It's mortal combat to find the season's new game systems

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It's not all fun and games for Sony, which is coming up short on stock for its recently launched PlayStation 3 during the key retail holiday season.

Jason Cieslak is the managing director at Siegel and Gale, the Los Angeles branding agency working on Sony PlayStation 3, a tough task for a new toy that is one of the season's most sought after gifts but short in supply.

"There is a scarcity of the product for the holiday season, so people who can get it are lucky," Mr. Cieslak said. "Consumers are scouring eBay and paying high prices to find the new PlayStations. This has created challenges for parents who can't miss the gift."

The shortage was prompted by a manufacturing limitation due to the simultaneous launch of the gaming system in North America and Japan, he said. Even at the launch in November, there were only 15 to 20 pieces in each retail store carrying the toy.

To make up for the shortages, Mr. Cieslak said, Sony is focusing on building the brand to build demand for the supplies that are to come in 2007. The Sony PlayStation 3 brand is a response to much market testing in the hardcore gamer arena, focusing on increased artificial intelligence and a smart gaming usability.

The console runs for $500 or $600 retail, depending on the hard drive capacity, but that is unlikely to be the price shoppers will need to pay to get the video game system under the tree this year. Those who are lucky enough to unearth this gift on eBay or in one of Amazon's stores can expect to shell out about $1,000.

Luckily for Microsoft, last year's Xbox 360 is the main competition for the new PlayStations and is easier to find. The software giant's gaming system is readily available on big e-commerce sites like Amazon.com, Walmart.com and BestBuy.com.

Microsoft is positioning the Xbox against the PlayStation, claiming that Xbox 360 offers the same type of high-definition, advanced design for less money, retailing around $400 for the console.

"This holiday, we will have sold in excess of 10 million units worldwide, and we have a catalog of 160 high-definition games," said Sarah Lasky, a representative for Microsoft, Redmond, WA.

New games are a common second-year way for consoles to target the holiday season.

The Nintendo Wii is a slightly different story. While Sony and Microsoft fight it out for serious gamers, the Wii is more about graphics and the player's actual physical movement, appealing to more mainstream family audiences. It also comes with a more reasonable price tag of $250 at http://www.nintendo.com/.

The Wii is not as scarce as the PlayStation 3, though it is selling out quickly. Reports conclude that 600,000 Wiis have shipped to retail stores, outnumbering the 400,000 PlayStations that Sony claims to have shipped to stores. Some experts question whether Sony has even shipped that many and estimate the number at 200,000.

But according to Sheliah Gilliland, public relations director at e-commerce site eToys Direct Inc., Denver, having limited numbers on gaming consoles is typical in a release year. EToys sold out of both the Wii and the PlayStation 3 within hours of having the item in stock.

"New video game consoles always come out in the Christmas season, and always in limited number," she said. "Every retailer gets an allocated amount from the manufacturer, and they tend to sell out pretty quickly. Then as the year progresses we are able to keep the console in stock."

But can consumers with Christmas on their mind wait until summer?

"We've seen a lot of video game sales this year, which is common in years when new consoles come out," Ms. Gilliland said. "Consumers have been buying the Xboxes, as well as other systems like handheld PSPs and the Nintendo DS, when they can't get their hands on the new releases."
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