Microsoft’s Xbox set for holiday bow

Up to 800,000 units ready for Nov. 8 launch

Microsoft’s highly anticipated Xbox vidgame console will hit store shelves in November, in time for the holiday season, the computer giant announced Wednesday at gaming confab E3 in Los Angeles.

Xbox, which will be competing against gaming stalwarts Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Nintendo’s Gamecube for a piece of the $6.5 billion industry, will go on sale on Nov. 8. for $299, the same price as rival PlayStation 2, which bowed last year. In an interesting move, Gamecube goes on sale Nov. 5.

Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony held press conferences Wednesday to showcase their next-generation consoles. Gaming industry’s Electronic Entertainment Expo kicks off today.

In an effort to avoid the supply-and-demand problems that Sony suffered with its system last year, Microsoft plans to have 600,000 to 800,000 consoles ready at launch and anticipates between 1 and 1.5 million consoles by the end of 2001.

Because vidgames are what sell a console, Microsoft plans to have between 15 and 20 game titles available when the console bows, and it officially announced more than two dozen companies that are creating games for the company, including Bandai, Eidos, Electronic Arts, LucasArts Entertainment and Sega Entertainment.

Among the first exclusive titles to hit the system will be games adapted from summer Hollywood pics including “Shrek” and Steven Spielberg’s “A.I,” as well as “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3” and “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon.”

As accessing online games is viewed as the future of the game console (as opposed to buying separate software in stores), the Xbox will connect to the Internet.

PlayStation 2 announced Tuesday a partnership with America Online to give its console Internet connectivity via a separate modem, a feature that it initially lacked.

Separately, Sony said Wednesday that its PlayStation 2 line has inked a deal with streaming media giant RealNetworks to include the company’s RealPlayer 8 software inside Sony’s future consoles. Deal is a coup and puts Real’s software in front of more auds, giving it an edge over Microsoft’s Windows Media Player.

By offering game developers access to the Real software in development kits, games could now include things like RealPlayer-streamed ads on billboards in the backgrounds of games. Sony also said that it has inked a development deal with Macromedia to enable game designers to create games using the mostly Web-based Flash animation technology.