Sony, Nintendo Stake Different Video Game Bets

Sony and Nintendo are introducing their new game console platforms within a week of each other. The PlayStation 3 and the Wii represent different strategies for achieving big holiday sales. The stakes are especially high for Sony, whose PlayStation Portable was trounced by the Nintendo DS during the last round of format wars.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Mondays our business report focuses on technology. Today, new gaming consoles. The coming week is an exciting one for people who like to play computer games. Two new consoles will be released - Nintendo's Wii and Sony's Playstation 3, or PS3. This isn't the start of a console war, at least not between Nintendo and Sony. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: These two players aren't at war. They're different, and a spoof on YouTube shows us how. The PS3 is played by a large woman with thick glasses and, well, schlubby clothes. But Wii is a slim blonde in a red and white bikini.

(Soundbite of ad spoof)

Unidentified Woman #1 (Bikini Wearer): All you have to do is just touch me and you'll have the time of your life.

Unidentified Woman #2: But I'm multilayered, well rounded for multiple players and ready to rule your life with all my multi-application and multi-ambition...

Ms. PERRIN KAPLAN (Vice President of Marketing, Nintendo): The Wii takes everything in really a right turn. It's not consoles as people know them.

SYDELL: That's Perrin Kaplan, vice president of marketing at Nintendo. The Wii is meant to be easy to use and is as appealing to videogame pros as it is to novices.

Ms. KAPLAN: Its most innovative feature is the remote. It looks like a very sleek TV remote. And the system is based on movement. So if you're going to play a tennis game, for example, you're going to pretend that remote's like a racket and you're going to swing.

SYDELL: We set up the Wii in NPR's offices in San Francisco. Christina Nunez, who works at NPR Online, gave it a try.

Ms. CHRISTINA NUNEZ (NPR Online): I'm what they call a power baseline player.

SYDELL: The television set is the court and the remote the racket. After a few tries...

(Soundbite of applause)

NUNEZ: I won. That was the first time I won.

SYDELL: Setting up the Nintendo Wii is easy, and the games don't necessarily require hours to understand or to play. Rather than going after the hardcore game market, Nintendo is aiming for mothers, casual gamers and families. Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner Research thinks Nintendo is making a wise move.

Mr. VAN BAKER (Analyst, Gartner Research): It's a better choice for them to go after a subset of the market that they're particularly attuned to and have it be a profitable business than it is to go in and butt heads with Sony and Microsoft in the high-end game console market.

SYDELL: While Nintendo is bragging about simplicity, Sony is bragging about the high definition capabilities and multiple functions of the Playstation 3, which is trying to compete head-on with Microsoft's Xbox 360. Ryan Bowling of Sony boots the new game console.

Mr. RYAN BOWLING (Sony): If we look at the side of his head there, see his sweat?

SYDELL: Yup.

Mr. BOWLING: So you can see the detail we're able to get.

SYDELL: Right.

The PS3 can be used as a DVD player and it plays Sony's new high definition Blu-Ray disc. It holds music, photos. The high-end version of the PS3 also has wireless capability.

Mr. BOWLING: A lot of the technology here in the box is brand new. No other consumer product's using this. We feel that all this technology that we're providing the consumer is a good deal for the price point.

SYDELL: In fact, the price point could discourage some buyers. The Wii is going on the market for $279, and the latest generation Xbox sells for 399 and 499. The low end PS3 sells for 499 and it's 599 for the wireless version. Sony has the lion's share of the game console market with its first and second generation Playstations, but it's got to keep that going, says Van Baker of Gartner, because Sony is behind in so many other areas.

It lost the portable audio market it once dominated with the Walkman and it was late entering the flat screen TV market.

Mr. BAKER: A lot of the revival of their fortunes is dependent upon the success of Playstation 3.

SYDELL: There's no doubt that at least some are excited by the PS3. Serious players have put ads on Craigslist offering to pay as much as $150 to people who will wait on line to get the console on day one. And the Wii was featured on a recent South Park.

(Soundbite of TV show "South Park")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As Cartman): Come on, come on.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As Store Employee) Look, kid, for the 40th time, pacing in front of the store isn't going to make the Wii come any faster.

SYDELL: November 19th is as early as the Wii will be available, and it's November 17th for the Sony Playstation 3.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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Correction Nov. 20, 2006

The audio of this story states that the price of the Wii is $279, and the Xbox is $399 and $499. The actual prices are $249 for the Wii, and $299 and $399 for the Xbox.

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