Copyright 2001

[ November 15th 2001 ]

Remember when Sega ruled in the computer games industry? Such is the dominance now of the Sony PlayStation that there is an assumption it was always that way. Sony's success is proof that the baton can change hands.

That will be Microsoft's hope after yesterday's launch of the much anticipated Xbox console to an eager US public. Hundreds queued in New York's Times Square to buy the $299 console and get it signed by Bill Gates

It is not all about technical superiority. The Nintendo 64 was in some respects further advanced than the PlayStation but failed to catch on in any numbers. Sega's Dreamcast was even more of a disaster. The console, which gave players access to the internet and the ability to play people online on the other side of the world, has ended up in the bargain buckets at Woolies.

When you are aiming at teenagers the key is to have the marketing nous and spend to make the product cool and to produce the right range of games. Microsoft certainly doesn't lack the marketing bucks. The console has also been designed with aesthetics in mind and Microsoft knows a thing or two about tying up exclusive deals, which should help it with games suppliers.

Sony has sold enough PlayStation 2s to seem unassailable. The company was smart enough to get the upgraded console out and into enough homes before the Microsoft launch. But that doesn't mean Xbox will not put it under real pressure.

The one certainty seems to be that the games market is back on an upswing after a couple of years in the doldrums. Nintendo's latest assault, the GameCube, is set for US launch on Sunday. That spells nothing but good news for the likes of our very own Lara Croft maker, Eidos. If previous cycles are anything to go by, the industry is looking at four to five years of strong growth.

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