make its way to the North American network, Peter Moore, an Xbox marketing executive, said Monday.

"We particularly like the ability to launch in Japan because of the superior infrastructure for broadband. It's a great petri dish, if you will, for what will be the future," Moore said. "You will not only be able to play against your friends, or talk to your friends -- now you can actually see your friends."

Microsoft has not determined how much extra it will charge to download and operate software for the video-chat option. Regular Xbox Live subscriptions cost about $50 a year. Video chat also would require users to have a USB camera attached to their Xbox console, Moore said.

In addition, the host of the chat session will be able to select background music that all participants can hear through their microphone headsets -- which are already available for players to communicate during a game.

Then there is "tickling."

"You can send a vibration to one of the participants in the chat session, which vibrates the controller they're holding," Moore said.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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