Microsoft set to launch Xbox on Nov. 8

Microsoft's Xbox video game console will be available on Nov. 8 at a price of US$299, the company announced Wednesday at the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) gaming show in Los Angeles.

The company will have 600,000 to 800,000 consoles available for sale on Nov. 8 in North America, said Robbie Bach, senior vice president of the games division and chief Xbox officer at Microsoft, during a Webcast. He called the launch of the console "a momentous event for the industry and for Microsoft."

Additionally, he said there will be 15 to 20 video games available for the console that day. Having a strong base of quality games at a console's launch is widely seen as key to success. Microsoft expects to sell around 1.5 million consoles during the holiday season, he said.

The Xbox is Microsoft's first entry into the home-video gaming market, a market long-dominated by Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Sega Corp. and Nintendo of America Inc. The system will include a 733MHz processor, a DVD (digital versatile disc) drive, Ethernet ports for high-speed Internet connections and NVidia Corp. graphics chips. It will compete with Sony's PlayStation 2, which also retails for $299 and has a broad base of game support, but has been hindered by a rocky start which included a 50 percent undershipment of consoles at launch and complaints that game development for the system is too difficult.

Microsoft is betting heavily on the Xbox and has committed to spend $500 million on the initial marketing push for the system.

Leading game-maker Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) also said Wednesday that it has 10 games in development for the Xbox. EA said it will demonstrate four games at E3, including three of its powerhouse sports games, Madden NFL 2002, NHL 2002 and the racing simulation F1 2002. EA will also show The Simpsons Road Rage. In addition to those games, EA said it is developing Pirates of Skull Cove, Medal of Honor Allied Assault, Cel Damage and other sports titles for the Xbox. EA makes such sports games as Triple Play Baseball, NBA Live, March Madness, Knockout Kings and FIFA soccer.

Over 200 companies are developing games for Xbox including Sega, Tecmo Inc. and THQ Inc. Around 80 titles are being created exclusively for Xbox, Bach said.

Microsoft will develop a number of Xbox games on its own and expects to provide 30 percent to 35 percent of the platform's games, Bach said.

Microsoft's announcement comes in the same week that the company's chief rival in the home-gaming market, Sony, made a number of announcements concerning Internet content and its PlayStation 2 console. On Tuesday, Sony said that it had struck a deal with America Online Inc. to provide Internet access, instant messaging and multi-player Internet gaming to PS2 users. On Wednesday, Sony also said that it had sealed an agreement with RealNetworks Inc. to embed the RealPlayer streaming audio and video software in the PS2. Lastly, Sony also said that Macromedia Inc. would bring a version of its Flash multimedia application to the PlayStation 2.

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