Gates on next-gen console wars

Says victor won't emerge till '07.

As US consumers continue to snap up Xbox 360s following the console's launch on November 22, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has suggested that the ultimate victor in the console wars won't be decided until 2007.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Gates claimed that the software giant's second attempt at capturing the videogame console market is spearheaded by "the hottest product we've ever had."

The original Xbox console, which launched after Sony's PlayStation 2, failed to gain the market dominance Microsoft had hoped for - picking up just 18 per cent of the console market. Although considerable investment in the console did result in marked increases in the installed customer base, the Xbox has consistently remained in Sony's shadow.

Microsoft's ambitious tri-continent launch strategy - which will see the Xbox 360 hit Europe on December 2 and Japan on December 10 - will certainly give Microsoft a head start on its rivals this time around, but according to Gates, it hasn't been an easy process.

"For the last six months, we've been on the edge of our seats. I hope I don't get an e-mail saying 'Gosh, processor yields are too low, or this plastic factory burned down in Malaysia, so we'll have boxes but no controllers.'"

The US launch has been generally considered a commercial success, and recent reports of Xbox 360 consoles overheating have been played down by the company. New details suggest that the cause is nothing more serious than a safety measure that protects the console by shutting down if the owner fails to allow proper ventilation for the hefty power pack.

Whilst both Sony and Nintendo intend to release their own next-generation machines at some point in 2006, the Microsoft boss has suggested that it will still take time to decide who wins the latest console war. Interestingly, Gates' comments hint at a two-way race, ignoring the Nintendo Revolution and focusing on the battle for market dominance between Microsoft and Sony.

"We see ourselves having a higher share. We're not going to name some magic number but we're out to give the best gaming experience. By the end of 2007, you'll have kind of a sense of how much did Microsoft increase its market share: dramatically, not so dramatically, did Sony mess up, what happened?"

No dates have been announced for the launch of either the PS3 or the Revolution, and Microsoft's headstart on the market for the next wave of gaming hardware has never been in dispute. What remains to be seen is whether or not the European and Japanese launches will be equally as successful as the US debut, and how well the machine performs in terms of its all-important software support once rival consoles hit market next year.

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