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PS3 gets a New York welcome

reporter's notebook Fans who waited for 72 hours for the gaming console are finally treated to it--and a party, too.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
reporter's notebook NEW YORK--This week, midtown Manhattan's Sony Plaza was transformed from an elegant piece of a chic shopping district, to something that resembled a Hoover-era shantytown, to a celebrity-studded party venue featuring rappers, comedians and tech-exec bigwigs. Clearly, the PlayStation 3 is capable of great things.

It's finally here. After rampant anticipation, tantalizing rumors, horror stories of shortages, and one madhouse of a Japanese debut, the PS3 has hit American shores. And here in New York City, fans were ready to give it one heck of a welcome bash. After all, San Francisco might out-geek us, but nobody parties like the Big Apple. Nobody.

But every party has to start somewhere, and in this case, the PlayStation 3 launch event began with hundreds of die-hard fans who were willing to brave the elements for days in order to get their hands on the new console. Slightly before midnight on Wednesday night, amid a misty light rain, I decided to check out the SonyStyle store at Sony Plaza and see what the buzz was.

PS3 hits Manhattan

Since more than a few neighborhoods in New York aren't particularly into the idea of long lines of people camped out on the streets--the Circuit City in Union Square, after all, had to turn away a few dozen people who'd begun waiting since Sunday morning--I was expecting that with 24 hours to go, the crowd would still be of a manageable size. Wrong. When I climbed out of a cab onto the corner of 56th Street and Madison Avenue, I was greeted by the sight of who'd already been waiting for several days.

You really couldn't help but think of old Depression-era photos of New York, with images of thousands turned out onto the streets and waiting in seemingly endless lines for food. The PS3 hopefuls were shielding themselves from the mist underneath umbrellas, makeshift tents, and plastic garbage bags. Most had brought along folding chairs. Some had sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows. Judging by the kind of determination they exhibited, you'd really think that they were lined up for something as vital as food. Sony's publicists, in a rough head count, estimated that there were 450 people in line already.

I had a chance to speak with Angel Paredes, a Manhattan resident who was already a local Sony celebrity because he'd been the first person to line up for the PS3. Angel had already been waiting for more than 48 hours: he'd arrived in front of the SonyStyle store at 8:30 p.m. Monday. He was in good spirits; after all, he'd had some practice waiting for 13 hours for the original launch of the Xbox 360. "The anticipation's been building up for over a year," he said excitedly of the new PlayStation. "Everyone wants to see it."

"It's gonna be a monster," chimed in fellow PS3 fanatic Kamau, who was in line behind Angel. Kamau, who lives in the neighboring borough of Brooklyn, had never waited in an opening-night queue before.

I asked Angel what his best tip for getting one's hands on a highly anticipated gaming system would be. "Do your research," he said to me. "Find out who's going to have the most units." And what's the most important thing to bring to the line? "Sleeping bags," he said without hesitation. Kamau nodded his head in agreement.

"The anticipation's been building up for over a year. Everyone wants to see it."
--Angel Paredes,
first PlayStation buyer

On Wednesday night, the atmosphere outside Sony Plaza was amicable, though a little tired. But at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, with only three and a half hours to go before the PS3 launch, some fans were starting to get pretty impatient: pushing, shoving, with the occasional shout at a security guard. After all, only the first 400 people in line would be allowed into the launch party, hosted by rapper Ludacris and comedian Charlie Murphy. Until 9 p.m., the indoor space was restricted to media and special guests, and even when the line-weary fans were allowed into the party, they couldn't exactly storm the gates; Sony personnel required them to go through a security checkpoint one by one.

Like all of New York City, the PS3 launch party fielded a remarkably diverse crowd. Most of the fans who'd made it into the event were males in their teens and 20s, but there were still plenty who represented other age and gender demographics--even a few parents with small children. Some of the "grown-ups" admitted they hadn't gone for the full experience: a 30-something couple who wished to remain anonymous told me that they'd paid someone $8 an hour to stand in line for them. They were hoping to go home with two PS3s, one to keep and one to profit from on eBay.

Around 11 p.m., I realized that I had been standing next to host Ludacris for several minutes and didn't even realize it. In retrospect, the diamond-studded leather jacket should've been a dead giveaway.

And the midnight madness? It was remarkably controlled, probably due in part to the fact that the fans were visibly exhausted. Around 11:30 p.m., the first of the heavily guarded PS3s were handed out. First in line, of course, was Angel Paredes, picking up his new gaming system directly from Sony President and CEO Howard Stringer and Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Kaz Harai. He was grinning ear-to-ear. I'm willing to bet that as you read this Reporter's Notebook piece, at whatever time it may be, Angel Paredes of Manhattan is probably playing with his PS3.

As an announcer over a loudspeaker called out the numbers that had been assigned to fans in the order that they stood in line, I spoke to a few of the attendees who weren't necessarily going to walk home with a new gaming system. One of them was 21-year-old Ned, a New Jersey resident who'd scored two tickets to the event--one for himself, one for his 13-year-old brother--through a friend who was a Sony employee.

They hadn't waited in line, and even though both were eager to get PS3s, they didn't think it was going to happen that night. But they didn't mind. As Ned told me, "I figure if I get one, I get one. If I don't, I had a good time."


Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Angel Paredes, the first person in line to buy a PS3.