Yesterday, Microsoft announced that, entering the crucial holiday selling season, the company's Xbox video game console is gaining significant market-share growth as its competitors falter. According to an NPD Group report, sales of the Xbox rose 6 percent year over year (measured from August 2002 to August 2003), whereas sales of Sony's PlayStation 2 plunged 36 percent and sales of the Nintendo GameCube fell 22 percent. According to the group, the Xbox now accounts for 27 percent of video game console sales in the United States.
   Likewise, Microsoft notes, sales of Xbox software continue to grow at a faster rate than software sales for the competition. In the same time period cited above, Xbox software sales grew 58 percent; the Xbox accounted for 2 of the top 4 software titles and 4 of the top 10, in terms of sales, for August 2003. Upcoming exclusive titles for the Xbox include "Ninja Gaiden," "Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy," "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield," "Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge," "Project Gotham Racing 2," "Xbox Music Mixer," and the XSN Sports-enhanced "Amped 2" and "Top Spin."
   In addition, Microsoft's Xbox online gaming service, Xbox Live, grew 17 percent in August, thanks to news of the company's upcoming new XSN Sports titles, which take advantage of online play. Microsoft also noted that eight countries--Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Korea, Norway, and Switzerland--will launch the Xbox Live service in the coming weeks. To further propel system sales, Microsoft recently packaged its Xbox console with a 2-month trial subscription to Xbox Live and two free games--"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "Tetris Worlds Live"--for $180 in the United States.
   "The latest data is really a harbinger of what we expect to see this holiday season," Mitchell L. Koch, vice president of worldwide retail sales and marketing for Microsoft's Home and Retail Division, said. "With close to 400 games, a global Xbox Live community, 50 Xbox Live-enabled games, and a holiday promotion that offers tremendous value, Xbox is appealing to an ever-growing audience of thrill-seekers." However, Microsoft still faces a daunting challenge from the PlayStation 2, which commands more than 50 percent of the market worldwide and will continue to dominate the new generation of systems. Erstwhile competitor Nintendo, however, has stumbled badly; sales of its GameCube have dropped off the charts. Entering the 2003 holiday season, the video game contest is now a two-horse race between Microsoft and Sony.