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Microsoft Corp. said Thursday it will release its next-generation video game console — the Xbox 360 — on Dec. 10 in Japan, priced at 37,900 yen.

With the new machine boasting robust graphic features, the computer software giant hopes to challenge the dominance enjoyed by Sony Corp.’s PlayStation consoles.

Microsoft had been saying it will roll out the Xbox 360 in Japan, the U.S. and Europe simultaneously during the yearend period.

According to the company’s release dates, however, the product will debut here some three weeks later than in the U.S., and a week later than it will in Europe.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Yoshihiro Maruyama, head of Xbox operations in Japan, stressed that the release dates were merely timed to coincide with the start of the yearend shopping season in each market, denying that Japan had been relegated to a lower-priority status in its global offensive.

“For Xbox, Japan is the most important market, holding a key to its success,” he said. “We will make every effort to make it a success.”

The current Xbox, released here in February 2002, has failed to win over gamers, especially in Japan, due to a shortage of popular game titles. Microsoft officials have stated that they have not been able to catch up with PlayStation 2, which debuted two years earlier.

Keeping this in mind, the company set the launch of the Xbox 360 well ahead of its rivals. Microsoft’s Maruyama said the early launch gives the product an advantage.

Sony’s much-awaited PlayStation 3 is scheduled to be released sometime next spring; Nintendo Co. will launch its next-generation game console next year. Microsoft also said that a lot of popular Japanese game titles are being developed for the new console.

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