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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 17:22 GMT
Microsoft unleashes Xbox
Edward Glucksman and Bill Gates
Edward Glucksman was handed the first Xbox by Gates
Computer games fans poured into New York's Times Square hoping to be among the first to get their hands on Microsoft's Xbox.

The computer giant launched its first games console at midnight on Thursday to an eager US audience as Microsoft's founder Bill Gates sold and signed the first batch of machines.

Consumers will have to pay out $299 (205) for the machine and about $50 (34) for games.

The machine is being launched as a rival to Sony's PlayStation 2 (PS2) system - of which 20 million have already been sold worldwide - and Nintendo's Gamecube, which is launched in the US in three days' time.

Non-stop play

It was 20-year-old Edward Glucksman of New Jersey who got his hands on the first console after queuing for 16 hours.

NFL Fever 2002 on Xbox
Xbox games offer quality graphics
After shaking hands with Gates, he said he would be playing his Xbox "all night. All day. And nonstop until maybe Monday. Tuesday if I'm lucky".

Following close behind was 15-year-old Ray Sanchez, who had been driven to launch from New Jersey by his mother.

The excitement clearly getting to him as he picked up his Xbox, the teenager said: "I'm shocked. It was great. I got it signed by Bill Gates."

As Microsoft founder and chairman Gates was given a hero's welcome as he met the crowds who had gathered to among the first try out the new console.

WWF wrestler The Rock was also on hand to lend his support to the launch proceedings.

More than 1.5 million of the machines will be made available to shops in the US by Christmas as Microsoft hopes to avoid distribution problems suffered by Sony when it launched PS2 last year.

The Rock and Bill Gates
WWF wrestler The Rock challenged Bill Gates to a game
But most consumers will not yet be able to walk into a shop and buy the new machine. Pre-sale orders already account for the first batch of 300,000 machines, and the first stocks of Gamecubes in the US.

"We pre-sold our entire initial allocation for both units," said Peter Roithmayr, vice president of the video games division at game retailer Electronics Boutique.

"On day one we will not have any Xboxes available."

Competitive market

Patrick Garratt, deputy editor of Computer and Video Games website, said Microsoft had delivered the goods.

"Microsoft have come down a very long road and have done a very good job coming into a very competitive market," he said.

"The initial line-up of titles is good."

US consumers will have a straight choice in the crucial Christmas market between the three consoles.

Both Sony's machine and the Gamecube will be about $100 (69) cheaper than Microsoft's system.


I wonder which of the other consoles will be there alongside Xbox

Sandy Duncan
"Xbox is the most powerful, state-of-the-art console you can buy," Mr Garratt said.

"The graphics chip is beyond anything you can buy on a PC and the CPU is faster than anything offered by the PS2 or Gamecube," he added.

'History'

But Sony has countered that the technological claims for Xbox are somewhat "flamboyant".

"A lot of the comparisons being drawn are not really relevant because Xbox is based on PC architecture while PlayStation 2 is a dedicated games console," said David Wilson, UK spokesman for PlayStation 2.

All three companies are bracing themselves for a crucial 12 months. Xbox and Gamecube debut in Europe in Spring 2002.

Halo
Halo is one of the most anticipated titles
"History says two companies will do well," said Sandy Duncan, Microsoft's vice-president of Xbox Europe.

"The market is certainly capable of sustaining three consoles but I wonder which of the other consoles will be there alongside Xbox," he added.

Microsoft is investing $500m (346m) in marketing the machine alone and its founder Bill Gates has given his full backing to the project.

"Analysts reports that I have read show that Microsoft is set to encroach on Nintendo's fan base," said Mr Garratt.

He added: "I think there is room for all three in the market place."

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The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"It could be five years before Xbox is profitable"
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