As we inch closer to midnight on November 22, retailers across the nation are preparing for the launch of Microsoft's Xbox One console. New York will be center stage for many of the big stores. Microsoft is holding an event in Times Square, and not far away in the Best Buy at Columbus Circle, Best Buy vice president of entertainment Chris Koller took a few minutes to talk with GamesIndustry International about the Xbox One and the PS4 and how the holiday period is shaping up with both on the market.
"We'll be opening the majority of our stores - 950 stores - at midnight tonight and we expect a lot of people tonight. We had a lot of people last week [for PS4]. The excitement level is huge; our stores were prepared and we think it's going to be a huge night," Koller began, adding that neither console seems to have an edge at the moment. "The consumers are really very excited and passionate for each; the first day customers are very hardcore enthusiasts... and we see very similar excitement levels for both."
Koller was around in 2005 and 2006 for the previous console launches, and from his perspective there's a huge difference this time around. Retailers just seem to be better prepared, and the introduction of pre-orders has helped enormously.
"I was working at Best Buy in this category back then and so I remember it well. I think the biggest difference is the way you can now engage [customers] and prepare for these launches. At the time we didn't do hardware pre-orders and we did that this year. So the experience with the store and the customer [is much improved]. They can pre-order online and request a particular store and we can guarantee it'll be in that store for them with all the games and accessories. It's a lot better for the customers and they're loving it," he said.
"...for the core game, they still want that disc, and they want value for it after the fact - and they want to make sure they have that copy in case something goes wrong"
Best Buy's Chris Koller
Any time one of the platform holders launches a new system supply can be a problem. That said, all indicators from Microsoft and Sony are that manufacturing is improved for PS4 and Xbox One and replenishment of the retail channel should be much smoother, enabling more consumers to get their hands on a brand-new console in time for Christmas. Koller is optimistic that Best Buy will be able to meet demand as well.
"We expect to have multiple shipments and therefore multiple opportunities for customers to get [the consoles] through this holiday season and beyond. We feel very good about what we're being told, and we'll get product on our website and in stores just as soon as it becomes available. We have a number of ways to let our customers know when they can buy one - we'll of course put it up on our website and we'll be putting ads in our Sunday circulars and we have a texting service to let customers know when product is available. We feel very good about the consistency of supply through the holiday season," he said.
With both the Xbox One and PS4 enabling gamers to purchase AAA titles digitally on day one, it's clear that the landscape is changing, and retailers could potentially feel the pinch. Koller, however, isn't concerned for Best Buy's game sales. He believes that the physical game disc will remain very important for some time still.
"What we know about the gaming industry is it's going to change. It's changed from the days of arcades and from N64 to the online environment we have today. And what we know is we have to focus on that gaming customer and what they want to do. We know right now they can download and certainly do download certain things but for the core game, they still want that disc, and they want value for it after the fact - and they want to make sure they have that copy in case something goes wrong," he noted. "But they also want to be able to download map packs and DLC and other extra content, and we need to provide that, so we sell all the different download cards. We give them that experience in store and find ways to meet their needs and the business model will take care of itself."
In an effort to shine a spotlight on both Xbox One and PS4, Koller mentioned that Best Buy has "remodeled every gaming department in our stores and we did reduce the space given to some of our older platforms." That doesn't mean Xbox 360 and PS3 are suddenly reduced to one shelf, however. "We're really trying to make it a PlayStation experience or Xbox experience that has both [PS3 and PS4 or 360 and Xbox One]. So customers can make the switch to the new one of if they want something for the old one [we'll offer that as well]."
So what does Koller think will be the hot game tonight to be purchased with an Xbox One? "There's a lot of excitement around games like Call of Duty: Ghosts, and some exclusives like Dead Rising 3 are getting a lot of attention. We think that'll be real strong," he said. "I also think NBA 2K14 looks amazing on the new systems so that could be a system seller for the sports fan certainly."