PlayStation 3 slims down in size, price

Sony makes announcement ahead of German game confab

COLOGNE, Germany -- Before it even started, Sony stole the show.

On the eve of gamescom, Europe's largest gaming confab, Kazuo Hirai, chairman and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, unveiled the hotly anticipated, slimmed-down version of its PlayStation3 console, to the excited gasps of the geek-heavy crowd.

Sony will roll out the slick, black and slimmer PS3 worldwide in September. The hope is the console, about a third smaller and lighter than the current PS3, will help boost key holiday sales.

Sony also used gamescom to announce the European rollout of its PlayStation Network. Starting in November, customers in the U.K., France, Germany and Spain will be able to buy or rent movies from the online service to watch on their PlayStation consoles or PlayStation Portable devices. The service will offer films from the major U.S. studios as well as local players such as Germany's Universum and Constantin Film.

Fellow games giant Electronic Arts also jumped the gun, using a press event Tuesday night to unveil details of upcoming releases, including "FIFA 10," the latest version of its hit soccer game and "Star Wars: The Old Republic," the Massive Multiplayer Online Game developed by LucasArts and Bioware that is aimed at taking World of Warcraft's death grip on the lucrative MMO market.

The premature announcements at gamescom are perhaps the best sign the games industry views the Cologne event as a marketing platform to be measured at eye level with Los Angeles' E3 and next month's Tokyo Games Show.

"It is very clear we now have a third major date on our calendars," Hirai told the crowd Tuesday night.

The heavyweights of the gaming business are certainly out in force for the inaugural gamescom, with publishing giants including Microsoft, Activision, Eidos and Ubisoft among the more than 420 exhibitors. The global economic crunch has taken its toll on the games business, once thought to be "recession-proof," but organizers still expect corporate attendance figures to be on par with last year's Games Convention in Leipzig, the event Cologne's gamescom aims to usurp.

Gamescom 2009 runs through Sunday in Cologne.
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