NEWS - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Xbox 360 Still Hard To Find

LOS ANGELES — Gripping the controller of the coveted Xbox 360, Jesus Sanchez watched as the Oakland Raiders clashed with the Denver Broncos on a high-definition flat-screen TV. The details in the "Madden NFL 06" video game looked so sharp that it was almost like seeing an actual football game. Sanchez was mesmerized, but unfortunately for him, the 360 wasn’t his. He was playing a demo machine at a Best Buy store in Los Angeles because, like countless other frustrated gamers, he hasn’t been able to get one of his own. More than two months after its debut, Microsoft Corp.’s newest console remains hard to find. To be sure, temporary shortages after the launch of a new machine are common in the video game business. But Microsoft’s continued inability to meet demand for Xbox 360 has irritated customers and disappointed video game publishers. The shortage is raising questions about whether the company founded by Bill Gates in 1975 has squandered an opportunity to grab market share before consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. releases its PlayStation 3 later this year. "On a daily basis, I get at least 50 to 100 people asking me if we are going to get any Xbox 360s in stock," said Emmit Robinson, manager of the GameStop store at Vintage Faire Mall. All the GameStop stores, as well as the local Circuit City, Best Buy, Target, Comp-USA and Wal-Mart stores, sold out of Xbox 360s within hours of their release Nov. 22. Since then, they have trickled in, Robinson said. He estimated that his store has received 20 to 30 consoles since early December, far fewer than are needed to meet demand. Larger stores also are having problems keeping the devices in stock. Circuit City estimates that they will have a shortage of Xbox 360s until at least mid-March, said Amanda Tate, spokeswoman for the national electronics chain. "Demand will continue to outstrip supply for some time," she said. Some people took advantage of that. About a dozen people in the Modesto area managed to buy extra Xbox 360s during the release date and then sold them at inflated prices through newspaper classified ads. Russell Lamb, 28, of Modesto sold three just before Christmas. The retail price of the machines is about $300 to $400 each, depending on features. He sold them for $600 to $800 each. "I had no problem selling them all," Lamb said. "They went pretty quick." Locked in battle with Sony For its part, Microsoft said it expected the shortage to ease in coming weeks, thanks to an additional manufacturing plant coming on line, and the balance between supply and demand should stabilize before the end of June. June may be too late, according to some Wall Street analysts. "Microsoft’s first-mover advantage is eroding if it takes them very long to get the first 5 million boxes out," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles. "If 4 million show up in the month of June and Sony launches in the month of June, there’s not much of an advantage" for Microsoft. Microsoft and Sony are locked in a battle for dominance in home entertainment. The Redmond, Wash.-based software behemoth, still relatively new to the hardware scene, hopes to use its $399 console to overtake market leader Sony. The scarcity of Xbox 360s — which play games, music and videos in addition to exploiting the latest in video game graphics and high-definition television — was particularly acute during the crucial holiday shopping season. Microsoft reported that it sold 1.5 million Xbox 360 consoles in its fiscal second quarter, which ended Dec. 31, including 900,000 in the United States, 500,000 in Europe and 100,000 in Japan. Microsoft executives blamed shortages of parts for the lower-than-expected sales, but said they were nonetheless thrilled with the console’s launch, noting that it already is available in 19 countries and that software for the device is selling at a nice clip. The third manufacturing plant scheduled to come online this month is expected to help Microsoft meet its target of shipping 4.5 million to 5.5 million consoles by the end of June. The company also said it now expected to sell 2.5 million consoles in its first 90 days on the market — down from 2.75 million to 3 million previously estimated by company representatives.

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