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Sunday November 19, 2006 11:21 pm

Playstation 3 Weekend Recap

Playstation 3 FrontThe Playstation 3 finally launched in the United States on Friday and gamers and scalpers were finally able to get their hands on the hardware. The limited supply of consoles meant that demand was driven to frenzied levels, surpassing the madness of last year’s Xbox 360 launch. One thing seems clear, though; it seems like very few retailers learned their lesson last year, and a confluence of events led this launch to be worse in many ways.

More after the jump.

First, much of the blame can be laid at Sony’s feet. They simply were not able to produce enough of the core components of the Playstation 3 to get nearly enough of the consoles into gamer’s hands for launch. Sony was projecting to have 400,000+ consoles available on launch day, analysts as late as last week were predicting 150,000 units, and the true count lies probably somewhere in between. The lack of console supply lead the company to reduce and re-allocate consoles to retailers, seemingly at the last minute, leading to retailer and customer confusion and anger.

In the brick-and-mortar world, lines for the Playstation 3 started early. When GameStop announced that they had learned from last year, and were making extremely limited numbers of consoles available, gamers camped out early to get their hands on a pre-order slip. Later, when Sony reduced their console allocations, somewhere around half of these campers would be disappointed and would probably have to find themselves in line again. Even GameStop’s meager projections of console availability were dashed, but executives probably should have seen the writing on the wall earlier for this one. GameStop wasn’t the only retailer hit by this; according to Internet reports, Toys ‘R Us got either smaller allocations than expected or a different mix of consoles, forcing some gamers with pre-order slips to either go without or take a 20 GB configuration rather than a 60 GB version. Wal-Mart’s allocations seemed to be shifting in the weeks prior to launch, but this may have been related to ill-informed employees.

Those companies that did not hold pre-order campaigns also were not exempt from angry consumers. Several instances of violence were reported at lines across the country, and the behavior of some managers is somewhat to blame. Many managers controlled the camp-out lines poorly, giving mixed messages as to how console allocations were to be given out. Perhaps the worst was the Wal-Mart manager who decided that a foot race was the best option for allocating their 10 Playstation 3 consoles. Better direction needed to be given to stores from the corporate offices prior to the system launch. Given that the Xbox 360 launch happened just one year ago makes their actions seem willfully ignorant. Even Sony’s own stores fell victim to problems, with lines in New York and San Francisco rapidly growing into the hundreds.

Online, things were not much better. Stores offering stock online were quickly swamped and brought down by the swarming masses. Costco was perhaps the worst; when they announced that Playstation 3 consoles would be available on or around 8:00 AM PST on launch day, gamers got their browsers ready. The company actually got the ordering link online at around 7:40 AM, and the site nearly immediately crashed. Some consumers were able to get the console into their cart, but would be thwarted at the checkout screen. Others would be able to persist and place orders up past 12:00 PM PST, but most were locked out as the site continued to display seemingly random error messages.

Circuit City online also briefly offered bundles, but again, cart problems plagued gamers trying to get a Playstation 3 to ship. Playstation 3 consoles would also briefly show as available on other sites, including the SonyStyle website. It is unclear whether the SonyStyle showings actually reflected stock amounts, as many report that their orders were later cancelled. The largest window of opportunity was when for a couple of hours, people were able to place orders with Target through Amazon.com. No one is really sure whether or not these orders are valid; some suggested that this was a momentary glitch, while others report rumors that Target had a special allocation of 10,000 20 GB units available for sale online. At any rate, further clarification should come Monday.

Ebay also has been flooded with people reselling Playstation 3 units. While early on, resellers were routinely getting $2500 and more for their consoles, the current closing prices seem to be more within the $1000 - $1700 price range. This will fluctuate over time, and if Sony is not able to get more units into people’s hands soon, this may push prices higher as Christmas approaches.

Monday will also bring fresh rumors of restocks. Some gamers online reported that Best Buy saw limited restock shipments of 2 – 4 consoles appear in stores later on Friday, after the morning rush. If Sony hopes to make their shipment goals for the year, new shipments should be coming in slowly across the online and brick-and-mortar retailers, but it is anyone’s guess right now when those would be. Finding stock either online or in actual stores will become luck more than anything else. The truly dedicated may be able to find more consoles than others, but a lot will depend on how the retailers handle restocking; some will put consoles on the floor immediately, others restock after hours. Gamers looking at picking up a Playstation 3 may have to rely on online rumors and inside information to find a console.

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