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E3: New Consoles to Square Off in November

17 May, 2001 By: David Ward

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) kicked off with a bang in Los Angeles as Microsoft and Nintendo finally unveiled their new consoles and Sony took the wraps off its online strategy that will have the PlayStation 2 in the center of online-connected living rooms.

The first full week in November looms as possibly one of the biggest in North American video game history, as both the Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube will launch within days of each other.

Nearly 60,000 attended the three-day event at the Los Angeles Convention Center this week and while there was some attention paid to PC and the growing wireless games market—as well as Nintendo’s new portable Game Boy Advance—most people were squarely focused on the home console battle.

Microsoft finally took the wraps of the Xbox and its packaging and said 15 to 20 games will support the new console when it launches Nov. 8 at $299.

Microsoft’s chief Xbox officer Robbie Bach said the company would have about 600,000 to 800,000 hardware units ready for launch and expects to sell 1 million to 1.5 million by year end.

Bach said Microsoft would have 80 exclusive games for the Xbox coming in the next 12 to 18 months, including titles based on the films Shrek and Steven Spielberg’s A.I.

Microsoft also unveiled a portion of the Xbox online strategy, the Xbox Communicator, a headset for real-time voice communication with other players during online games. In a slight dig at Sony, which had just announced a PlayStation 2 deal with America Online, Bach said, “People don’t want to send e-mail from their couch, they don’t want to browse from their couch, they want to play games. Our online environment is about games, it’s not about e-mail, it’s not about other things, it’s completely and totally focused on games.’’

Nintendo ended months of relative silence about its new console by saying the GameCube will reach shelves Nov. 5 backed by several strong games including Luigi’s Mansion and Picmin.

Surprisingly, the company did not announce software or hardware pricing. Nintendo of America (NOA) executive v.p. Peter Main said that announcement would come from Japan at the company’s annual financial conference May 24. A Nintendo source later said the company also wanted to know Microsoft’s Xbox price as well as any E3 moves from Sony for the PlayStation 2 before finalizing its decision.

NOA marketing v.p. George Harrison said Nintendo expects five to seven first- and second-party titles at launch and two key third-party titles.

While the new GameCube will have an optional 56 kbps modem and plans for an Ethernet connector for high-speed Web access later, the company revealed nothing about plans for online gaming. But NOA did say that the Game Boy Advance portable system, set to launch in the United States June 11, would also be able to double as a controller for the GameCube.

As impressive as both Microsoft and Nintendo were at E3, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) gave no indication that it plans to abdicate its role as king of the console market. The company will spend a staggering $250 million marketing PlayStation One and 2 hardware and software this year, SCE America senior marketing v.p. Andrew House said during a presentation on the eve of E3. SCEA reps said Sony would have 200 new PlayStation 2 titles from May through December, bringing the total to 280 by year end.

SCEA president Kaz Hirai unveiled an alliance with AOL to bring instant messaging, chat and e-mail to the PlayStation 2 audience. While stressing that most of Sony’s online plans are for 2002 and beyond, Hirai said the company will release a $39.95 modem attachment in November that’s capable of supporting both narrowband 56 kb and broadband online connections. Sony also announced deals with RealNetworks, Cisco and Macromedia to help deliver all types of entertainment, including movies, music and games, through the PlayStation 2.

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