A gaggle of new games for Xbox 360

Following debut of next-generation console, Microsoft announces game support from major publishers--and compatibility with old games.

LOS ANGELES--More than 160 games are on the way for the Xbox 360, with up to 40, including best-seller "Final Fantasy XI," expected to be available by the end of the year, Microsoft announced on Monday.

Company representatives, speaking at a press conference leading up to this week's giant Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), also announced a partnership with Square Enix, the Japanese distributor of the "Final Fantasy" series, which has sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. (Click here to listen to reporter Rick Shim's audio report from E3.)

Broad game support--and especially popular titles--is significant for any console. A console, after all, gets all the more appealing as more games can be played on it.

Xbox gallery

Microsoft learned this the hard way, analysts have said, because it was late to market with its first-generation Xbox console and thus unable to build up broad title support. This time around, with wide game support for the Xbox 360, the company expects to stand a better chance against market leader Sony, to which Microsoft has been a distant No. 2 in the game console market for several years.

At Monday's event, Microsoft also announced plans to make all games from its previous console compatible with the upcoming Xbox 360. However, few details were given regarding how, or when, updated support for Xbox titles would be achieved. Microsoft representatives did say they would start with more popular titles such as "Halo," then move down the line.

Well over a thousand people waited in the humid Los Angeles evening to attend the Xbox press conference at the Shrine Auditorium. Once inside the chilly and cavernous auditorium, they were briefed by Microsoft executives.

"We're gonna reach a larger audience than we ever have before," said Robbie Bach, chief Xbox officer. "We're gonna get there by attracting those people that didn't grow up playing games...We're gonna get there by deepening the social experience...We're gonna transform thought leadership to market leadership."

Pricing for the Xbox 360 will not be announced until after E3, which ends May 20.

Gamers who have purchased a library of games for the Xbox have been concerned about not being able to play those titles on the new console, but Microsoft representatives have said they didn't expect those worries to slow sales of the gadget.

"Backward-compatibility is not the reason people buy a new system," said David Hufford, Microsoft Xbox group product manager. "The perception is that it is significant. We've put all our energy into new titles, but since our consumers have asked for it...we've made it a goal to make all titles backward-compatible."

Xbox 360 starts name calling
Analysts have said they expect Microsoft and Sony to constantly swap the top console spot as they battle it out for supremacy.

Publishers have taken notice of Microsoft's momentum and are supporting the software giant as they seek to gain revenues on what is anticipated to be a popular console.

Game publisher Electronic Arts said it would support the Xbox 360 console with popular titles including "Madden NFL 06," "Need for Speed Most Wanted," "FIFA 06," "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06," "The Godfather: The Game" and "NBA Live 06."

Games from other publishers include "Blue Dragon," "Call of Duty 2," "Condemned: Criminal Origins," "Dead or Alive 4," "The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion," "Full Auto," "Gears of War," "Kameo: Elements of Power," "Lost Odyssey", "Ninety-Nine Nights," "The Outfit," "Perfect Dark: Zero," "Project Gotham Racing 3," "Quake 4," "Saint's Row" and "Test Drive Unlimited."

Microsoft also said its Xbox Live online service will exceed 2 million members by the end of June.

In an attempt to grab market share from Sony, Microsoft will release the Xbox 360 before the end of the year in all three major regions--North America, Asia and Europe. Rivals Sony and Nintendo are expected to release their next-generation consoles early next year.

Microsoft's head start--which puts it in a prime spot for the key holiday buying season--combined with more experience than it had with its first console, should significantly boost the company's fortunes, analysts said.

The software giant unveiled the Xbox 360 during a pre-taped MTV broadcast last Thursday. The most anticipated feature of the Xbox 360's specifications is its high-definition picture display. Details of Sony's rival PlayStation 3 were revealed earlier today; Nintendo is also expected to take the lid off its next-generation console in the days leading up to the Wednesday start of the show.

The new systems are expected to revitalize the game industry, which typically sees an upgrade cycle in consoles about every five years.

Microsoft is slightly ahead of that schedule, likely because it's eager to get leverage from the games foothold it got with its first Xbox, launched in 2001, and, naturally, itching to get a jump on its competitors.

The Xbox 360 will display games in high definition when used with HDTVs, but the resolution will scale down to fit other television sets, Microsoft said.

In addition, the redesigned white console will be able to connect to the Xbox Live Marketplace using a built-in Ethernet port and broadband Internet access. At the Marketplace, gamers will be able to download content such as new game trailers, new game levels, weapons and vehicles for games and more.

The console will come with a 20GB detachable and upgradeable hard drive and a 12x dual-layer DVD drive that reads DVD, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-R/RW, WMA and MP3, among other formats. It will also stream media from other Windows XP-based PCs, Microsoft said.

The console will also act as an extension of PCs that are running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system.