Microsoft Links PC, Xbox Gaming

Microsoft Corp. hopes the launch in May of a gaming platform that ties together Windows PCs and the Xbox 360 console will give PC gaming a boost in Japan and in turn mean better business for its console.

"I believe the PC gaming market in Japan has been under-developed. We hope to revitalize that market in Japan, and that will in turn create momentum for Xbox 360," said Takashi Sensui, general manager of the Xbox division at Microsoft's Japan unit.

The "Games for Windows - Live" platform will allow PC and Xbox gamers to exchange text chat messages, signing on to each system with a common username and seeing a common friends list. A more advanced version will allow cross-platform gaming so, on software that supports it, PC and Xbox 360 gamers will be able to battle each other. This latter version will be included in Microsoft's Gold membership account, which costs US$49.95 per year.

It will be launched in the U.S. on May 8 and in Japan from May 25.

The first game to support cross-platform gaming will be "Shadowrun," which comes from Microsoft's Game Studios and is a first-person shooter. It will be available in June for the Xbox 360 and Windows Vista. A computer version of the board game "Uno" will be available later in 2007 and also support cross-platform gaming.

Despite the large installed base of PCs and the wide range of software available, the PC gaming market is much smaller than the console market. In 2006 retail PC game sales in the U.S. were a little over US$970 million, while the gaming market was worth $13.5 billion, according to NPD Group.

In Japan PC games account for an even smaller percentage of sales due in part to the history and concentration of console gaming companies in the country, said Sensui. With this as a market backdrop and Microsoft's origins in the PC space, its Xbox consoles haven't sold as well in Japan as they have in other markets.

However, things are looking up for the company. Sales of the Xbox 360 are climbing -- albeit slowly. In the week ending April 15, the console sold 2,900 units across Japan, according to estimates from Media Create Co. Ltd. In the same week sales of the competing PlayStation 3 console were 11,948 units while the significantly-cheaper PlayStation 2 hit 12,872 units. The lead remained with Nintendo's Wii console, at 75,759 units.

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