Console-games giants locked in price war

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IT HAS been dubbed the "console war", a bitter campaign of hype and marketing waged by arch-rivals Sony and Nintendo.

Sony has mounted its latest offensive by slashing the price of its popular PlayStation games console by pounds 30 from this Friday.

In a move that will please parents - last year an estimated 600,000 PlayStations found their way under the Christmas tree - Sony has outflanked its rival's N64 by offering its console for the same price of pounds 99.99.

The price cut is the latest in a long line of discount deals, cuts and counter-cuts. The two rivals are slogging it out to dominate a computer- games software market expected to reach pounds 980m in sales this year.

Fierce price-cutting has been a feature of the market since the PlayStation went on sale in the UK three years ago. It took on the Sega Saturn as manufacturers unveiled the new generation of 32-bit games systems.

Sony has systematically cut its launch price from pounds 299.99 to pounds 129.99, the last cut in March last year as Nintendo prepared to unveil its 64- bit Nintendo 64. Nintendo hit back with a pounds 50 cut last autumn, taking it to its current price of pounds 99.99. Nintendo said it would monitor the effects of the latest Sony price-cut on sales before responding.

Games industry analysts say the Sony tactic is a shrewd ploy to prop up an increasingly outmoded console.

While Sony has enjoyed unrivalled market dominance - it claims to have already sold 2.5 million consoles in the UK - thanks mainly to having a software library of more than 400 popular titles, the future is said to belong to a host of 128-bit games consoles that could hit Europe by next autumn.

Price-discounting not only shifts old PlayStation stock but could once again dent market share for Nintendo and Sega, said one industry source. Sony is matching its discounting with a pounds 10m UK PlayStation promotion effort expected in the run-up to Christmas.

However, the gaming magazine, Edge, predicts 1999 as the last year of PlayStation dominance. "The system isn't going anywhere astonishing technologically," it said, "and it is hard to envision software continuing to improve much past this Christmas ... 1999 will witness PlayStation fever finally beginning to fade."

Gamers are said to be eagerly awaiting the Sega Dreamcast, which could be in Japanese stores this Christmas.

The new game has more processing power, with 128-bit technology, which should outclass in both realism and visual effects the gaming experience offered by 32-bit and 64-bit formats.

Dreamcast is being seen as Sega's last chance to recapture the gaming crown it last held with the popular Megadrive, home to Sonic the Hedgehog.