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Mon, Nov 22, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Nintendo bets on new hand-held console

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A Nintendo Co employee holds a Nintendo DS, the latest in its line of wallet-sized game systems, at their shipping center in North Bend, Washington on Nov. 4.

PHOTO: AP

Nintendo Co, the world's biggest maker of portable game consoles, begins selling its newest hand-held player today, accompanied by a US$40 million advertising push aimed at taking customers away from Sony Corp.

The ads for Kyoto-based Nintendo's biggest-ever product introduction emphasize the dual screens on its new Nintendo DS player. Other ads promote the DS's touch screen and voice recognition capabilities, which can be used to control game characters.

The DS is at the center of video-game maker Nintendo's push to defend its dominance of the US$4 billion hand-held game market as Tokyo-based Sony prepares to enter portable gaming for the first time. The DS reaches stores in the US in time for Christmas. Sony's Portable PlayStation, or PSP, goes on sale Dec. 12 in Japan and next year in the US.

"Sony is going to take some business in the hand-held arena, which has been virtually monopolized by Nintendo up until this point," said Jay Defibaugh an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in Tokyo. "Nintendo's marketing in the US is clearly skewed up demographically, which is what Sony is after."

With commercials built around the tagline "Touching is Good" and the DS's double screens, Nintendo's executives are putting a different face on a company known better for Donkey Kong and Mario the Plumber than for sex appeal.

The DS commercials, which run between episodes of "The Simpsons" on News Corp's Fox network and Viacom Inc's "South Park," are ``more provocative than the work you've maybe seen to date,'' Reginald Fils-Aimes, executive vice president of Nintendo's Redmond, Washington-based US unit, said in an interview. The DS is "less of a toy and more of a high-end consumer electronic device."

As part of Nintendo's push to market the silver-colored DS among older gamers -- as well as the under-16 crowd that comprises half the company's customer base -- Nintendo has teamed up with retailers such as Electronics Boutique Holdings Corp, Gamespot.com, Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Toys R Us Inc to organize demonstrations showing off the DS's features, Fils-Aime said.

Black, silver and white packaging, and a game lineup ranging from Electronic Arts Inc's "Madden NFL" to "Super Mario Brothers" means the device may appeal to older gamers as well as a younger audience, Fils-Aime said.

Nintendo will sell the DS for US$149.99 in the US and ?15,000 in Japan, the most it has ever charged for a hand-held. Sony's PSP will be priced at ?19,800 (US$190) in Japan. Adding peripherals such as a memory card, AC adaptor and battery pack will boost the PSP's price to ?24,000 in Japan. Sony hasn't set a US retail price.

Advance demand for the DS is outstripping supply by about 2-to-1 in both Japan and the US, Nintendo says. The company, which plans to ship 2 million units to both markets by the end of the year, will extend DS production to a third site in China to meet demand.

The DS's release in the US today is timed for the holiday season when the company gets 40 percent of its sales, said Redmond-based Beth Llewelyn, spokeswoman for Nintendo of America.

Not to be outdone, Sony has erected PSP displays in train stations throughout Tokyo, mirroring the company's campaign for its PSX combination game console and DVD recorder last year. Each PSP is displayed behind a clear plastic case. Uniformed guards prevent passersby from touching the devices.

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