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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Console wars hot up
Halo
Microsoft hopes games like Halo will sell the Xbox
With the launch of GameCube in Europe consumers now face a difficult choice. BBC News Online's Darren Waters looks at the increased competition in the marketplace.

Let battle commence.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are the key figures in a struggle for supremacy in the $20bn computer games market.

Microsoft's Xbox, Nintendo's Gamecube and Sony's PlayStation 2 represent the next generation of console gaming with CD quality sound, photo-real images and the ability to connect to the internet for multi-player online gaming.

GameCube
GameCube launches in Europe in May
The three machines have differing specifications, prices and capabilities and the consumer now has a difficult choice to make.

The three companies hope simply that the market place is big enough to accommodate their console and for the video game fan there has never been a better time to indulge their hobby.

Sony is the market leader, with more than 28 million PlayStation 2 consoles and its teething problems at launch now seem a long time ago with titles such as Metal Gear Solid 2 impressing fans and critics alike.

European launch

Xbox has launched successfully in the US, and despite some problems in Japan, there are now more than three million of Microsoft's consoles in the market.

The European launch on 14 March pushed that figure up and the company hopes to ship between four and six million by the middle of the year.

Reports of slow sales in Japan and Europe prompted the Xbox to drop its price to 199, a price which puts its head to head with Sony.

Xbox
Xbox is Microsoft's first foray into console gaming
Nintendo is playing catch-up but is counting on the loyalty of the millions of owners of Gameboy Advance hand-held consoles.

A pre-launch price cut in Europe in 129 makes it the cheapest of the three consoles and its launch line-up of games makes a strong package.

Paul Jackson, managing director of giant software firm Electronic Arts, said the GameCube was a welcome addition to the market.

"We are a software producer and want to produce games for any console format we think is going to have significant presence in the market."

The company is producing many of its key titles - including Fifa World Cup 2002 - for the machine.

"GameCube is a nice looking machine and also a powerful machine."

While Xbox is accept to be the most powerful of the consoles everyone recognises this may not be enough of an edge to win the day.

David McCarthy, news editor of The Edge maazine, said: "Everyone goes on about the raw power of Xbox. I am not entirely convinced about that argument.

'Quality'

"It is about games and Xbox has four or five games - Halo, Amped, Dead or Alive 3 for example - that make me want to buy it."

David Gosen, managing director of Nintendo Europe, agreed that it was software not hardware which was important.

NFL Fever 2002 on Xbox
Xbox games offer quality graphics
"Ultimately, the consumer will decide which company is successful or not. The key determinant is the quality of the games.

"It is not about the technology or how many polygons it can shift across the screen, it is the gaming experience."

Sony's original console, the PlayStation, proved that games console were not only attractive to children and to teenagers and some surveys state that up to a quarter of all US households have one.

Joe Fielder, editor of Gamespot, said: "I think the market has grown over the last 10 years. Gamers have got older having grown up with computer games.

'Older gamers'

"The age range for games players has really increased and the three systems carve up that range.

Metal Gear Solid 2
Metal Gear Solid 2 is a major release for PS2
"Nintendo is for younger games, PS2 for teenagers and Xbox for slightly older gamers."

But Mr Gosen disagrees: "We believe gaming is an attitude not an age. We want to make sure our games appeal to all ages."

"It is considerably more difficult for Microsoft than it was for Sony when it released the PS2," said McCarthy

"It was a relatively open playing field for Sony then. But Microsoft is used to tough challenges."


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