By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Jose Martinez can barely keep his eyes open as the chill of an evening wind hits him again. It's 11:57 p.m., and he's been standing, sitting and lying outside the Galleria Best Buy since late Monday night. The 16-year-old, a home schooler, has skipped this week's classes and spent four grueling nights outside the store, nourished only by a couple of bags of marshmallows and four bottles of water that he brought along. (Best Buy employees have allowed him to use their restrooms.) He's been such a fixture that the guy standing immediately behind him originally thought he was a "homeless dude" when he first showed up. It's been a tad nerve-racking hanging outside with more than $600 on his person, but Jose is pretty sure no one will find the cash in the "secret pocket" in his big tan jacket.
He's hungry and a little delirious, but his work has paid off: Jose is the very first person in line to buy the Sony PlayStation 3. Over the last four days, dozens of gamers -- and shrewd businesspeople -- have camped out, literally, behind him. They've created a sort of gaming shantytown in the parking lot, replete with big camping tents, folding chairs and a lot of garbage and crap. People stand in line, hands in pockets, looking like refugees or victims of a natural disaster -- tired, crumpled and a little soiled.
Hope came 57 minutes ago, when a Best Buy manager came out and issued tickets to the first 100 or so people in line, which would grant them entry into the store and access to the PS3s. It was like a scene straight out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
It's midnight. The doors open and a burly Best Buy employee addresses the crowd: "Good morning! Here's how this is gonna work: We're going ten at a time, we're gonna get you all through the store and get you rung up, and bring up the next ten. Let's get the first ten!"
Game on! The line of weary hopefuls erupts in hoots. As the Best Buy doors -- manned by staffers and several HPD officers -- open, Jose walks in rubbing his eyes and taking in the warmth of the heater. He and the other nine shoppers are led through a maze of roped-off sections that lead to PS3 games, controllers and cables. The maze ends at the checkout stands. Flanked by newspaper and TV cameras, Jose walks up, shows the cashier his ticket, and is handed the PS3 box. Finally, it's his chance to buy a game system that's currently going for $2,000 on eBay. This day will see a man standing in line in Putnam, Connecticut getting shot by would-be PS3 thieves, and people in Lexington, Kentucky getting nailed by BB guns as they stand in line. There will be near riots.
But not here, and not now. Jose calmly reaches into his pocket. He digs deep, shoots everyone a quizzical look, and digs again.
Where's his cash?
There's a battle right now over who's building the biggest, baddest video game home console. In a week, Nintendo will release the Wii, its new system. But hardcore gamers know it's all about Sony vs. Microsoft, and Sony's PlayStation 3 is the "oh yeah!?" to Microsoft's Xbox 360. The difference between the two schools can be likened to that between Macs and PCs. Mac and Sony users understand that they spend more on these products' look, brand and image, while PC and Microsoft types are more utilitarian (these folks don't mind carrying around a generic mp3 player or laptop). And then there's the games. Sony's titles run the gamut, while Xbox has become the platform for first-person shooters. (Many an Xbox owner will admit to buying the machine solely to play shoot-em-ups such as Gears of War, and the I Ching of shooters, Halo.)
"Sony has created this Ferrari of gaming," says Sam Kennedy, editor in chief of 1Up.com, the foremost game content and community Internet portal and the daily content provider for Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. "This is the mother of all gaming consoles, but its potential won't be seen for a while. It won't be until spring or even fall of next year that games will come out to show off the technology." So why in all that's good 'n' sane would anyone buy one for $10,000, as seen on eBay? "Sony's saying you're buying 'potential,'" says Kennedy. "But there's enough out to satisfy gamers right now. People who're buying it now are probably buying it for bragging rights, to say they had it first."
Or, what's more disappointing to Kennedy's crowd, they're buying it just to resell. This new trend is best described as scalping for video games. "I've never seen it quite as bad as this," he says. "People realize there's a lot of potential to make a lot of money here. You've got the fact that Sony's releasing fewer units than anticipated. Plus, this is the follow-up to the best-selling console of all time."
And so, out come the entrepreneurs. "We walked by the lines outside stores yesterday here in San Francisco," he says. "There wasn't the camaraderie between the people in line. A lot of people didn't care at all; they were just there to make money. I hope game console makers can figure out a way to get it to their loyal fans, but at the same time, this is pure marketing for them.