CHIBA — The nation’s biggest game exhibition kicked off at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba on Friday as industry officials and media reporters took a peek at the next-generation video-game consoles before they hit the stores later this year.

Some 148 video-game console manufactures and game software makers, including 51 companies from overseas, are at Tokyo Game Show 2006 to show off their state-of-the-art products.

The focus of the three-day show is PlayStation 3 from Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., which announced earlier this month that its Europe launch would be delayed until March. PS3 will go on sale on Nov. 11 in Japan and Nov. 17 in the United States.

During a talk session, SCE President Ken Kutaragi said the company is doing its utmost to stick to the revised launch schedule. The PS3 was first expected to hit stores worldwide in the spring but was changed to November before the delay of the European launch.

“We have to take a risk when we do something innovative,” Kutaragi said.

The president also announced that the company will slash the price for the new standard game console to 49,980 yen from 62,790 yen, in response to criticism that the initial price was too high compared to rival consoles.

The two PS3 models — the standard 20-gigabyte model and the more expensive 60-gigabyte console — will be equipped with a high-definition multimedia interface that supports high-grade image and audio on a single cable, he said.

Rivals Nintendo Co. and Microsoft Corp. hope to capitalize on Sony’s delay to take the bigger slice of the market.

Nintendo’s Wii, which features an innovative action-based controller the size of a TV remote control, will rely on an easy-to-play console to expand its market to elderly and young women. It will hit the stores Nov. 19 in the United States and Dec. 2 in Japan.

Microsoft, whose Xbox has gotten a lukewarm reception here since its launch last year, will put 41 new software titles on the market by the end of the year. Two-thirds of the games were developed by Japanese for the Japanese market.

Meanwhile, software companies are concentrating more on producing online games to cash in on that expanding market. The online game market is expected to grown to $13 billion worldwide in 2011 from $3.4 billion in 2005, according to market research firm DFC Intelligence.

Akira Morikawa, vice president of NHN Japan Corp., which operates Hangame Web site, one of the biggest game sites in Japan, said the industry has just started to grow and has a lot of potential.

NHN Japan’s customers are mainly teenagers and women since the company offers easy-to-play games, Morikawa said, adding that the firm plans to lure game enthusiasts as well with high-quality role-playing games in the near future.

“As a goal, we hope to become an online entertainment company which offers, games, music and video image via our site,” he said.

Another focus of this year’s game exhibition is games that can be downloaded to mobile phones.

NTT DoCoMo Inc. is taking in about 3.6 billion yen per month this year from people who downloaded games via its Internet i-mode service, up from around 3 billion yen a month in 2005

“The market is split into two types of customers who download games — casual users and advanced,” said Hiroshi Kataoka, an official at NTT DoCoMo’s multimedia service. “We plan to increase the number of games for both users.”

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