Midnight sales under the Eiffel Tower and at Berlin's Potsdamer Platz were aimed at blitzing Sony's PlayStation 3 onto the European stage on Friday, but the console faces tough rivals with headstarts.

A handful of gamers showed up at a midnight store opening at Schiphol Amsterdam, including Sony fan Nomey, 24, who said the Blu-ray drive for new, high-density disks that can also play high-definition movies is reason enough to buy a PS3.

"I'm not a fanatic gamer. But if I would have to buy a standalone Blu-ray player it cost me 1,000 euros," he said.

A new high-definition flat-screen TV would complement his home entertainment by next week, he added.

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Sony Corp. (SNE) will rely on customers like Nomey to make PS3 the same success as its PS2 predecessor, since few gamers are as determined as student Ritatsu Thomas, 17, who already owns the other main consoles: Wii, Xbox 360, PS2 and GameCube.

He arrived for a launch event at the Virgin Megastore in central London at 5 a.m. on Wednesday with his own sleeping bag and passed the time playing computer games in the store's basement, since police were advised to let customers indoors to protect them against the cold and PS3-targeted muggings.

Most of his friends want one of the new consoles, but have been put off by its 425-pound ($836) price, he said.

"They want to buy it but don't have the money," he said, adding that his pals had instead bought the cheaper Wii, made by rival Nintendo Co. Ltd.

DELAYS

With Japan and North America getting the PS3 in November, Europeans had to wait for Sony to make enough consoles for launch, delayed as Sony struggled to produce enough components such as the advanced Cell processor and the Blu-ray drive.

With their patience tested, some can't wait to get started.

"We've got plans to spend the whole weekend playing, day and night," said student Gary Tahmasbi, 25, from east London.

The extra storage and computing power boosts picture detail and 3D graphics well beyond PS2, but also boosts the price.

At 599 euros, PS3 is pricier than the Wii, which costs 249 euros, and Microsoft's Xbox 360, at 449 euros — but without the PS3's integrated, 180-euro advanced optical drive.

Sony's late start and PS3's positioning as the "Rolls Royce of consoles" has analysts wondering whether Sony will match the success of PS2, of which it has sold 115 million since 2000.

RETAIL WORRIES

The first signs from retailers are cause for some concern.

"While Sony has set expectations for 1 million units at launch, we believe the amount will be in the 500,000- to 700,000-unit range across all of Europe. We think the shortfall is related more to demand than supply," said analyst Todd Greenwald at brokerage Nollenberger Capital Partners.

To date, 1.1 million PS3s have been sold in the United States versus 2.2 million Xbox 360s and 1.9 million Wiis, of which Nintendo could not make enough, he estimates.

"I'm going to wait, simply because I can't afford a 600-euro price tag in April and the catalog is largely made up of games that have been out on the Xbox 360 for at least a year. Add to that I can't afford an HD (high-definition) screen," said Jolyon Leonard, a Madrid-based games developer.

Long-term projections from some analysts predict Nintendo's "casual gaming" console, the Wii, will emerge as winner in the current devices race.

Extrapolating sales so far, and given historical patterns, analysts at investment bank J.P. Morgan predict Sony will sell 60 million to 65 million PS3s, compared with 40 million to 45 million Xbox 360 units and up to 100 million Wii consoles.

"Sony seems to be facing the biggest challenge, but never rule out PlayStation. They were market leader twice in a row," said Justin Keeling, head of publishing at gaming site IGN.com.