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Analysis: Sony competitors try to counter PlayStation 2 hype
Will massages, wider availability and online gaming lure consumers away?
(CNN) -- As the countdown to the release of Sony's PlayStation 2 enters its final frenzied hours, the three rival video game console competitors aren't taking it lying down.
In fact, they've gone on the offensive, especially after Sony announced it would release half as many PlayStation 2 units on October 26 as originally promised. Following the 500,000 units available at the U.S. launch date, Sony estimated it would be able to supply 100,000 units per week to the U.S. market.
So in this highly competitive industry, the major players have formed an ad hoc alliance against Sony, which will shift dramatically as the various companies release each new console.
Chris Gilbert, an executive vice president at Sega of America Inc., said Sony's diminished PS2 shipment was terrific news -- for the Dreamcast manufacturer.
"Once the cheering subsided, we wanted to hammer home our message with retailers and consumers," Gilbert said. "You can have it all in one place with the Dreamcast and you don't have to spend the whole weekend looking for it."
Both Sega and Nintendo have recently issued press releases aimed squarely at capitalizing on Sony's dearth of consoles, which is reportedly due to component shortages, and Microsoft this week signed a deal with a high-profile game publisher.
Sega focus is online
Sega officials said they offer the only alternative on the market with the firepower to compete with Sony.
"While Sony may seem the obvious choice this holiday season, is it the best choice? The answer is no," states a Sega press release. The release goes on to tout the lower cost and availability of Sega's Dreamcast machine, which was released last year, as well as its Internet capability -- something that the PS2 will initially lack.
According to Sega's release, the PS2 system will have "very few quality games" at launch, "no unique peripherals," and "no online gaming."
Gilbert said Sega continues to focus on online gaming following the release of "NFL2K1" and "Quake 3" and the soon-to-be-released "NBA2K1." He called playing over the Internet "the future of video games."
"At the end of the day, nobody cares about what the specs are. They care about what games there are and how fun they are to play," Gilbert said.
Sega is in the "preliminary stages" of designing its next console, Gilbert said, but he declined to comment further, saying Sega is now concentrating on developing games for the Dreamcast.
Nintendo caters to disenfranchised
Nintendo of America Inc. is hosting events in Los Angeles, California, and Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, hoping to relieve the stress of shoppers who won't be able to purchase a PS2.
Nintendo representatives will be onhand at Toys R Us retail outlets in both cities, offering massages and soft drinks to help people "survive" any buying woes.
"There's going to be a lot of unhappy customers for obvious reasons," said a Nintendo spokesman.
In addition, Nintendo on Thursday is also unveiling the latest version of one of its most popular games for the Nintendo 64 machine: "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask."
"For some video gamers that date could mean long lines and disappointment," states a Nintendo press release. "While the competition is turning away customers empty-handed, Nintendo will have store shelves stocked with 'Zelda' and Nintendo 64 game systems."
The GameCube, Nintendo's next-generation console, will be available in fall 2001.
Microsoft seals a deal
Microsoft Corp., the only company in the fray without some form of video game console currently on the market, was less direct in its countering of the PS2 buildup. But the company still announced a deal Monday with game publisher Infogrames Inc. to obtain exclusive rights to the next four installments of the best-selling "Oddworld" series. Infogrames is also known for publishing such games as "Driver" and "Unreal Tournament."
"We're very flattered that they're coming over to us ... especially on the eve of PS2's launch," said David Hufford, marketing manager for Microsoft's Xbox.
Tom Richardson, corporate communications manager at Infogrames, added that they are still a multiplatform developer and will continue to produce titles for the PlayStation 2.
Hufford said Microsoft is generally paying less attention to the PS2 launch since they don't have an immediate stake in the console market.
"They (Sony, Nintendo and Sega) have revenue at risk because it's the holidays," Hufford said. "Xbox momentum won't begin until next year. We're kind of sitting back confidently here, working on the future."
Hufford also wanted to dispel hearsay that has been circulating in the gaming community. He said the rumor that Microsoft will reveal the industrial design of the Xbox on Thursday is "absolutely false."
He went on to add that the Xbox will not be shaped like an "X" when it's released in the fall of 2001, but rather more like a traditional system.
Regardless of the spin, console companies agree that the PlayStation 2 launch marks a significant turning point in the video game marketplace.
Coming soon: PlayStation 2 pandemonium
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