Gates is game for a conquest

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Windows isn't all that crashes at Microsoft Corp., for the company has dabbled for years with such fun and (PC) games as Flight Simulator, Fighter Ace and Motocross Madness. The $100 million-plus launch of the X-Box videogame console by Microsoft and likely hardware partners Gateway and Dell promises a welcome duel with reigning champ Sony and Nintendo and Sega.

Despite publishing two of the top 10 sellers among software games last year, according to PC Data, Microsoft's consumer market record is spotty. Microsoft, Dell and Gateway are strong technology brands, but how will they translate to video games? Microsoft means software. Dell means work; consumer-friendly Gateway might translate a bit better.

There are two issues critical to success in video games. One is technology. The technologies of PCs, video games and the Internet are morphing, and Microsoft is in a good position to deliver something hot. But it must avoid two typical Microsoft shortcomings: blown product deadlines and glitch-ridden first-generation products. It's not easy for long-time Microsoft customers to dump Windows; it will be simple for video game buyers to stick with Sony if Microsoft fumbles.

The other issue central to success is developing marketing that resonates with the youthful target. Microsoft is smart to consider agency alternatives rather than automatically parking X-Box at McCann-Erickson/A&L, which does its serious software ads.

Microsoft's big campaign this year to boost MSN shows it's willing to pay to play when it wants to be in a consumer market. It is just as serious about having fun with X-Box. Consumers, media and the video game trade can get ready for a feisty game of shoot-'em-up. Keep in mind Microsoft is the company that sells Conquest, pitched as a strategy game of "galactic domination." Now that's Microsoft's game.

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