Microsoft Squares Away Release Date For Xbox 360

Stores will offer a variety of 'bundles' for the system ranging from $300 to $2,000.

Gamers hoarding cash for the Xbox 360 now have a deadline for their savings plans.

Microsoft announced Wednesday (September 14) that the company's next-generation system will launch in North America on Tuesday, November 22. The system will be released in Europe on December 2 and in Japan on December 10.

Microsoft promoted the announcement by releasing footage of Xbox 360s rolling off the assembly line at the Wistron manufacturing plant in China. Gloved workers decked in white could be seen testing controller buttons, pulling machines off the line and taping up white-and-green delivery boxes.

The company also offered footage of "Project Gotham Racing 3," the fantasy adventure "Kameo" and Activision's World War II first-person shooter "Call of Duty 2." Microsoft did not specify which games will be available on launch day; an announcement is expected to be made at Microsoft's Xbox summit, X05, held in Amsterdam on October 4-5.

Standard console-launch protocol will require most gamers to pre-order the system, as initial shipments tend to sell out in hours. That has made the 360 the most expensive console to get on its first day in gaming history (see "At $400, New Xbox 360 Is Shaping Up To Be Xpensive"). Though the unit itself will be sold both for $300, with limited features, and for $400, major retailers such as Wal-Mart and GameStop are asking gamers to pay more to guarantee a launch day 360. The stores require customers who pre-order to put money down for system bundles that include the console, games and extras and start at nearly $600. GameStop offers a number of bundles, such as "The Omega," which includes a slew of games and costs nearly $2,000.00.

For those who want to guarantee that they own a 360 as soon as possible, the date to mark on calendars is actually November 21, as fans usually line up outside stores for midnight openings the day before the official release.

Microsoft is touting the Xbox 360 as the first console to be released in the same time frame in three continents. Some gamers will have to wait until next year, though, as the 360 won't ship in Australia, Colombia, Hong Kong, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan until 2006.