Real news from the virtual world:
— LIVE AND KICKING: Sony and Nintendo have made big strides over the last year in downloadable games for the PlayStation 3 (Sony) and the Wii (Nintendo).
But Microsoft's Xbox Live service got there first — and it still holds a comfortable lead, both in quantity and quality of content.
Not that Microsoft is coasting. Xbox Live hosted the exclusive launch of Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost & Damned," which broke all the service's single-day records when it was released in February.
And the company is making another big online push over the next two months with its "Days of Arcade" promotion.
The series of new releases begins this month with Electronic Arts' "Hasbro Family Game Night," which is actually four separate games: Scrabble, Yahtzee, Battleship and Connect Four.
Subsequent weeks will bring the puzzle games "Flock," "Lode Runner" and "Puzzle Quest: Galactrix"; the six-player racer "OutRun Online Arcade"; the indie-developed hack-and-slasher "The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai"; and "Uno Rush," the long-awaited sequel to Xbox Live Arcade's best-seller.
Scott Austin, Microsoft's director of digitally distributed games, says that when Xbox Live Arcade began, "the bulk of users were hardcore gamers. Yet they were the people buying 'Uno.' The hardcore user likes more than just hardcore content."
Austin says Arcade has changed a lot since its early days. "Our partners are bringing a new level of quality," he says, "with bigger, deeper, more immersive games." He cites "Castle Crashers" and "Braid" as products that "got more buzz than many retail games."
"The quality bar is rising," Austin says. "And we've got lots of good stuff on the way."
— VIRAL VIDEO: Xbox Live is also dominating the competition with its Video Marketplace, which now has nearly 30,000 movies, TV episodes and music videos available for download.
But Sony's PlayStation Network is working hard to close the gap, and the recent addition of NBC Universal gives PSN content from all the major Hollywood studios.
Grace Chen, PSN senior manager, says "we've seen huge growth since July," when Sony began its video download service. The NBC Universal deal pushes PSN's video offerings to about 6,000.
— AND COUNTING: Nintendo has sold more than 100 million units worldwide of its portable DS since its launch in November 2004. The company says that's faster than any other video-game console in history has reached that milestone.
The figure includes the original DS, the slimmer DS Lite and the new DSi. The third-generation model debuted in Japan in November, and arrives in the U.S. on April 5.
— NEW IN STORES: Some famous franchises — and a few cultish ones — get portable versions this week. Sony's Earth-versus-aliens war resumes in "Resistance: Retribution," for the PlayStation Portable. ... For the DS: Rockstar's "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars," Konami's "Suidoken Tierkreis" and Square Enix's "Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume." ... And then there's an original DS brainteaser from Electronic Arts, "Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure."