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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Rocky road for Xbox 360 launch
By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website

Xbox 360
Microsoft's Xbox 360 is finished and in production
These are testing times for the team behind one of Microsoft's most ambitious product launches ever.

In just a few weeks' time, it will unleash its great white hope of gaming, the Xbox 360, across the world.

But rolling out a next generation games console in the US, Europe and Japan virtually simultaneously is proving to be a greater challenge than anyone imagined.

"There's a reason no-one has done this before and we are figuring that out," said Xbox marketing boss Peter Moore.

"If we knew what we were getting into, we might not have done it," he admitted at a recent Xbox event in Amsterdam.

In the past console makers have staggered the release of a new machine, like Sony did with the PlayStation Portable. The device first saw the light of day in Japan, three months later in the US and almost a year later in Europe.

Booking 747s

Microsoft is trying to do something its rivals have never done and it has 2,500 people working hard to ensure the global launch goes according to plan.

Xbox supremo J Allard
We are going to have some disappointment with retailers and consumers
J Allard, Xbox
The software giant has spent millions on its current Xbox, trying to build a foothold in a space dominated by Sony's PlayStation 2.

By making sure its new Xbox 360 is out months ahead of Sony's PlayStation 3, Microsoft is hoping to win over the wallets and thumbs of gamers.

The downside has been a rush to get the console, the games and the online support ready for the 22 November launch in the US, and in Europe for 2 December and Japan for 10 December.

"We're going to ship all around the world; how we're going to do that, I don't know," said Mr Moore. "We're going to rent every 747 we can find."

The Xbox team admit that despite their best efforts, there will be some logistic issues around getting enough machines into the shops.

"No matter how big the number is, we are going to sell out," said Xbox supremo J Allard. "We are going to have some disappointment with retailers and consumers."

Shooting, racing and sports

Still, a games console is only as good as the games available for it.

The sci-fi shooter Halo became the reason to buy the original Xbox and the PlayStation 2 was largely helped by the exclusive Grand Theft Auto series of games.

Screenshot of Project Gotham Racing 3
Project Gotham Racing 3 promises photo-realistic graphics
So Microsoft needs to persuade gamers that it is worth paying between $299-$399 (209-279 in the UK) to enter the world of next generation gaming.

At the X05 showcase event last week, Microsoft showed off some of the games coming for the 360, including its three flagship titles, Perfect Dark Zero, Project Gotham Racing 3 and Kameo.

But as the launch deadline nears, the Xbox team cannot guarantee that these key games will be in the shops on the day the 360 goes on sale.

"I'm hoping it will happen," said Mr Allard. "If something's not ready we'll hold it back.

"These games are not far from being done, and if they're three weeks after the launch or they're on launch day I don't think it makes a significant difference."

Certifying games

The problem for Microsoft is that some of the big names in the business are reluctant to rush out a game as they do not want to damage a franchise with a product that does not live up to expectations.

Screenshot of Fifa 06: Road to the World Cup
Fifa 06 for the 360 is due out for Christmas
This is one of the reasons why leading French game maker Ubisoft has just delayed the Tom Clancy Ghost Recon game for the 360 until February next year.

Microsoft can draw some consolation from the support of games giant Electronic Arts which has promised five games for the holiday season, including versions of its best-selling Fifa, Burnout and Madden games.

The next few weeks will be crucial, as the new games are tested to see if they are ready to go.

"Games will arrive with a thousand bugs and get into the certification process," explained Mr Moore.

"They make it or they don't. It's no big deal if a game takes another week. The consumer will get a strong line-up."




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