Mark 2 March 2006 on your calendars Aussie Xbox fans - that's the date Microsoft has pegged for the local launch of its next generation console, the Xbox 360.
While US gamers will be able to get their hands on the 360 from today (22 November), Australians will have to wait another three months for the console. As in other markets, the Xbox 360 will come in two bundles. The Xbox 360 Core System, which comes with a console, composite AV cable and wired controller, will retail for AU$499.95. The upgrade Xbox 360 bundle, which includes the console, 20GB hard drive, media remote, wireless controller, component cable and Ethernet cable, will retail for AU$649.95.
The Australian pricing doesn't compare favourably to the US, which is selling Xbox Core bundles for US$299 (AU$407) and Xbox 360 bundles for US$399 (AU$543). Australia, however, is slightly better than the UK, which will have Xbox 360 bundles for 280 pounds (AU$654).
While Australians have a longer wait than those in the US, Japan or Europe, Xbox Regional Director David McLean says the upside is that the 360 will launch with more than 30 games locally, as opposed to 18 titles for the US. The delay will also result in greater backwards compatibility with current Xbox games - the 360 is now only able to play the Xbox's 200 top selling titles. McLean said Microsoft would release the names of the Australian launch games (and their retail prices) early in the New Year.
McLean has defended the March launch, saying the delay was much less than those faced by other gaming consoles entering the Australian market in the past. "You look at every other platform that's been released, even handheld gaming devices, and you've got a 12-month wait. So what we're saying is rather than a 12-month wait, we're launching (globally) within three months," he said.
"When we launch on 2 March, it will be the biggest videogame launch in Australian history, bar none. We'll sell more units and generate more revenue than any other videogame console launched in Australia and NZ."
As with the rest of the world, all Australian Xbox 360 purchases will come with a Silver membership to Xbox Live. Any locals with existing Live accounts will automatically have their gamer tags and records roll over come March next year.
McLean has also confirmed that the 360 will be compatible with a whole range of other media devices via USB connection, including having the ability to play digital music and movies off devices such as the iPod and Sony's PSP. It will also be able to play DVDs straight out of the box.
"If you have an iPod, which I do, I can be over at a friend's house now, connect it into their 360 and share a music experience with them in the lounge room," McLean said. "What we've done is say to ourselves that we're going to have an open system and we'll let consumers decide how to use it. Other consumer electronic companies may choose to have a proprietary system. We've made a bet that consumers are becoming more diverse and they're going to want choice.
"Somebody may have an iPod - Microsoft shouldn't say to them that because you have an iPod you can't work with 360."
And with still no indication of when Sony and Nintendo will launch the PlayStation 3 and Revolution, McLean is spruiking that the 360s first mover advantage will translate into greater market share. He forecasts that the competitor's products will be at least another year away from release.
"We launched (the Xbox) for the first time four years ago against two strong incumbent competitors. We had no brand, we had no business history, we had limited business partners, our online service was new, and we were late to market by a year globally and 18 months in Australia," he said.
"Now we've managed to claw 35 per cent market share, which in itself is huge. With the 360, we're now established as a brand, we've learnt a lot over the last four years, we've got more partners working with us than our competition, we've got without a doubt the best on-line service bar none. And we're first to market.
"We've got all theses advantages that we didn't have the first time around, so launching 12 months ahead of the competition is absolutely critical to us moving towards 51 per cent market share position."
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