Italian gamers have been picking up PlayStation 3 units this morning after retailers across the country chose to start selling the console two days early.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz Davide Sher of Trade Interactive Multimedia (TIM) magazine - the leading specialist publication for Italian retailers - said, "It's a strange situation. This is the first time retailers have broken street dates by two days."
Sher explained that problems began to emerge earlier this week when small-scale retail chain Darty took out adverts in national newspapers.
The adverts stated that customers would be able to purchase PS3 at Darty stores from 7pm on Wednesday - regardless of the fact that the official launch date is set for Friday March 23.
A response was quickly forthcoming from rival Media World, which has around a 20 per cent share of the market. The retailer announced the cancellation of its planned March 23 midnight launch event, declaring that PlayStation 3 would go on sale at Media World stores from 9am on Wednesday.
On learning of Darty and Media World's plans, retail chain GameStop stated that its policy is not to break street dates - but said it may be forced to do so if rival stores start selling PS3 early.
According to Sher, the situation is causing serious problems for specialist videogame retailers. "The mainstream consumer electronics retailers get their PS3 stock early, so they can start selling early," he said, confirming that Sony's new console did indeed go on sale at Media World this morning (picture courtesy of TIM).
"But many specialist retailers don't have any units yet and won't receive any until Friday morning. This puts them at a real disadvantage."
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz a Sony spokesperson said, "Sony Computer Entertainment Europe is deeply disappointed by the unilateral decision of some Italian retail chains to commence the sale of PlayStation 3 to consumers before this official launch date.
"Such decisions run counter to our policy of consumer protection which seeks to ensure that all of our consumers have an equal opportunity to purchase PlayStation 3."
Sony also warned that it plans to "carefully consider all available options in relation to retailers who have commenced sale of PlayStation 3 prior to 23rd March 2007".