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Xbox software going nowhere

By CNN's Kristie Lu Stout

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Hit by development delays and buzz of boring game titles, analysts say Microsoft's gaming debut with the Xbox will be a rocky one.

Microsoft has ambitions to challenge and defeat the current industry incumbents with its November 8 launch of the Xbox game console -- a machine that the company is touting for its superior technology.

However, Microsoft may not have the gripping gaming content needed to seduce gamers away from Sony's PlayStation 2 or Nintendo's upcoming GameCube.

Third parties not ready

The world's largest independent games software maker, Electronic Arts (EA), announced a timetable extension of its available titles for the Xbox machine.

Most third-party games makers including EA have yet to receive final versions of the Xbox development software, according to a report in the Financial Times on Monday.

The delay could potential threaten Microsoft's performance as it takes on Sony and Nintendo during the critical holiday retail season.

Tokyo-based gaming analyst Zachary Liggett at WestLB said that EA's titles won't be available until up to 12 months after the Xbox launch date.

"It's important," said Liggett. "But EA is not going to bring truly exclusive titles to the Xbox. Most third parties are supporting titles that will co-release or are already out on PlayStation 2."

"Microsoft has to rely on its own software prowess for a competitive edge," he added.

UBS Warburg's gaming analyst in Tokyo, Takiko Mori, also told CNN that the Redmond-based software giant will have only its own titles ready by the November 8 launch date.

"They will have their own software ready by the launch. But the major third parties won't have killer contents ready then."

'A lot of work to do'

But according to the buzz from the halls of last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Microsoft has a long way to go in terms of making compelling in-house gaming titles.

"I think compared to Nintendo, they have a lot of work to do," says Mori. "The graphics are good, but nothing more than that."

"The stuff I saw looked OK, but I was not blown away by it," said Liggett. "I thought Nintendo's content looked very good."

"Microsoft has a way to go in terms of development."

At the Electronic Entertainment Expo last week, all three companies flaunted their respective strategic advantages, with Sony stressing its existing market lead, Nintendo its creative assets, and Microsoft its technical expertise and Internet capability.

But even sexy gadgetry, processing power, and the promise of networked gaming may not be enough to satiate a finicky audience.

"Core gamers will be impressed by the specs of the Xbox. But getting beyond that, you need to have the content there," said Liggett.

Gamers may instead opt for the creative strengths of Nintendo, the handheld gaming powerhouse known for its Mario and Pokemon characters.

Nintendo will re-introduce its cast of characters to the home console market with the GameCube launch on November 3.

Analysts also anticipate that, with its second year approaching, the PlayStation 2 will enjoy bigger, better titles that will really bring out what the Sony machine has to offer. Sony's second generation software development may prove more attractive to gamers than Microsoft's promise of online gaming with the Xbox.

"Microsoft will struggle through its first full year and lose quite a bit of money," said WestLB's Liggett.

"They have the cash to hold out but the real content that makes the Xbox stand above else we won't see for another year."

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