Rich Austria stood outside Metreon, Sony's downtown-San
Francisco shopping center, for roughly 26 hours to become one of the
first people in the western United States to buy a PlayStation 2.
He and three friends faced strong winds, endured heavy rain, slept on mats and had
to give "like, 20 to 30 interviews" to the BBC, national news stations and
other media outlets. So why was he doing this?
"We're trying to avoid the line," he said.
Strange as it might sound, Austria's response pretty much captures the
motive that drove more than 500 people to wait patiently for hours in a
driving rain outside the Sony shopping complex in the hours before the new
game console went on sale. Because of a components shortage, the hotly
sought PlayStation 2 will be in short supply this holiday season.
Despite the conditions, many in the large crowd said it wasn't really like
waiting in line.
"I'm extremely happy," said Paul Krivda, a 23-year-old who, just ahead of
Austria and his friends, was the first person in line. Krivda arrived at
8:30 Tuesday night. By the time he bought his PlayStation 2 console at
12 a.m. Thursday, 27.5 hours had passed. During that time, Krivda met
fellow gamers, conducted more interviews than a U.S. senator, and had been
treated like royalty by a swarm of Sony public relations employees.
"I was pretty much afraid of the shortage," he said. But not of the
treatment afforded him: "We were allowed to go to the bathroom, which is
pretty rare in line."
In fact, Sony made sure that pretty much anyone who waited was in a good
mood. The Japanese electronics giant fed the crowd three times, passed out
sweatshirts and hired comedians to entertain everyone.
"As soon as it started raining, they brought out
ponchos--boom!--immediately," said Nicole Bibb, a 31-year-old risk analyst
with Wells Fargo Bank. "Sony went all out." Bibb arrived at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday to save a spot for herself and her three nieces. When she learned
at 8:30 a.m. that she could buy only one unit, she called her mother, who
brought the girls over.
The company even paid the city for two members of the police department to
oversee crowd control and avoid any post-purchase rip-offs, said patrolman
Eric Washington. "(The crowd has) been well-behaved," said Washington,
surveying the mostly teenage assemblage.
Like others, Bibb had come primarily because of the allure surrounding the
game console. "I can get a DVD player, a video game player and a CD player
for $299. You can't get that nowhere else," she said. Reviews of Sega's
Dreamcast, meanwhile, left her cold. "They put that together too fast," she
Software is another draw. Although only 26 games are available at the
launch, Sony is promising a quick flood of other titles. One person in line
said he planned to buy all 26 titles with the $299 console, for a bill that,
with taxes, comes to $1,711.37.
"The (graphics) are better, but you also have to look at the variety of
games," said Nat Baldwin, a 21-year-old "fun-gineer" at Gamers.com, a Web
site aimed at game enthusiasts, and a former beta tester for Microsoft.
Among the games recommended by the Gamers.com staff: "SSX," a snowboarding
game ("It is the game to get," said Sam Bishop, an editor); "Madden NFL 2001" ("Madden's only a small part of the box now," said site producer Christian
Nutt); and "Fantavision" ("It's 100 percent better than the Japanese version," Nutt added).
Although shoppers maintained their patience for hours, order began to
deteriorate around 11 p.m. At that time, Sony had let everyone into the
cavernous Metreon but seemed unsure what to do with the crowd. Four men in
orange jumpsuits guarded a plate of cookies. Public relations managers and
cameramen were shouting as if the event were a NASA launch. "OK, we have
three minutes, people," yelled one, raising the volume with each sentence. "WE HAVE GOT TO GET THAT PLAYSTATION SIGN HIGHER, PEOPLE."
A number of high-level Sony executives retreated to the comfort of the
still-closed PlayStation 2 store, but they were ousted by PR managers. "That
looks bad, that looks bad," one said to a colleague. Krivda, Austria and
those closest to the front of the line were now sitting on the floor being
interviewed. Sitting cross-legged with floodlights blaring down, they looked
like they were being arrested.
But by 11:45 p.m., things seemed to be in order again. Sony personnel were
behind the counter and ready to sell machines. The ousted Sony executives
were allowed to return to the PlayStation 2 store. Members of the press
huddled around the counter.
Then, at the stroke of midnight, Krivda came through the Plexiglas door and
bought his game player.
The Sony executives, and everyone else, applauded.