Leaving no doubt how much importance Microsoft attaches to its video-game efforts, Bill Gates on Tuesday laid out a vision of a future in which gamers using the company's Xbox 360 console can be connected to others on a PC or a cellphone.
The capabilities, part of an initiative called Live Anywhere, will be incorporated into the Windows Vista operating system when it goes on sale next year, he said.
"The future is making gaming attractive to people of every age," he said.
For the Microsoft's chairman, it was the first appearance ever in connection with the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the huge annual video-game trade show known as E3, which opened in Los Angeles yesterday.
His presence underscored the stakes in Microsoft's push to outflank the other two console makers, Sony and Nintendo.
Microsoft has a head start. It introduced Xbox 360 last November, and after some initial supply constraints, 5 million to 5.5 million consoles will have been sold by the end of next month, said Peter Moore, a Microsoft vice president for interactive entertainment.
He predicted sales of 10 million units by this fall, when Sony and Nintendo will release their own new machines -- the PlayStation 3 and the Wii (pronounced "we"), respectively.
By this holiday season, Microsoft said, 160 games will be available for Xbox 360, including Grand Theft Auto IV; Splinter Cell: Double Agent, a Tom Clancy title; and Forza Motorsport 2, a racing game for which Microsoft will sell a wireless steering wheel and headset. Halo 3, the next installment in the most successful Xbox game franchise, will be released next year.
In addition, an external module for the Xbox 360 to play high-definition DVDs will be available by the holidays, at an unannounced price. While the PlayStation 3 will incorporate a drive for both movies and games in Blu-ray, Sony's high-definition format, the Microsoft device will be used solely to play movies in a competing format, HD-DVD.
With Microsoft's Live Anywhere system, game developers will be able to incorporate features that allow users to send instant messages between devices, and see if their friends are listening to music on their mobile phone or working on a PC. On certain games, players will be able to begin play on the Xbox 360, then switch to a mobile phone; they could also challenge others remotely regardless of whether they were using a PC or an Xbox 360.
Sony got the week's events off to a start on Monday evening with an announcement that the PlayStation 3 would be priced higher than expected, with versions selling for US$499 and US$599 - compared with US$299 and US$399 for the Xbox 360.
At a Nintendo press event on Tuesday morning, there were no details about the pricing of its own new console, beyond a promise from Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America's executive vice president of sales and marketing, that "we will give you more fun for less money."
In addition to new versions of its Zelda and Super Mario games, Nintendo also showed Wii Sports, which includes tennis, golf and Ping-Pong games designed to take advantage of the console's controller, which allows gamers to alter the action by waving it in space much like a club or baseball bat.
Sony announced Monday night that it was incorporating motion sensors into the PlayStation 3 controller as well, but Microsoft said it was not worried by that move.