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Braving the chill for an Xbox thrill

In a scene that played out across North America, game addicts huddle in the cold night to buy one of the first Xbox 360 consoles.

SAN FRANCISCO--Swaddled in sleeping bags and heavy winter coats, hundreds of devoted game fans camped in front of electronics stores early Tuesday morning waiting the arrival of Microsoft's Xbox 360.

For Shawn Beck, his experience scoring tickets to dozens of rock concerts prepared him for a night like this. Beck was ready to spend the chilly night sprawled out on the sidewalk in front of a San Francisco Best Buy store for a chance to buy Microsoft's latest game console. He and his girlfriend, Angie Ortmann, nestled inside an Eddie Bauer fleece-lined sleeping bag, swigged from a bottle of cabernet--to help stay warm--and watched the film "Weird Science" on their laptop.

Suddenly, a cheer went up along the line when someone whipped out poker chips and a deck of cards.

"Geez, I don't want to lose my Xbox money," Beck quipped. Later, the self-described video game "lifer" quietly acknowledged that he and his girlfriend weren't sure that Best Buy's stock would last long enough for them to get an Xbox. "This may all be for nothing," he lamented.

lining up for xbox

Microsoft has trumpeted the coming of the Xbox 360 for months, stirring up anticipation. Microsoft has also predicted that it will sell 3 million units within the first 90 days of the launch. This has led to speculation within the game community that there might not be enough consoles to go around and has helped ratchet up demand.

The scene of people slumbering on folding chairs or sprawled out on cold concrete played out late Monday night and early Tuesday morning in cities across North America, including Seattle, New York and Toronto.

That's because video games have taken on a cult-like status and fervor for gaming knows few bounds. Prices may rise; release dates for new games may get delayed; or consoles may get released in the wee hours.

No problem, say video game devotees. Just make sure that at the end of it all, they get to plug in and play. That is all they really want.

"I'm addicted to video games," said Cedric Horne, only half joking. A college student, Horne stood in line shortly before midnight at EB Games in downtown San Francisco and said that his night had just begun.

"I'm staying up and playing all night after I get my Xbox," said the 22-year-old Horne, as merchants along Powell Street began shuttering their stores for the night. "And I have to be at school at 8 in the morning."

Oscar Gomez stood in line just a few heads behind Horne at EB Games. He's an unlikely Microsoft customer in that he works for Sony, Microsoft's chief rival in the game market.

"You can't be a true gamer unless you play everything," said Gomez, 23, who works at the PlayStation store in the Sony Metreon, an entertainment hub in downtown San Francisco. "Besides, I'm only getting this to hold me over until PS3 (Sony's next game console) comes out next spring."

Not everyone was waiting in order to play with an Xbox.

Danny Rodriguez held vigil outside a pitch-black Best Buy parking lot at 1 a.m. so he could buy and resell an Xbox on eBay. He planned to pay $399 for an Xbox premium version. (The Xbox "core" unit retails for $299.)

"People are going crazy over this machine," said Rodriguez, 19, from Richmond, Calif. "I can make maybe three times what I pay for it."

Indeed, the market for Xbox 360 consoles was spiking on eBay on Tuesday morning, as dozens of premium Xbox units were being auctioned for $500 to $1,200.

But Rodriguez was in the minority Tuesday. Most people braved the cold and boredom because they couldn't wait to try out the latest Microsoft had to offer.

Chris Staudt, who works at a Borders Book store near Union Square wanted to be first in line at the EB Games store, even though he preordered his Xbox six months in advance and was assured of getting a console. Unfortunately for him, he was scheduled to work, so he sent friend Stacey Aguilar to wait in line for him. She held Staudt's place for four hours.

"That's a friend," someone in the crowd told Staudt.

His plan worked. Staudt joined Aguilar at the front of the line minutes before midnight, and he was the first person to walk out of the location with an Xbox.

Said Staudt: "I just didn't want to wait to play it. I'm taking it home and playing all night."

And by the sound of Staudt's enthusiasm, he may still be playing.