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Shooting for Video Game Success

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2004; 10:25 AM

The video game wars -- particularly between top rivals Sony and Nintendo -- are in heavy battle mode during the holiday season, with stores struggling to keep enough of the hottest consoles and game titles on the shelves to satisfy hungry gift-buyers.

Nintendo has been reaping the rewards of the portable gaming craze, with its DS handheld console becoming a hot-selling item this holiday season (Sony's dueling PlayStation Portable is not yet on sale in the United States).

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"Consumer demand for the [Nintendo DS] unit is so high, in fact, that many stores are sold out. Those that do have them are limiting sales to one per customer. More than 1.2 million DS units have been sold in North America and Japan in the past month, according to Nintendo. And the company is increasing production to meet the demand," Cleveland's Plain Dealer reported today. The same article gives the device a thumbs up. "Here's the $149.99 question: Is the Nintendo DS worth the price? Yes, it is. New game titles will continue to launch throughout the holiday season, and more than 25 are scheduled to be available by March. In the meantime, gamers still can play Game Boy Advance games and videos on the Nintendo DS."

DS sales are brisk even away from the big cities, as we can see in this tidbit from the Decatur Daily of Alabama. "They just blew out of here," Frank Hass, electronics manager at Kmart, told the paper. "We only had one shipment of about 15 at Thanksgiving. They went first thing that morning." More from the paper's dispatch on brisk Nintendo DS sales: "Dual-screened, it offers video game fans innovative new ways to play. Each unit comes with an embedded communication program called PicoChat, as well as a demo version of Metroid Prime Hunters that features both single and multiplayer action. According to a release from the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash., the firm will increase total shipments to North America by about 40 percent, to 1.4 million systems, before the end of the year. Nintendo officials said many retail stores are reporting shortages, and the initial batch of 500,000 units sold out a week after Nintendo DS launched Nov. 21."

TVG, which runs the totalvideogames.com site, posted new sales numbers on its site today, noting that "Nintendo has today confirmed that the Nintendo DS system has now sold more than 2 million units, a million apiece in the US and Japan. With the console expected to sell more than 2.8 units by the end of the year, Nintendo is now setting its sights on Europe."
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer: Nintendo Holds a Strong Hand With DS System
The Decatur Daily: Nintendo DS This Year's Spotlight Gift
Totalvideogames.com: DS Success in US & Japan as Nintendo Targets EU

Nintendo is even girding itself to charge into the digital-music melee. The game giant recently announced plans to sell an add-on gadget that will allow its handheld consoles "to play music and video, the company said, matching a popular feature on Sony's portable game machine. Nintendo is in a heated battle to defend its dominant position in the lucrative handheld market against new competitor Sony Corp., which launched ... its first ever mobile game device, on Dec. 12 in Japan. Nintendo's DS ... has been flying off the shelves but the PSP has generated an equal level of buzz among game fans, in large part because it can also play back music and movie files," Reuters reported last week.

The same article reported on the holiday rush: "The DS is the size of a paperback book with a wireless connection and two screens, one of which is touch-sensitive and works with a pen-like device. The PSP is a sleek black device with one long, large liquid crystal display screen. Industry analysts say that both will sell well this holiday season, creating the biggest buzz in the sector since Sony launched its PlayStation 2 game console in 2000. Sony will launch the PSP in Europe and North America early next year." The British tech site The Register concluded that "Nintendo's DS looks certain to outsell Sony's PlayStation Portable, but Nintendo is clearly so worried about its rival that it is already announcing an upgrade that will bring PSP-style music and movie features to its own handheld console."

More on Nintendo's bells and whistles for its DS device, from BBC News: "The add-on for the DS means people can download TV programmes, film clips or MP3 files to the adaptor and then play them back while on the move. The release of the media add-on is an attempt by the Japanese games giant to protect its dominance of the handheld gaming market. Nintendo said the media adapter will be available from February in Japan," the BBC said. "The launch of the media adapter, and the attempt to broaden the appeal of the device, is widely seen as a response to the unveiling of the Sony PSP which was built as a multi-purpose media player and game gadget from the start."
Reuters: Nintendo to Bring Music, Video to DS Game Machine
The Register: Nintendo Preps DS Media Module
BBC News Online: Nintendo Adds Media Playing to DS

PSP sales are expected to surge here too when the device hits the U.S. market in 2005. Too bad it couldn't make it for the holiday sales craze of 2004. After the device's Japanese debut, BBC News reported last week: "Gamers have bought almost all of the first batch ... which went on sale in Japan on Sunday. Thousands of people queued for hours to get hold of one of the 200,000 PSPs which were shipped to retailers. ... Despite the demand Sony said it would not increase the 500,000-strong stock of PSPs it plans to ship by year's end. Sony says it intends to ship three million of the consoles by March 2005. The company is hoping to challenge the dominance of Nintendo in the handheld market." The tech site Engadget snagged one of the consoles before its U.S. debut and wrote a review with pictures from every angle.
BBC News Online: Gamers Rush to Buy New Sony PSP

While Nintendo is getting lots of ink for its DS console, its soon-to-be-old-school GameCube is getting darts from some reviews, including Washington Post technology scribe Rob Pegoraro, who wrote in his holiday gadget review: "One console, the Nintendo GameCube, is clearly obsolete, with a diminishing supply of new titles. The other two -- PlayStation 2 and Xbox -- are far more competitive. After years of steady work by Microsoft to improve the Xbox's capabilities and the support from its developers -- getting Electronic Arts to write games for its Xbox Live online service this year was a huge coup for Redmond -- the Xbox is now the PS2's equal. Sony's console still offers far more titles, including plenty of PS2-only titles (like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), but the Xbox delivers better graphics and has quite a few exclusive games of its own."

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