With just a day to go before the PlayStation 3 launches in North America, GamesIndustry.biz took a tour of retail outlets to find out how things are shaping up on the ground.
The tour took in several retail outlets in Austin, Texas, including a Best Buy store where a clerk named Kris was putting together a PS3 display. Tickets will be given out at 7am tomorrow, an hour before the store opens.
Kris said there is more hype for the PS3 than Xbox 360 last year, noting that his store has 26 units - 20 of the US $599 60GB variety, and six US $499 20GB models. "I expect 50 Wiis," he added.
It was a different story at the Toys R Us store across the street. Gum, who‚s been with the company since 2004, was a veteran of the Xbox 360 launch. He said they are sold out of pre-orders. "Last year, there was fighting," he recalled. "They‚re tired of it. I‚m tired of it."
Last year, police were called. This year, the line will begin 48 hours before launch, but the store "will call" the police again, Gum warned, and people "will be arrested" if necessary. Wearily, he offered one final piece of advice: "Just wait for it."
Jeremy, a Best Buy employee responsible for security, said, "Simon isn‚t allowing people to line up." The Simon he mentioned isn‚t a particularly strict colleague, but Simon Property Group - which manages the retail centre and has a special policy ready for the PS3.
"I don‚t know why they‚re doing this, since Simon allows lines for Thanksgiving and for the Xbox 360 launch," Jeremy added.
A representative from Simon Property Group, Diane, explained, "Across the country, we‚ve had some very bad experiences." As a result, their properties will be closed until four in the morning on launch day. Off duty police officers and tow trucks will enforce the restriction.
"This is not our business, we‚re not a campground. That's our policy... No one thinks about the liability until something happens."
Simon claims to be the number one shopping mall owner in the United States, with about 280 properties - primarily malls, community shopping centers, and outlet centres - in 38 states. In short, this is the company that acts as landlord to most major retailers.
"I can‚t tell you; we have people lighting barbeque pits, people defecating in the parking lot, people that are throwing Frisbees‚¶ It‚s not safe," Diane concluded.
"I know I wouldn‚t want my young teenager or my college student out in that environment."
The company remains firm on the no camping rule: "We do have off-duty police officers to enforce it." The possibility of a mad dash once doors open has also been raised. "I don‚t know what to say about it. But the police officers will make sure it‚s orderly," Diane said.
Other stores appeared calmer. At Gamestop, a manager named Daniel explained that word of pre-orders leaked out over the Internet, and the store is obligated for all PS3 and Wii units.
He claimed that Sony is only providing 300,000 units at launch, despite promising 400,000. "I don‚t know if I should trust them now," Daniel said.
The silver lining he offers is that people who pre-order the PS3 won‚t have the cash to pay for them when the time comes - "It‚s more likely than we‚d like to admit." And after 48 hours, the pre-order will expire, making the unit available for the next buyer.
CompUSA has taken a novel approach. They did pre-orders, but anyone purchasing a 42 inch television got a free reservation. As one clerk remarked, "The six we‚re getting will be sold out."
At Circuit City, a clerk named David said they‚re getting six PS3 units, guaranteed. He noted that there are people camped outside, and they'll get the consoles first. "I say, just give it to ‚em. They‚ve been there since last night."
The campers include a number of University of Texas students, who have been there since 7pm on November 14.
"We were driving back to Austin from Dallas," explained Tim, "And we just thought of a way to make some good money, because they‚re selling for like US $2000 on eBay." So, the students decided to camp out, get a few PS3s, and sell them.
"We‚ve talked to some of the managers. They‚re just surprised that we‚re here so early. Usually people come today, but they‚re letting us camp out, so that‚s pretty cool."
Will Tim be tempted to open the box, just for a look or a quick gaming session? "I need the money more than entertainment."