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Culture

Consoles aplenty for Xbox launch

Lights are flashing and cash registers are ringing as game fans crowd into stores to snap up Microsoft's debut gaming machine. Amid the frenzy, shelves are still stocked.

SAN FRANCISCO--Flashing lights, wristbands, exhilarated fans waiting in long lines and loads of money exchanging hands gave the Thursday launch of Microsoft's Xbox the feel of a rock concert.

Consumers crowded into stores as Microsoft's video game console went on sale in North America. But away from the hoopla surrounding the console's debut, some avid game fans grumbled about how a few retailers were cashing in on demand.

What especially burned up many game fans was the practice of "bundling." Some merchants, including Toysrus.com and Electronics Boutique, would only sell the Xbox in packages with software and additional hardware, allowing them to charge more.

As he walked out of an Electronics Boutique store in San Francisco, computer technician Daniel Yee, 28, said he "hated" having to pay hundreds extra for his Xbox bundle.

"I know that's how they make money, but just the same, I didn't want to pay more," Yee said.

This is a landmark week for gamers. Xbox's debut comes three days before the launch of another ballyhooed console, Nintendo's GameCube.

While Microsoft hopes to make a strong entry into the $20 billion gaming market, Nintendo is looking to boost its sagging market share. Both have waged a media battle to crank up anticipation for their machines among gamers. Both promised to baptize their machines with splashy launches as well.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates kicked off the Xbox launch by playing games early Thursday morning at the new Toys "R" Us store in New York's Times Square. Other launch parties around the nation were swarmed with game fans as well.

In recent weeks, heavy advance orders for Xbox were accompanied by expectations of a quick sellout, especially as Microsoft wavered on just how many consoles would be available on Day 1.

But in the San Francisco area Thursday, after the lines wound down, there appeared to be plenty of consoles to go around.

At the Electronics Boutique in San Francisco, business was brisk, but people walking in off the street were still able to plunk down $500 and walk away with an Xbox bundle. At a Circuit City electronics store nearby, Ken Nunes, a 31-year-old software salesman, happened to see a small line forming outside and decided to stop and buy one.

People didn't experience the hassles many gamers complained of when they tried to place advance orders for the console at online merchants.

"There was eventually about 20 people in line, and it seemed like everybody who showed up was getting one," Nunes said.