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TECH SPACE
Microsoft aims at gamers in opening E3 shot
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles (AFP) June 09, 2014


Sony winning console wars
Tokyo (AFP) June 09, 2014 - Sony are winning the console wars for the first time in nearly a decade, a company official confirmed Monday, offering a rare bright spot on the firm's otherwise troubled balance sheet.

Stellar sales of the new PlayStation 4 gave the Japanese electronic giant a huge leg up over rival Nintendo, which has dominated the console market for eight years.

Sony's gaming unit, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE), sold more than 18.7 million consoles worldwide in the business year to March 31, a company spokeswoman told AFP by telephone, against Nintendo's official sales figure of 16.3 million units.

US rival Microsoft trailed in third spot with sales of 11.6 million units in the same 12-month period, despite a jump from the rollout of the popular Xbox One towards the end of 2013, business daily the Nikkei said.

Sony sold more than seven million PS4 units worldwide as of early April although the new machine was only released in Japan in February. It was launched in November in the US and Europe.

That performance came despite an annual group net loss of 128.4 billion yen ($1.25 billion), but played into the 14.3 percent gain in revenue in the business year,along with a weak yen and strong smartphone sales.

"We have informed investors that we will stay solid in our business as PS4 sales are right on the verge of a further expansion," SCE spokeswoman Yoshiko Uchiyama said.

PlayStation 4 and its predecessor made up more than 14.6 million of total console sales, with more than 4.1 million PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita hand-held units also shifted, she said.

Sony predicts that it will sell 20.5 million units in the current year to March 2015 -- 17 million standing consoles and 3.5 million hand-held units.

The slight decline in portable units is partly attributed to Sony's plan to end shipments of the 10-year-old PlayStation Portable (PSP) machines to focus on marketing PlayStation Vita, which hit the domestic market in December 2011, Uchiyama said.

Overall sales of home-use videogame hardware by Japanese makers have been depressed in recent years as they battle off fierce competition from increasingly sophisticated smartphone-based games.

SCE's hardware sales dipped about 20 percent in the past business year, while those of Nintendo slid back 30 percent, a slump attributed to the failure of the portable Nintendo 3DS system to entice gamers, as well as poor sales of the new Wii U.

Sony last topped the world's game console sales table in the year to March 2006 but sales of the PS3 have since struggled against Nintendo's Wii and DS series.

Shares in Sony closed at 1,658 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Monday, up 15 points or 0.91 percent.

Microsoft aimed squarely at hard-core video game players on Monday, opening fire with "Halo" and a barrage of other titles for play on its new-generation Xbox One consoles.

Unveilings of blockbuster and enticing exclusive content came during an Xbox media briefing on the eve of the opening of the annual E3 video game extravaganza here.

Microsoft's opening salvo in the battle to dominate E3 and invigorate Xbox One sales was to be met with return fire from Sony, which had its own grand event touting PlayStation 4 titles planned for later in the day.

The US tech giant announced the release for later this year of an addition to its popular science fiction "Halo" series called "Halo: The Master Chief Collection," as well as other exclusive titles "Sunset Overdrive," "Forza Horizon 2," and "Dance Central Spotlight."

"We are committed to delivering amazing experiences that will help define this generation of games and delight the millions of passionate Xbox fans around the world," said Phil Spencer, head of the Xbox division.

"Our goal is to make Xbox One the best place to play games this generation."

Microsoft brought the focus back to games in a shift from stressing how Xbox is evolving into a multipurpose entertainment center for films, television, music, and more.

"At the end of the day, what sells video game systems are blockbuster games," said Phoenix Online Studios manager and strategy analyst Scott Steinberg.

Sony goes into the video game industry's biggest annual trade show with an edge, its PS4 having trumped Xbox One in sales since the competing consoles hit the market in November.

- 'Master Chief' collection -

Microsoft played to its strength with a "Halo Master Chief" collection for Xbox One that will let people play installments from the game dating back to previous generations of Xbox.

Typically older games aren't compatible with new-generation consoles, but the collection brings the array of "Halo" titles to Xbox One as a draw for new players as well as fans interested in replaying the past.

"It's massive," said Bonnie Ross, general manager of 343 Industries unit of Microsoft Studios behind "Halo."

"It is also setting the groundwork for the future."

The Master Chief collection will contain a live action series based on the franchise and produced in collaboration with filmmaker Ridley Scott.

The "Halo Nightfall" series is coming to the Xbox Live service for online game play and digital content, according to Microsoft.

"Now players can experience the whole Halo story, only on Xbox One," Spencer said of the collection. "All playable this holiday season."

The collection also comes with access to a private test of a "Halo 5: Guardians" online multi-player game set to launch next year.

Microsoft played up content that will only be found on Xbox One. Sony is expected to do likewise with game play, titles or features people will only find on PS4.

While many blockbuster titles from third-party studios or publishers have versions tailored for both platforms, Microsoft and Sony are keen to convince gamers that their console is the better place to have fun or find entertainment.

Sony and Microsoft have also been courting independent game makers to add quirky or innovative new titles uniquely to their respective consoles.

- Kevin Spacey gets game -

Spencer touted that downloadable content for a keenly-anticipated "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" game, complete with a character played by a virtual version of actor Kevin Spacey, will arrive first on Xbox One.

"Advanced Warfare" is slated for a November release.

A sassy "Sunset Overdrive" game exclusive to Xbox One is set in a world where a contaminated energy drink turned most inhabitants into mutants, and some of those unaffected are taking advantage of the chaos.

Players take on the role of a wise-cracking, denim-clad hero who jumps, wall-runs, surfs power lines and more while blasting away with unusual weapons.

The title by Insomniac Games is due out on Xbox One in October.

Microsoft also touted Project Spark, which will let players create their own game worlds for one another.

Sony has already fired back, teasing PS4 titles "The Last Tinker: City of Colors" and "Fluster Cluck," described as a cosmic adventure.

gc/nss

MICROSOFT

SONY

NINTENDO

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