Microsoft plays hardball with rival console

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Sony’s PlayStation 3 seems like it will be hopelessly outgunned by Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in the shoot-out over next-generation console supremacy.

While Sony will struggle to muster 2m consoles for sale in Japan and the US by the end of the year, Microsoft expects to have 10m 360s in the market worldwide by then, up from 6m at the end of September.

It believes its price ($300-$400 in the US compared to $500-$600 for the PS3), greater availability, range of games and burgeoning online services will appeal to consumers more in the crucial holiday season.

With Europe deprived of PS3s until March next year, the 360 could see tremendous demand there from frustrated gamers.

Microsoft suffered its own production problems and an inability to meet demand when it launched the 360 a year ago.

But these were resolved months ago. It has a year’s head start on the PS3 and expects to have sold 13-15m 360s by the middle of 2007.

Gamers gravitate to platforms where the best games are available and Microsoft has kept some exclusives up its sleeve to counter the launch of the PS3.

While Halo 3, the latest episode of the blockbuster franchise, is not yet ready, the company feels it has a worthy substitute in Gears of War, out this week. It was hailed as a “masterpiece” on the IGN gaming site.

Microsoft is also countering Sony’s Blu-Ray DVD drive with a rival HD-DVD drive add-on and last week released a software update with 85 enhancements including better high-definition and video playback capabilities.

And then there is the catching up Sony has to do online. Microsoft said last month that it had signed up more than 4m gamers for its Xbox Live online service and expected to exceed 6m by June next year.

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