Microsoft officially launched its Xbox console in the UK, Europe and Australia on Wednesday night, completing its entry into the worldwide video gaming market. The first Xbox officially sold in the UK was bought by Scott Rawlins at the Oxford Street Virgin megastore, although many more had been pre-ordered for delivery on Thursday. Rawlins was treated to a ride home in Virgin boss Richard Branson's limousine as a reward for being first in line.
The powerful new console, retailing in the UK at £299, pitches Microsoft against home entertainment giants Sony and Nintendo in the lucrative video games market. Sony's PlayStation2, released in the UK last year, has recently had its price cut to £199, having sold 25 million units worldwide. Nintendo is set to release its GameCube, which it is pushing as the only "totally dedicated games console" -- both the Xbox and PlayStation2 have the ability to play DVDs.
(For the UK Xbox review, click here.)
Crucial to the success of the console is the quality of the software, and particularly the launch titles. While Sony's PS2 launch was felt to be weaker than expected in terms of software, the Xbox launch titles have been praised for both quality and quantity. The PAL territories have also benefited from the later launch of Xbox, which left extra time for game development. The European Xbox launched with no less than 20 different titles, one or two of which have been tweaked and improved since their NTSC releases.
The Xbox certainly seemed to be proving a hit with some gamers. While hundreds of industry bods rubbed shoulders with Jonathan Ross and Johnny Vegas at Microsoft's free bar in the basement of the central London Virgin megastore, eager Xbox fans queued outside to buy their console at the stroke of midnight.
Further down London's Oxford Street, though, the staff of other shops that had opened late didn't seem inundated with customers.
No sales figures were available yet, but Microsoft said it was pleased with pre-order figures.
The console recently launched in Japan, another key overseas market, but sales flagged at least partly due to reports that the Japanese consoles scratched DVD discs. Industry observers expect a warmer welcome in Europe, where there is less local competition and where tastes are closer to those in the US.
Europe is expected to make up about a third of Xbox's worldwide sales this year.