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Microsoft won't settle for second

Looking for "market leadership" with Xbox, but have a "very open view" of what that means...

The first reports have finally emerged of the press conference which took place during the X01 event on the Cote d'Azur last week, with Microsoft's European Xbox supremo Sandy Duncan answering a variety of questions from the press and revealing some more details of the console's launch on this side of the Atlantic in the process. Sandy confirmed that "it's our ambition to be market leader", saying that Microsoft "don't like being at second place". Them's fighting words, though he did qualify them by saying that "I've got a very open view of what market leadership actually means". In fact, in this case it seems to be simply selling Xboxes faster than Sony can shift PlayStation 2 units in a given month. As the PS2 will have been available in Europe for almost eighteen months by the time the Xbox launches and should have an installed base well in excess of the current 20 million by then, that shouldn't be a particularly hard target to meet. Many people have commented on the price of the Xbox, which is likely to cost £100 more than the PS2 or GameCube when it is released in March, but remarkably Sandy doesn't seem to think this will hurt Microsoft. "We've done a lot of analysis on price sensitivity, we've sized the markets across Europe. What I care about is shipping my first 1.5 million units and we're very, very confident that price isn't an issue with that. The vast majority of people that will buy an Xbox have probably already got a PlayStation 2. They probably bought it a year ago, because it's kind of an old product now." The bad news for Microsoft is that our own surveys show that even amongst the hardcore early adopters who regularly read our site, less than 40% of existing PlayStation 2 owners are planning to buy an Xbox, and half of those are planning to get a GameCube as well. No doubt that number is lower amongst the more casual gamers who make up the majority of console buyers. Sandy also admitted that past experience shows that only two consoles can co-exist. "I've got to say this haven't I, but I've got to wonder which of the other consoles will be there alongside Xbox". The subject of online support also came up, with one journo who no doubt won't be invited to Microsoft's next PR event suggesting that Sony have out-manoeuvred Microsoft in Europe. Sandy would "completely disagree with that", pointing out that the PlayStation 2's online plans rely on a fairly expensive add-on accessory (the hard drive / broadband adapter) and that publishers will be dubious about developing for something which isn't a standard feature of the console. PlayStation 2 trials with cable company Telewest here in the UK are about to start, while Microsoft have yet to reveal any details of how online gaming will work on the Xbox on either side of the Atlantic. Sandy said that "the spin's great" for Sony's online plans, but then the same could be said for Microsoft's plans at this stage. At the end of the day online gaming isn't likely to shift consoles though, especially if getting them to work online is any more complex than literally plugging-and-playing. It will come down to the quality of the games, and although the European launch of the Xbox is obviously vital, Sandy believes that "next Christmas is going to be the big crunch" deciding which of the new consoles survives and which fails. "If you don't come through Christmas very well it's going to be a hard struggle after that. You don't necessarily have to be leader for Christmas, but I think you definitely have to have a strong Christmas performance next year." It will be interesting to see whether the Xbox can gain the market leadership Microsoft are aiming for next Christmas, if the GameCube will outperform it, or if Sony can continue shifting the increasingly cheap PlayStation 2 consoles as they build up to the unveiling of their inevitable PlayStation 3. Related Feature - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Source - C&VG