Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Xbox 360 preview

I did a preview story on the Xbox 360 for the Patriot-News, which ran yesterday and can be now seen below. My thanks to everyone who took time out to talk to me and give me some great quotes.

Wednesday was not a good day for Todd Lippi, owner of the Game Traders Club video-game store in Annville.

Lippi had taken 20 pre-orders from customers for Microsoft's new Xbox 360 gaming console. Microsoft had assured him that it would send him at least that many systems for tomorrow's launch.

But on Wednesday, Microsoft called to say that Lippi's store would get only 10 consoles, meaning that he had to call 10 customers and tell them he wouldn't be able to fill their orders tomorrow.

"I'm pretty peeved," Lippi said.

Game Traders isn't the only store faced with shortages. Chain retailers such as EB Games and Target are rumored to be getting only 10 to 50 systems per store, according to the popular video-game news blog Kotaku. On eBay, copies of the console are being sold for as much as $800.

The Xbox 360 is Microsoft's newest video-game console. Designed to be a state-of-the-art multimedia system, the 360 will connect to a computer and iPod, display photos from a digital camera, download new games from the Internet and more.

The release of the console is the opening salvo in the latest video-game wars, as Sony and Nintendo are expected to release their new consoles next year.

To some extent, potential shortages can be blamed on stores taking too many orders and the exuberance that coincides with any console launch. But Kotaku editor-in-chief Brian Crecente wonders if the shortage isn't a strategic ploy on Microsoft's part.

"My inkling is that Microsoft has tried to set up shortages,"Crecente said. "They're trying to get the best of both worlds. They want to sell out so as to have stories on the TV stations and in newspapers, but they have to have stock in time for Christmas."

Crecente noted that Microsoft needs to make the most of holiday sales and its lead time against competitors.

"There will be some summer sales, but the bulk will be around the holiday season," Crecente said. "There's no way to have a shortage around Christmas and meet that."

So, while you might not be able to pick up a console tomorrow, Crecente said, you might be able to get one in a few weeks when new shipments arrive.

Chris Morris, who covers the video-game industry for CNN/Money, doesn't buy into the conspiracy theory. But he concedes that attempting to get a 360 before the holidays might be a lost cause.

"There's no guarantee you'll be able to get one," he said. "You have to be lucky, stand in line and cross your fingers."

A Microsoft representative said a news release addressing complaints about console shortages will be issued soon. The company has said that it expects to sell up to 3 million consoles in the first 90 days after tomorrow's launch.

Many stores, including Game Traders, will open at midnight tonight to sell to a lucky few who ordered early. Other retailers, such as Circuit City, will sell consoles tomorrow on a first-come, first-serve basis.

People picking up 360s this week likely are hardcore gaming enthusiasts, willing to plunk down a considerable amount of change in order to be one of the first on their block to own a cutting-edge piece of hardware.

Dave Logan, 23, of Annville, fits that category. A part-time employee at Game Traders, he's eager for the arrival of the 360. Logan pointed to its sleek design, wireless controllers and improved graphics. "It's going to be a fantastic system," he said.

The real question seems to be: Will the 360 maintain its success next year after all the hardcore gamers have bought their boxes?

The answer isn't certain. The 360 comes with a high price tag of $399 (there is a $299 version, but it lacks a hard drive). What's more, many media pundits have noted that there isn't a "must-have" game for the system yet.

That likely will change in coming months, said GameSpot senior editor Ricardo Torres.

Microsoft "has a good chance to give Sony a run for its money," he said. "They have all the tools. What they choose to do with them and how they use them is up to them."

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


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