Sony and Sega lock consoles for a bit of virtual combat

Games war: Rivals target lucrative Christmas sales
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The Independent Online

The battle for the hearts, minds and power supplies of the lucrative Christmas computer games market began in earnest yesterday, as Sony announced that its PlayStation was the fastest-selling video games system ever.

The Japanese consumer electronics company said that 50,000 units of the new generation 32-bit system had been sold since its launch five weeks ago. It said that in some UK stores the system, promoted as "Sony's most important product since the Walkman", sold out within days.

Sega, which has dominated the UK market, is said to have sold 50,000 of its rival 32-bit Saturn games system since its launch this summer, although it is not disclosing sales.

Sega has just reduced the price of Saturn by pounds 100 to pounds 299, although Noel Dardis, marketing director of Sega UK, denied that this was to match PlayStation's pounds 299 price tag.

"That's what Sony would have you believe," he said yesterday. "The reality is that after the initial batch was manufactured, the success of Saturn means that we've been able to make economies of scale."

The two CD-based games systems are said to be 500 times (Sony) or 900 times (Sega) more powerful than the 16-bit systems of most existing games systems, with a "quantum leap" in speed and graphics quality.

Nintendo, Sega's traditional rival, is considered to have temporarily "dropped out of the equation". It has yet to launch its rival, Ultra-64, developed in conjunction with Silicon Graphics, the US computer animation company.

The new launches come after research published in August by Durlacher Multimedia, the stockbrokers, suggested that British sales of video games would collapse this year to less than one-third of 1993 levels.

The hefty price of the systems, which require games at about pounds 50 each, might not be conducive to widespread sales.

But Mr Dardis said the more "sophisticated" 16 to 30-year-old market targeted by the two companies were likely to be prepared to pay for it. And despite this, or perhaps because of it, Sony and Sega have embarked on extensive promotions drives.

Sony, with an unprecedented advertising budget of pounds 20m, has launched a cross-media blitz, complete with gimmicks, demonstrations and sports sponsorship, which is likely to ensure maximum impact across all ages.

The company has installed PlayStations at the Ministry of Sound, the high-profile London nightclub - a move which Sony says accords the games system a specific "credibility" - and at Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Manchester's G-Mex Centre.

Sega, which is spending a relatively modest pounds 5m, has instead chosen stunts such as projecting huge images of John Major and John Redwood as Virtual Fighters on to the Houses of Parliament.