As Microsoft prepares to launch the Xbox One, GamesIndustry International is in place to cover the festivities live, with editors in London, New York, Toronto and San Francisco bringing their impressions, interviews and photos of the events as they unfold.
We'll begin with a focus on the UK before shifting to North America as the night rolls on, and in between we'll also be publishing our interview with Microsoft's corporate vice president of interactive entertainment in Europe, Phil Harrison, during the early evening.
San Francisco: It's amazing the difference an event team can make. Last week at the PlayStation 4 launch in San Francisco, Sony sent a PR team and a dozen PS4 demo stations, while GameStop sent president Tony Bartel and VP Jason Cochran along with other staffers. The result was a party with searchlights painting the building with Sony logos, a DJ dishing out tunes and raffle prizes, PR folks and GameStop associates passing out t-shirts and other goodies to the crowd of over a hundred people.
The Xbox One launch at the same GameStop store on San Francisco's Market Street was nearly comatose in comparison. Ten people waited in line outside the front door. There was no DJ, no party atmosphere, no crowds inside, no piles of Xbox Ones waiting to be handed out to eager customers. It looked like just another night at GameStop. Several Xbox One demo stations were set up and running, but no one was playing them. (The only demo station in use in the store was someone playing FIFA 14 on a PS4). There was a handful of customers in the store, but they were looking at a wide variety of things, and not Xbox Ones.
This is probably more representative of launch time at most stores, with people coming in to pick up their pre-orders and not much else happening. The hoopla at official opening parties is fun and photogenic as all hell, but the bulk of the sales is handled with little fuss at most stores. The excitement is inside with the eager customers who have pre-ordered these new consoles, buying into the promise of new technology more than the reality of a handful of launch titles.
The takeaway message is that neither the PlayStation 4 nor the Xbox One's future should be judged by the size or quality of the crowds at carefully managed launch parties. Sales of both consoles will be constrained by manufacturing for some time to come. Generating enthusiasm now is useful in many ways for Sony and Microsoft, but the big challenge for both companies will be to maintain that enthusiasm when there aren't enough consoles to go around... and later, when there are plenty of consoles to go around.
Toronto: As forecast, the rain started falling as the evening wore on. And while it made for a generally cold and miserable evening outside, the weather couldn't keep the lines from growing. In the minutes before midnight, Best Buy's line was roughly 50 people long, with around 80 at EB Games and more than 150 at Future Shop, where the retailer and Microsoft were giving out all manner of swag and keeping a party atmosphere rolling with the help of a DJ. The scene also attracted some EB Games employees, who were enticing gamers to make the short walk to their store with promises of plentiful unreserved Xbox Ones and, as a clincher, the ability to wait inside the store.
New York: After a performance by Macklemore to get the fans fired up, Xbox corporate vp Marc Whitten finally took the stage as the clock neared midnight to officially count down to the very first Xbox Ones being sold in the US. Being in Times Square it definitely had a New Year's Eve vibe to it as he counted down. The first ten fans who had been waiting in line from the start were welcomed onto the stage and jogged in through the crowd like an NFL or NBA roster. And with that the New York Xbox One launch is complete!
New York: It's getting late and consumers are now being allowed to make their Xbox One purchase. While they wait, Microsoft has provided numerous demo stations for fans to go hands-on with the new Xbox One games. Since it's before midnight, consumers can't walk out with the Xbox One just yet. Instead, Microsoft is giving customers a writsband and receipt so they can keep their hands free to play games until it's time to pick up the new console and go home.
Berlin: At the Saturn store in Berlin's Alexanderplatz around 250 people were waiting outside for the new Xbox, some for over two hours. Most of the buyers tonight purchased Forza Motorsport 5 and Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, although the first people in the queue we're picking up on average three games each. Despite the weak reviews, a third of all customers picked up Crytek's Ryse: Son of Rome.
New York: It's now past 9PM and the excitement is really starting to build in New York as fans waiting in line have now witnessed the delivery of the very systems they've been waiting so long to buy. Microsoft actually delivered these Xbox One units to the Times Square Best Buy Theater by armored truck!
Toronto: By 6:45 p.m., more Canadian fans have started to turn out for the Xbox launch. The line at the Best Buy has only grown by a handful of people, but dozens of gamers have lined up outside of the nearby Future Shop, where employees have set up a tent and lights in preparation for the launch. Over at the EB Games, one dedicated customer has formed the start of a line, and is passing the time before launch by playing his 3DS.
If the scene seems underwhelming, it might be because the heart of Microsoft's Canadian launch celebrations is taking place a few kilometres away, at the Xbox One Source party filled with scores of contest winners and Microsoft partners. The event space is decked out in green lights, with a McLaren sports car out front and dozens of Xbox One consoles within. Beyond getting their hands on the consoles, attendees are also able to purchase whatever Xbox One equipment and games they wish from an EB Games stand inside the event (but they'll have to wait until midnight to pick them up). There's also a DJ cranking music audible from a block away, and a couple open bars to keep things festive.
New York: While it's now approaching one in the morning in London and many fans are probably staying up to play their brand new Xbox One, in New York, the fans in line by Times Square have several more hours of waiting ahead of them. We managed to speak to one of the gamers near the front, Caleb, who told us that he'd arrived past 9:30AM yesterday. He admitted that he should have had a sleeping bag, but acknowledged that Microsoft has been taking very good care of the people waiting, by bringing blankets and food (multiple times) to help them deal with the cold. "It's way better than what you get on an airplane," Caleb said.
Caleb added that he's "really excited" about the new Assassin's Creed, Dead Rising and FIFA, among the Xbox One titles available at launch. He said that while he hasn't had an opportunity to actually go hands-on with Xbox One yet, it "looks like it works amazingly well, fast and seamless," he said based on internet videos he's watched. Caleb then remarked that there's no way he's going to sleep when he gets back home with his shiny new Xbox One.
London: In an age of online commerce and next-day delivery, the very act of attending a console launch signifies a whole new level of dedication. As such, it seems foolish to expect much love - or even a second thought - for Sony's rival platform at the moment of the Xbox One's launch, but there is an untrammeled passion among those gathered in London's Piccadilly Circus that would surprise anyone who has followed the media coverage since Microsoft's imperfect unveiling.
“There are people I know who said they'd never buy a Microsoft product again,” said Charlie Pulbrook, 26. “For me, I didn't like the way it was going, but they listened to our concerns, recognised it wasn't a popular choice, and did what they could to remedy it.
"The online service was much better with the 360 than the PS3, and for £80, I think you can't really sniff at what you're getting with Kinect"
John Ellis, 27
“Some of what they wanted to do was amazing. The idea of never having to change a game disc, that's incredible. It sounds lazy, but that's a really good feature. The U-turns were good. It shows they were listening. It shows that they respect their community. At the end of the day, that's the sort of thing you want back.”
Kieran O'Sullivan, 16, had a similar response to Microsoft's back-tracking. Rather than sour him on the company's vision for the next generation, that willingness to acknowledge mistakes and make amends actually pushed him further away from switching platforms after seven years as a content Xbox gamer. “If they're willing to go to those lengths to make people happy, more power to them,” he said.
Kieran is part of a generation for whom the Xbox brand has become sysnonynous with the very act of gaming - 'playing Xbox' taking the place that 'playing Nintendo' or 'playing PlayStation' once occupied. Since those early stumbles, the press has nurtured the idea that Microsoft was leaving its core fans behind, but there is little sense of that here. The overwhelming majority see the purchase of the Xbox One as a continuation of the good times they associate with the Xbox 360. The need for a change simply hasn't been contemplated, which bodes well for Microsoft's status as the platform of choice for many of the industry's top multi-platform games.
“I will definitley play more [third-party games] on Xbox One, the main reason being that most of the people that I play online with are only going to get Xboxes, and I'd rather play with them than - as bad as it sounds - make new friends,” said Abdul Bamba, 22.
“Another thing is, Microsoft has got exclusive map-packs [for Call of Duty], and it's important to have that on day one. If you've got both [consoles], you're gonna pick the best platform, and for stuff like Call of Duty, that's the Xbox.”
At some point, amidst the sturm und drang of the endless console comparisons, the fact that the Xbox 360 won so much mindshare among the AAA industry's most lucrative demographics got lost. The fact that Microsoft has delievered the best-in-class online experience for the past eight years could never be entirely undone by cack-handed messaging, and to people like those here today it's all that matters. Indeed, it may even be powerful enough to cross the £80 divide between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.
“I know it's slightly more expensive, but I think you get what you pay for,” said John Ellis, 27, who is counting the days for the next online must-own, Titanfall. “The online service was much better with the 360 than the PS3, and for £80, I think you can't really sniff at what you're getting with Kinect.
“People have told me, 'it's cheaper you should get a PS4, but it's only £80,” O'Sullivan added. “That's all the difference, and if you're really a fan of Xbox, it's worth it.”
New York: The line in front of the Best Buy Theater in Times Square is getting pretty long now, and the huddled masses are clearly going to have to defend themselves against a zombie attack! Either Microsoft hired these guys to help promote Xbox One exclusive Dead Rising 3, or they are some excited cosplayers.
Also making the rounds in front of the Best Buy Theater were these guys dressed up as soldiers from the Xbox One exclusive Ryse. Perhaps they can take care of the zombie outbreak for us?
New York: The stage is set in Times Square. We'll have more images and comments throughout the evening, although the entire launch could be overshadowed by an Xbox server problem if it's not fixed soon.
Berlin: Microsoft's launch party in Berlin is at the Microsoft Center in the Unter den Linden district with around 500 guests from the media and the games industry. Thirty of those are local celebrities including actress Jessica Schwarz and David Kross. Like London there are no official midnight sales at a retail outlet, but Microsoft's German Xbox boss Oliver Kaltner and Microsoft German CEO Christian P Illek are on hand to share some of their goals - one of which is to grow market share mid-term to 40 per cent (it currently claims around 30 per cent). Part of that is by increasing the marketing message, with Kaltner stating: "We have the biggest marketing budget in the history of Xbox in Germany. We are speaking about a double digit million euro budget."
Toronto: By 4 pm, the would-be Xbox One owners had begun lining up. While Future Shop and EB Games were still line-less, six gamers had queued up outside Best Buy. The first two in line, Cesar and Rodrigo, said they'd arrived about noon. As for what got them to wait in the cold (and forecast for tonight, rain) for 12 hours, Cesar said he's excited for games like Titanfall, Madden, FIFA, Halo, and Killer Instinct, but he just enjoys the festive midnight launch atmosphere and hanging out with other gamers. He also lined up for the Xbox 360, the PS3, and last week, the PS4.
London: A chilly crowd is beginning to respond more warmly to Microsoft's Xbox One showcase in London as celebrities take to the stage. So far, music has been interspersed with gameplay and trailers as zombies, legionaries and the ubiquitous purveyors of Mountain Dew circulate through the crowd.
A solid core of people who've planned to be here has been supplemented by various curious passers-by, both gamers and those simply intrigued by the spectacle. Despite a few technical teething problems the show is now in full swing, with Katy B taking the stage as we spoke to the audience before retreating to a nearby hotel for warmth and wi-if.
Later on, from about 9 o'clock, members of the public will be at London's Trocadero centre, once home to a proud Sega arcade, to pick up pre-orders and play the release titles whilst warming their fingers.
Toronto: Shortly after noon, neither the Future Shop nor Best Buy locations in the heart of the downtown commercial district have any customers lined up for an Xbox One. At roughly the same time last Thursday, the stores had a couple dozen PS4 fans between them. The nearby EB Games is also lacking a line (just as it did for the PS4 launch), but an employee said the store expects people to start lining up for what he suggested would be an ample supply of unreserved consoles beginning around 7 p.m.
London: Night falls and it all starts to look much more interesting. Zombies and Roman Centurions are roaming the square, harassing passing tourists and occasionally clashing when their paths cross. Freestyle football players are putting on a show and, in general, the public seem to be delighted by all of the activity.
Not too many people playing the games, mind. The queues for virtually every game in the central Xbox area are light, giving people easy access to the unforgiving realism of Forza's driving mechanics. Oh wait....
London: The atmosphere in Leicester Square at 3pm is a mix of anticipation and standing around without an awful lot to do. Microsoft's huge stage seems almost complete, and its vast speaker towers are now getting a thorough workout with a dubious selection of edgeless, pop-tinged dance music. There are a lot of people taking pictures of the spectacle, and a few shaking their heads in either disbelief or disappointment.
New York: Retailers preparing for the big night in New York.
London: Harrison is already on the media trail this morning, and has just dropped by the set-up for tonight's event at Leicester Square.