Microsoft acted to consolidate its lead over Sony in the current generation of games consoles as it cut the price of its top-end Xbox 360 on Thursday to counter a similar move last week by its Japanese rival.

The cuts come at the start of the busy autumn season, which usually accounts for nearly two-thirds of annual console purchases, and should enable the US software company to maintain its advantage over Sony in what has been a weak year for the industry, analysts said.

Microsoft has sold 30m Xbox 360s since 2005, while Sony has sold slightly less than 24m PlayStation 3 consoles, which were launched a year later. Both trail the Nintendo Wii, which has sold more than 50m globally.

The latest cuts will reduce the price of the top-of-the-line Xbox 360 Elite by $100 in the US, €50 in Europe and £30 in the UK. That matches the price cut last week by Sony – which brought out a new, slim-lined version of the PS3 with a 120-gigabyte hard drive and which effectively matches the Xbox Elite.

It also maintains Microsoft’s pricing advantage over Sony, with the Elite in Europe now priced at €249.99, against €299 for the new PS3 Slim, and €203 for the Wii.

“This is all about maintaining the momentum. [Xbox] is the only one that has been selling relatively well over the summer,” said Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner, a technology research firm.

In the US the PS3 outsold the Xbox 360 in the first half of 2008 but has since fallen behind, with 30 per cent fewer sales than Microsoft in the first half of 2009. The Japanese company has been unable to repeat the advantage it enjoyed with the PS2, when it had access to far more compelling games than Microsoft, analysts said.

With many third-party game developers no longer willing to make games exclusive to PlayStation, Sony has also suffered from a lack of hits by its in-house games division compared to Microsoft’s success with its Halo franchise, Mr Baker said.

Microsoft is also credited with having developed a stronger online service for its console. All three console makers are also fighting to put the most compelling internet content on their consoles.

Microsoft’s Xbox Live internet site, for example, will allow gamers to update their Facebook site or connect to Twitter, as from this autumn.

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