Microsoft Delays Xbox Sale in Japan

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Microsoft Corp. is delaying until next year the sale of its Xbox game console in Japan - the home turf of powerful rivals Sony Corp and Nintendo - from the initial plan for a worldwide launch in the fall.

Hirohisa Ohura, managing director of Microsoft's Japan unit, said Monday the decision to delay sales until Feb. 22 was to concentrate efforts in the United States first, where the machine is set to hit stores Nov. 8 at $299.

Microsoft had said the machine will start selling about the same time worldwide. The European sales date has also been set back until next year.

Ohura acknowledged it will hurt profits to keep the Xbox off of shelves during the Christmas shopping season in Japan but said the delay won't hurt sales in the long run.

``We want to succeed first in the United Sates and ride on that wave in Japan,'' he told reporters. He said a price for Japan will be announced later but did not say when that would be.

But failing to arrive before Christmas is not as critical in Japan as it is across the Pacific, especially because Xbox targets hard-core game fans rather than children looking for gifts under the tree, said Takiko Mori, an analyst at UBS Warburg in Tokyo.

``The big future issue for Xbox is whether it can start to appeal to a wider audience beyond core game fans with its future software lineup,'' she said.

Microsoft spokeswoman Shoreen Maghame denied any technical problems were behind the Japan delay, saying the decision was more about the ``allocation of resources.''

There has been some speculation that Xbox has run into technical problems. Earlier this month, analysts at Thomas Weisel Partners reported the motherboard, the main computer part of the Xbox being designed by Intel Corp., has a design flaw.

Microsoft denied the report and said it was on time to ship 600,000 to 800,000 machines for November in the United States.

The Xbox, Microsoft's first game machine, will be competing head-to-head against products from Japanese rivals with more far more experience in game machines - Sony PlayStation 2 and GameCube from Nintendo Co.

The software giant, based in Redmond, Wash., has been promoting the Xbox's built-in hard disk, which it says allows for better graphics and more sophisticated games.