NEWS - Monday, March 13, 2006

Xbox Gears Up For Australian Debut

If you already know the answer to that question then you are probably one of many Australian gaming enthusiasts expected to queue up for an Xbox 360 gaming console. With movie-like graphics and sound underpinned by some heavy duty horsepower, it has been said that the unit brings a new level of realism to gaming. It will cost either $499.95 for a "core" system or $649.95 for a unit bundled with additional features. Microsoft claims pre-sales figures indicate the launch will be the largest entertainment launch in Australian history, outstripping both one-day sales for U2’s Vertigo tour, and first day takings of Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix. To mark the event, metropolitan electronics stores like Harvey Norman will be opening their doors at midnight and the Electronics boutique at Pitt Street Mall is expected to play host to between 500 to 1000 customers queuing up for the pre-ordered Xbox 360. Live music, video walls and street performers have been organised to entertain them as they stand in line. "Once they have their console a lot of customers will go straight home and start playing games. We did poll of 1000 of them and a significant number have already planned their sick day," said David McLean, Microsoft’s Australian director of home and entertainment. Based on pre-sales figures, the company expects to make about $30-40 million in Xbox 360 retail sales by launch with $20-25 million spent on consoles and $10-15 million on games. Rutland Smith, general manager of computers and communication at Harvey Norman said: "the Xbox 360 had been strongest pre-sale to date we’ve experienced for any games console. We are still taking pre-orders but anticipate that supply will soon become very restricted." So when it comes to buying the console, will customers actually be able to lay their hands on one? Production problems and continuing high demand have hampered the roll out of the Xbox 360 many territories of the world and the US market is still reported to be suffering shortages since the November launch. Those desperate to get their hands on it there have resorted to bidding on eBay auctions often at higher-than-retail prices. In Australia, Microsoft decided to delay the Australian roll out by 11 days to address continuing production problems and high demand, but the company is not expecting to see a repeat of the shortages experienced in the US with additional manufacturing plants now producing consoles to fulfil the global demand. "We have benefited by waiting for some production issues to be alleviated which has given us a chance to stock up. But demand has been unprecedented," said Mr McLean. According to Harvey Norman, those that have pre-ordered their box are guaranteed to get their hands on a machine on launch day. About 40 games will be available at launch with some local titles expected down the track. Microsoft said the most popular so far were World War II game Call of Duty, PGR 3 and Perfect Dark Zero. And when it comes to accessories, Mr Smith said "the wireless controller is number one choice without a doubt". Other popular add-ons include adaptors to link up the Xbox with high definition TVs and new faceplates which allow customisation of the unit. "We have done some research that told us Xbox 360 is helping to selling high-definition TVs around the world," said Mr Mclean, adding that he expected this trend to be even more pronounced in Australia where high volumes of stock have not yet been sold. Both Sony and Nintendo are expected to ship their own next generation gaming consoles over the next year.

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