Giants of computer games to join battle

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The Independent Online
The two biggest names in the world of computer games consoles have started a battle to win the hearts of the nation's games addicts.

Sony, market leader for the last year with its PlayStation console, yesterday announced a big price cut, the day before rival Nintendo launches a new flagship product.

Sony's PlayStation console will drop in price to pounds 129.99, down from pounds 199.99, from 24 March, nearly a month after Nintendo's N64, priced at about pounds 250, hits the shops.

One industry expert warned that sales of the N64 were likely to be hit by "Buzz Lightyear syndrome", after the Toy Story character that became many children's must-have present last Christmas - only to disappear from shelves in the rush to buy.

Only 20,000 N64 units have been shipped to the UK in advance of today's launch.

"It might well be Buzz Lightyear syndrome," said Marcus Hawkins, editor of GamesMaster magazine. "Price is going to be a major factor in the war between Nintendo and the other manufacturers.

"The Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation have become very mainstream. There is a lot of expectation and excitement about N64, but I think it will appeal more to the older, hardened games fan than to young kids."

Sony company executives said the price cut was part of an aggressive price war designed to tempt games players away from the N64.

"Production (of PlayStations) is now running at 1 million units per month. This capacity gives us the opportunity to market PlayStation at an aggressive mass-market price point, bringing in a wider range of consumers," said UK managing director Ray Maguire.

Also in next month, many older PlayStation games titles will drop in price to as little as pounds 20. The move is seen as a direct attack at Nintendo, whose N64 game titles cost between pounds 50 and pounds 70.

A launch party for the N64 was held last night at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London.

Bob Monkhouse compered the event and the guests included pop groups, television stars from various soap operas and sundry Gladiators.

A spokeswoman for Nintendo said: "It's fair to say that 20,000 (N64 units) on the first day won't be enough, but the volume in sales in America and Japan has been so great that they just cannot make them fast enough. They are now on maximum overdrive to meet the expected sales levels."

Another 15,000 machines will arrive within a week and a further 140,000 by the end of May. The flagship game title is Super Mario 64, selling for pounds 59.99.

Two other games will be available immediately, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (pounds 59.99) and Pilotwings (pounds 49.99). A fourth game, WaveRider, will be released later costing pounds 54.99.