PlayStation 3 comes to San Francisco

Hours after a star-studded kickoff in New York, Sony unleashes its long-awaited console on the West Coast. Video: The first buyers Video: In line for the PS3

SAN FRANCISCO--Norm Edwards was so excited at the prospect of buying a PlayStation 3 that he was willing to wait nearly 40 hours to do so, even though he wasn't particularly impressed with the event put on by Sony here.

And Edwards, who was seventh in line to buy a PS3 when the machines just before midnight late Thursday is not a newcomer to console launches.

In fact, he was first in line a year ago for the launch of Microsoft's Xbox 360. And when I was walking up and down the line outside Sony's Metreon shopping and entertainment complex here, looking for someone to talk to besides the guy at the very front of the line--every other reporter was interviewing him--I recognized Edwards from the Xbox event.

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The first buyers's Molly Wood hears from both hard-core gamers and budding entrepreneurs.

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In line for the PS3
At the San Francisco Metreon, CNET's Veronica Belmont talks to hopeful gamers.

Not least because he was standing out in the gray hoodie Microsoft had given him a year ago.

To Edwards, the PS3 means cash, as it does to so many others who waited in line here. He plans to put the console up for sale on eBay, and buy one for himself only when there's "better games." He complained that the PS3 launch had a bare minimum of exclusive titles, so why should he get one when he can just play his Xbox for now?

Of course, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 aren't the only next-generation video game consoles. On Saturday, Nintendo will host similar launch events in New York and Los Angeles for its much-hyped Wii. And then, finally, after two years of preamble, the console wars will be fully joined.

Meanwhile, another veteran of last year's desert Xbox launch, Edwards' buddy Mike Henriquez, stood nearby. Like Edwards, he found himself underwhelmed by the PS3 launch experience, mainly because he had been waiting in line on the street with nothing in particular to do.

"At the Xbox thing, they had a bunch of demo units so we didn't have to just wait in line," Henriquez said, reminding me that Microsoft had allowed its would-be buyers to play games while they waited.

But Henriquez did walk away from the PS3 launch event excited about one thing: He was one of three people who found a "magic ticket" in the gift bags Sony gave to the first 100 people in line. The ticket meant that he got a free PS3--a $600 value--and some free games, as well.

PS3's West Coast deubt

When Henriquez made it to the cash register, he handed over the laminated card to Sony Computer Entertainment America's vice president and co-chief operating officer, Jack Tretton, who happened to be standing behind the counter greeting buyers. Tretton lit up when he saw the card.

"Congratulations," he said. "You've got the magic ticket."

A few minutes earlier, Tretton had greeted the first PS3 buyer on the West Coast, Chris Toribio, with maximum fanfare as a paparazzi line of cameras flashed away. To the observers, being first in a line of almost 1,000 people, many of whom waited more than a day, was worth documenting with gusto.

Just the beginning
As Toribio walked away and the photographers and cameramen scattered, I happened to overhear Tretton toss out a gem.

"One down," he said. "One hundred million to go."

Naturally, at an event like this, it wasn't just the gamers who were worked up. The Sony folks on hand at the Metreon may have been even more adrenalized.

And who can blame them? After all, many of them have been working on getting the PS3 to market for several years. And even though there were missteps on path to launch, such as delays, manufacturing problems and some backward-compatibility problems, there was no shortage of optimism in the air Thursday night.

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