XBox to be launched in Europe on March 14, 2002

Microsoft Corp. plans to launch its Xbox gaming console in Europe on March 14, 2002, the software giant confirmed Thursday.

The Xbox will hit 16 European markets on that day with a suggested retail price of 479 euros (AUD$862), a Microsoft U.K. spokeswoman said.

Produced by contract manufacturing company Flextronics International Ltd. at its plant in Hungary, about 1.5 million Xboxes are due to be shipped to the European market by June 2002, she said.

Singapore-based Flextronics has also been contracted by Microsoft to manufacture the Xbox in Guadalajara, Mexico for the U.S. market. The companies had planned on shipping 600,000 to 800,000 Xbox video game consoles in time for the U.S. launch on Nov. 8, but last month Microsoft was forced to push that release date back to Nov. 15. Microsoft, which is seeking to take a piece of the lucrative home video gaming market from Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Sega Corp. and Nintendo of America Inc., had originally announced that it would unveil the Xbox in early November at a price of US$299.

In Europe, the Xbox is expected to face stiff competition from Sony's Playstation 2. Recent expectations from European analysts put Playstation 2 in the number-one market position through next year, though Microsoft is projected to make a strong debut on the European gaming market. There is some doubt about the firmness of Microsoft's European Xbox release date. Along with the delay in the U.S. launch, the release of the Xbox on the Japanese market was also delayed. In August, Microsoft announced that it was pushing the Japanese launch date from late 2001 to Feb. 22, 2002, so that it could devote its full production capacity to satisfying U.S. demand for the console. However, Microsoft doesn't anticipate any change in the European release date, the U.K. spokeswoman said.

Microsoft is planning to ship between 4 million to 6 million machines worldwide in its fiscal year ending June 2002, and "those plans are still on track," the spokeswoman added.

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