Nintendo's GameCube officially entered the European market on Friday, with thousands of gamers across the continent attending special midnight store openings to get their hands on the latest, and cheapest, system of the next generation.

Nintendo, which has prepared 500,000 systems for the region, held large events in British and German cities to mark the launch of its new console.

The company said it sold 10,000 systems in Britain in the first two hours of Friday; although European industry magazine MCV called the German launch "substantially better than the Xbox's start", concrete figures for the region won't come until early next week.

The GameCube retails for £129 in Britain and €199 in the rest of Europe, making it a good bit cheaper than the Xbox and PS2.

Nintendo dropped the price two weeks before the launch after Microsoft, smarting from a disappointing European launch, lowered the price of its system to match the cost of Sony's PlayStation2.

The three hardware makers are vying for a very lucrative market: industry newsletter Games Analyst projects that European game sales will reach 31 percent of global sales in 2002.

Just like in the US the PlayStation2 holds a commanding lead on the European gaming marketplace.

"I don't think GameCube will catch PlayStation2, simply because of the head start it has," said Toby Scott, editor of Games Analyst. "The tussle is between GameCube and Xbox for who gets to come in second, and that is just too tough to call."