Nintendo could beat Sony in console race, experts say

A low price and innovative controller could push Nintendo's Wii console to the top spot in Japan's video gaming market, according to two industry experts.

Its low price and innovative controller could push Nintendo's Wii console to the top spot in Japan's multi-billion dollar video gaming market, two industry watchers said Thursday.

The Wii goes on sale in Japan on Dec. 2, a few weeks after the Nov. 11 launch of Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation 3 console.

The PlayStation 3 oozes powerful, cutting-edge technology. It's based on the Cell microprocessor, which was custom-developed for the console and promises to deliver graphics that are unprecedented in consumer video games. It also packs a Blu-ray Disc drive for playing back high-definition movies.

Nintendo's Wii is an altogether different machine. It runs on lower-specification hardware and won't do high-definition, but it does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of its controller. Fitted with motion sensors and a wireless link, the controller can be waved about to control the game, giving a new type of gaming experience. It can be swung like a bat in a baseball game or jabbed like a fist in a boxing game, for example.

The controller's intuitive handling is likely to allow Nintendo to attract people who've never played on a games console before, said Hirokazu Hamamura, president of Enterbrain, which publishes Japan's leading gaming magazine, Famitsu.

If one member of a family is a gaming fan, others in the family will be easily drawn into trying out computer games, he said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Thursday.

"I believe there will be big sales (for the Wii) from the very beginning. I feel this growth will slow a little from the third year, but altogether the sales will exceed 10 million units," he said. The figures are based on an Enterbrain survey of 2,500 people in Japan.

"The impressive feature with the PlayStation 3 is the outstanding graphics and outstanding price," he said, referring to the console's YEN 59,800 (US$510) price tag. The Wii will cost YEN 25,000.

"Brand image (for the PlayStation 3) is very high, and half the people we surveyed said they wanted one, but when we ask if they will buy one many say that it's too expensive and that they'll wait until the price drops," Hamamura said.

The result will be that the PlayStation 3 sells at about half the rate of the PlayStation 2, and many gamers wait until the end of 2007 to purchase it, when Hamamura predicts a price cut and a new "Final Fantasy" game to attract more buyers. He expects the PlayStation 3 to rack up total sales of between 9 million and 10 million consoles by 2010, he said.

The third console in the market, Microsoft's Xbox 360, was launched last year. It will get a boost from new software titles and a low-price HD DVD drive add-on. But total sales up to 2010 are likely to lag behind competitors at 1 million and 2 million units, according to Enterbrain.

"It looks like Nintendo is giving everything they possibly can for the Wii console," said Hiroshi Kamide, director of the research department at KBC Securities Japan, who also spoke at the correspondents' club. "Nintendo hasn't had a successful machine for the last 10 years, so for us analysts it's quite difficult to imagine a scenario by where Nintendo is actually going to win. But for me right now, especially in Japan at least, Nintendo does seem to have the upper hand."

"It doesn't look completely unrealistic that Nintendo could get the dominant market share this time round," Kamide said.

"Unless we hear some fantastic pieces of news tomorrow [at the Tokyo Game Show] from Sony, they are playing catch-up to Microsoft and Nintendo," he added.

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Martyn Williams

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