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Game Over by Chris Morris Column archive

Mysteries of the PS3 and Wii launch - solved!

Sony and Nintendo roll out new video game machines next week, but there are still a few lingering questions.

Game Over is a regular column by Chris Morris

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In roughly one week, Sony's PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii will be on store shelves - and the latest round of the video game console wars will be fully joined.

But as the sharks begin circling for the inevitable retail feeding frenzy, there are still a few lingering questions about the machines - and the industry in general. I can't claim to have all the answers, but I've been talking to a few people who can offer some good insight.

Will I be able to get one?
nintendo_revolution.03.jpg
The Nintendo Wii goes on sale Nov. 19 for $250.
playstation3.03.jpg
Sony's PlayStation 3 goes on sale Nov. 17 for $499 and $599.

Truthfully? It's not going to be easy. With every console launch, demand far outstrips supply. (Remember how hard it was to find Microsoft's Xbox 360 last year? Or the Nintendo DS the year before that?) That doesn't mean it will be impossible, though.

Sony's machine is the harder catch. Only 400,000 PS3s will be available in the U.S. on Nov. 17. That's a small enough number that the machine's price tag ($499 and $599, depending on the features that are important to you) won't be an issue. By year's end, the company says it will ship 2 million units worldwide. One industry observer referred to the PS3 launch as a six minute retail event.

Nintendo, for its part, vows to have sold 4 million Wiis before the end of the year. While it hasn't given a breakout of how many will go to the U.S., Europe and Japan, its partners have some informed guesses.

"It feels to me like Nintendo is going to have between 600,000 and 800,000 units at launch, but it will have enough to keep the flow coming," said Brian Farrell, president and chief executive officer of THQ, which will have four games for the Wii this year. "Nintendo seems to have a good handle on the flow of their goods. With Sony we're getting less information. ... Sony has put out signals that they're not getting as many as they would like. We're not getting the message that the hardware is going to flow smoothly through this holiday season."

Farrell added he expects Nintendo will ship 1.5 million Wiis to the U.S. by the end of the year.

Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America, wouldn't budge from the worldwide number, but did say he expects the first batch of units (which go on sale Nov. 19 for $250) to sell out by Wednesday, but said he expects many stores to be restocked on Black Friday.

Where are the ads?

While there's been plenty of talk about the PS3 and Wii, television ads have been scarce. Sony (Charts) started running some unusual PS3 ads in the past week, but Nintendo has been silent. Fils-Aime said that's very deliberate.

"Core gamers know when we're coming out. They're prepared," he said. "The advertising and marketing is for casual gamers. We want to get them excited when they can actually go out and get something, so we'll start next week."

Microsoft (Charts), meanwhile, has been focusing on the Xbox 360's games with its campaigns, which have been in fairly heavy rotation. "Gears of War," its flagpole title of the year, was the center of a massive marketing campaign, which seems to be paying off. Pre-orders for the game topped 300,000 - and buzz has been building since launch.

Bottom line? Expect the airwaves to begin beating the drum real soon.

Why so few games?

Sony went down to the wire when it was designing the PS3, which didn't give developers a lot of time with the final hardware. As a result, many weren't able to prepare titles in time for the launch. Electronic Arts (Charts), for example, decided not to release its "NBA Live" for the system this year.

Some developers and publishers say even if the hardware had been finalized earlier, they wouldn't have rushed. Because initial shipments of new video game machines are always so small, there's some debate about the value of being a launch title.

"Using a crack development team to only sell a few hundred thousand units is not a good use of resources," said Farrell.

Sega's president and chief operating officer Simon Jeffery disagrees, though.

"Truly successful games will always sell," he said. "[Having a title at launch] also allows you to build new franchises and gets your foot in the door when there's less competition. ... There's an opportunity to make hay while the sun shines."

Microsoft, meanwhile, is in the catbird's seat when it comes to games. Because the Xbox 360 has been out for a year, developers have had plenty of time to create polished titles. And ultimately, these systems are about games, not hardware. It's an enviable position.

Who's going to win?

This is one of those pesky questions that refuses to die. It's one where the answer really doesn't matter, but everyone likes to talk about.

For the past two generations, Sony has sold far more PlayStation units than its competitors have sold of their systems. Publishers, for their part, expect the field to be a lot more even over the next five years or so (which should be about the time you're asked to start focusing on the PS4, Xbox 720 and whatever funky name Nintendo comes up with next).

"We absolutely do not see a dominant player in our modeling, like we have in the past," said Jeffery.

THQ's (Charts) Farrell agrees.

"I think it's going to be a very fair fight - without a definitive winner," he said.

What changed? A few things.

Sony, for its part, is stumbling at launch, but that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that some of its biggest franchises, which were exclusives with the PS2, are now launching simultaneously on other systems. That could hurt.

Nintendo, which essentially tripped over itself with the GameCube, seems more focused this time. And it's aiming its device at an untapped audience that seems receptive to it. (As a bonus, hardcore gamers are excited, too.) Its biggest risk is lower quality graphics, especially as we move deeper into this cycle.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is earning praise for its near flawless handling of the online market and striking some smart deals, resulting in quality games. Now it just needs to start making a profit.

Hoping to buy a PS3 or Wii? It's first come, first served at most retailers

Want more video game news and commentary? Read Game Over


Morris is Director of Content Development for CNNMoney.com. Send him an email at chris.morris@turner.comTop of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.