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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.

Videos:
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The first buyers
CNET.com'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.

"It's very exciting," said Phil Harrison, PlayStation's president of worldwide studios. "Through all the internal meetings and all the Sony internal stuff you do, what matters is the people lining up on the streets to spend money on what you do. And that is extremely gratifying."

Of course, Harrison added, launch is not the end of the road for the PlayStation team.

"Launch is just a moment in time," he said. "An important moment, but just the beginning of?a 10-year cycle."

As excitement raged alongside the Metreon, it was a much more subdued scene farther down the line. Which was really the far end of line No. 3, since Sony had split the 1,000 or so PS3 buyers into three separate queues.

There, Mark Brockway and his wife were waiting patiently, hoping they were going to be able to buy a PS3. Brockway said he'd called Sony and had determined the Metreon, rather than a nearby Best Buy or Target, was the place to go to try to get one of the consoles.

That's because the PlayStation store at the Metreon had an allotment of several hundred PS3s, compared with just dozens at many other retailers.

But Brockway was not guaranteed a PS3. And that seemed fair given that he had arrived in line at about 7 p.m. Thursday.

He said his PS3, if he got one, was for a friend. But he also said his kids were serious gamers.

"We usually get about 15 kids (coming over to play games) every weekend," Brockway said.

I went back inside the PlayStation store for a prearranged interview with SCEA's senior vice president of marketing, Peter Dille. He basically said the same things most of the other PlayStation executives had said to me all year in discussion after discussion.

What was interesting, though, was his answer when I asked how Sony feels about the fact that many of the PS3 buyers here were going to turn around and instantly try to sell their consoles for massive profit on eBay or Craigslist.

"We don't condone it," Dille said. "We'd rather that people buy them through retailers. But we also know it's what happens?And part of it is completely flattering, for people to pay multiples (of the retail price)."

Meanwhile, as reporters swarmed Toribio and his friends, Edwards was clearly feeling nostalgic for the kind of attention he'd gotten when he was first in line a year ago at the Xbox 360 launch.

And given how close he was to the front of the queue, it was evident to me that Edwards takes his place in line at these launch events very seriously.

So I asked him why he wasn't first.

"I took my daughter to school (Wednesday)," Edwards said. "That's the only reason I'm not No. 1."

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