Xbox 360 Global Launch Dates Confirmed

Demand for the next-gen console is expected to be strong in North America and Europe, but it's not clear how great the interest will be in Japan

Microsoft has finally pinned down exact launch dates for the 360's arrival in America, Europe and Japan. U.S. gamers can expect to pick up an Xbox 360 on November 22, while Europe and Japan will receive the console on Dec. 2 and Dec. 10, respectively. While at TGS, Microsoft also emphasized its intent to succeed in Japan this time around. Over 40 Japanese publishers are committed to Xbox 360. More inside...

It's finally official. On the eve of the Tokyo Game Show Microsoft announced that it will launch its Xbox 360 system in North America just before Thanksgiving on Tuesday, November 22. Following the U.S. debut, 360 will arrive in Europe on Friday, December 2, and will then hit Japanese store shelves on Saturday, December 10.

"Massive demand"

This three-pronged launch marks the first time that a video game console has been released in three different territories in such a short timeframe. In order to achieve this multi-region launch, the logistics need to be just right. Microsoft says it expects "massive worldwide demand" and therefore, in preparation the company has gotten manufacturing well underway, producing millions of hardware units.

"This holiday season, gamers in Japan, Europe and North America pining to experience jaw-dropping high-definition graphics, unmatched online play and compelling digital entertainment features of Xbox 360 will finally have the chance," said Robbie Bach, chief Xbox officer for Microsoft.

He continued, "Renowned development studios around the world are busy putting the finishing touches on their Xbox 360 games. We expect a strong portfolio of titles on launch day and through the holidays that will appeal to fans of every genre and gamers in every region, and with more than 200 games currently in development, continuous new additions to the library are on the way."

Importance of Japan

While demand for the next-gen console is likely to be strong in North America and Europe, it's not clear how great the interest will be in Japan. Obviously, the original Xbox has struggled in the land of the rising sun and MS would like to change things with the 360; however, a recent Japanese market survey by Infoplant showed that only 6 percent of console buyers said they planned to purchase the Xbox 360, while more than 70 percent said they wanted to get a PlayStation 3.

Microsoft has been courting/signing Japanese developers and publishers left and right to make sure that they have games to appeal to Japanese players' tastes. The biggest problem with the first Xbox in Japan was that it practically screamed "American." Now MS has over 40 Japanese publishers on board for 360, including Bandai, Capcom, Koei, Konami, Namco, Sega, Square Enix and Tecmo. Bach and other Microsoft executives plan to further detail the company's Xbox 360 strategy for Japan during the TGS.

"The Japanese market is the most important key for the Xbox's global strategy. Microsoft is committing fully to its success in Japan," Yoshihiro Maruyama, general manager of the Xbox Division in Japan, told the press, according to Reuters. "We will continue to make as much effort as we can to make the Xbox 360 successful in Japan."

Maruyama said that seven games would be available in Japan at launch and that 20 titles would be ready by the end of January 2006; in North America, however, MS said that 15 or more titles would be ready at launch and upwards of 40 by the end of this year.

One SKU

While MS is shipping two differently priced SKUs in North America, it's been revealed that part of the strategy for the Japanese market is to offer only one SKU. The premium version, which includes the 360 itself, a 20GB detachable HDD, a wireless controller, a media remote control, an Xbox 360 Headset, a Component HD-AV cable, an Ethernet cable, and batteries, will be sold for 37,900 yen (just under $350).

The news that Japan is getting the premium 360 at a cheaper price has already fueled the flames over the two-SKU approach on many gaming message boards. The fact is, though, that Microsoft needs to do all it can to woo Japanese fans. It knows it will get the support it needs from the Western markets. According to Maruyama, the reason for one SKU with the HDD in Japan is that more Japanese gamers have broadband connections and also more digital content that would necessitate a hard drive would likely be available in Japan than other territories. However, MS reportedly also made the decision to sell the one SKU with HDD to support the beta launch of Final Fantasy XI on Xbox 360 this winter, and if Xbox 360 is to succeed in Japan it needs the backing of an RPG powerhouse like Square Enix.

Microsoft has not yet revealed shipment targets, but Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter believes MS will have at least 2 million units ready for sale in the U.S. and Europe and will probably sell 1.5 million in less than a week.

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