updated 9/15/2005 12:01:47 AM ET 2005-09-15T04:01:47

The next version of Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox game console will be available in the United States two days before Thanksgiving, in time for the important holiday shopping season, the company said Wednesday.

The Nov. 22 launch of Xbox 360 in North America will be followed by a Dec. 2 launch in Europe and a Dec. 10 launch in Japan.

The releases will allow the Redmond-based software maker to get a head start over rival Sony’s PlayStation 3, which is slated to replace the market-leading PlayStation 2 next spring.

The Japanese unit will cost 37,900 yen, or about $345 — slightly less than the $399.99 the company is charging in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Microsoft had previously disclosed the U.S. price, as well as the European price of 399.99 euros. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Microsoft also is selling a scaled-back version, dubbed “Xbox 360 Core System,” for $299.99 in North America and 299.99 euros in Europe. But David Reid, director of platform marketing for Xbox, said the company had decided there wouldn’t be enough demand to immediately launch that cheaper system in Japan.

Reid said the company priced the Xboxes relative to what other, similar gadgets cost in the respective countries. He said the decision to charge less in Japan than the United States did not have anything to do with the fact that the first version of the Xbox has not been as successful in Japan as Microsoft had hoped.

This time around, Reid said the company is hoping it will have more success because it plans to have more games available that Japanese consumers will like.

In general, Reid acknowledged that the company will initially sell the new version of Xbox at a loss. But he said he expects some components of the product will get cheaper over time, allowing the company to eventually make money on the Xbox 360 even though it plans to eventually discount the price.

Microsoft is initially targeting the Xbox 360 to hardcore gamers, but it is hoping a sleek design and user-friendly features will eventually make it alluring to more mainstream users.

“The price is going to decline over time and be more broadly appealing to a broader range of consumers,” he said.

Microsoft has already begun producing “millions of units” at three facilities in southern China, Reid said, although he would not provide a specific number of units that will be available at launch.

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