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TOKYO (AP) – The head of Microsoft’s gaming business in Japan promised more role-playing game software Wednesday to attract fans in a market where its Xbox 360 console has struggled against offerings from Nintendo and Sony.

Takashi Sensui, who heads Xbox operations in Japan, said Japanese prefer role-playing games, and Microsoft will offer more such games, including ”Infinite Undiscovery” by Square Enix Co. and ”Lost Odyssey” from Mistwalker Inc.

”The Xbox 360 is the most exciting game machine on the market,” Sensui, Microsoft general manager, told reporters at a Tokyo hall. ”We are going all out in a year-end competition against rivals.”

The Christmas shopping season is a critical test for game machines and game software makers – not only in the U.S. but also in Japan.

Sensui was also trying to build interest for the Xbox 360 ahead of the annual Tokyo Game Show, set to open later this month, where the public will have a chance to try out games before they go on sale.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, has been plagued with problems with its Xbox 360 video game console in recent months.

The U.S. software maker said in July it would spend more than US$1 billion to repair hardware problems in the Xbox 360 console. Last month, it said it will replace parts of its Wireless Racing Wheel video game controllers after 50 reports of overheating.

Even before such problems, the Xbox 360 struggled in Japan, where it went on sale in December 2005, initially losing out to PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 from Sony Corp., and more recently to the hit Wii from Nintendo Co. Recent monthly sales of the Xbox 360 have lagged behind the Wii in the U.S. as well.

To offer games that are attractive to Japanese, signing deals with popular game designers – big stars in the industry here – is widely viewed as key to success. And Nintendo and Sony, both Japanese companies, seem to generally do better at wooing the Japanese game stars.

Microsoft has shipped 11.6 million Xbox 360 machines so far worldwide. Microsoft does not say how many Xbox 360 consoles were sold in Japan, but says it sold 6.8 million machines in the U.S., 3.3 million in Europe and 1.5 million in other areas.

Kyoto-based Nintendo, which makes Pokemon and Super Mario games, has sold 9.3 million Wii machines worldwide, nearly 3 million of them in Japan, since the game console went on sale late last year.

Tokyo-based Sony’s PlayStation 3, the successor to the PlayStation 2, has also struggled. Sony has sold 4.3 million PlayStation 3 machines worldwide. It doesn’t give a regional breakdown.

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