8 Observations on Surviving a Playstation 4 Midnight Launch

Friday, November 15, 2013 at 6:00 am

Jason K. Helton

There's nothing quite like a console launch to get gamers riled up. At the start of the 2013 holiday shopping season we're graced with not one but two major console launches: the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. This is great news for gamers, because having the two dominant console companies throw down at the same time means innovation, inventory and affordability. It also means that if you've been telling the kids no to the Wii U thus far, you won't have any problems finding one this holiday season.

In recent years, a large part of the excitement of console launches is seeing who can actually get one. With the wonders of Internet shopping, it was pretty easy to ensure that you got the console of your choice on launch day, provided you made the leap to pre-order before you actually knew the specs. Even still, it was possible for some time to ensure that your system would be arriving at your home on launch day, but where is the fun in that? Why sit in comfort at home waiting for the UPS truck to arrive with your bundle of electronic joy when you can instead freeze your collective asses off waiting in line in hopes of being one of those lucky, procrastinating (or poor) few who couldn't or wouldn't pre-order, who end up walking out victorious?

Here at Topless Robot, it's not about whether or not you have the system at launch, but rather the adventure. It's the thrill of the hunt: waiting outside the store in the cold like a hunter in a tree stand, commiserating with fellow gamers about how frakking cold (and most likely wet) it is, telling gaming war stories like we're sitting below decks on the Orca that drives us. It's the excitement of the chase that makes owning the system so much more worth it: that being the group of muggers chasing you to your car as you haul ass trying to protect your new expensive investment.

This year, the choice I've made (or rather my kids made, though the advantage of parenting gaming nerds is that I am justifiable in my video game purchases) is to pursue a Playstation 4. Being the cheap bastard and procrastinator that I am, this means that last night I was in the trenches at a Baltimore Best Buy, hoping to score both a Playstation and a story. I got at least one; the question is: did I get both? Let's find out. Here are 8 surprising things witnessed last night at a Best Buy Playstation launch.

1. No Scalping - You have 20 seconds to comply

With tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise leaving the store this morning, I expected security to be extremely tight. Indeed it was, without the need for legions of stormtrooper-like rent-a-cops. A single off-duty police officer was able to keep the entire event organized, peaceful and completely uneventful.

To the entrepreneurial at heart, the officer was a bit of a buzz kill. Someone trying to sell their ticket to pick up a machine tonight was quickly told to knock it off. He quickly complied, and while he wasn't walking out of the store with some extra cash in his pocket, he did get to walk out with his Playstation.

The lightning-fast exchange between security and the would-be scalper was the highlight of excitement for the evening. The better side of gamer personalities won the day, and with recent bad behavior being highlighted on YouTube, it was a pleasant sight to see. While there may have been some incidents in other places, gamers visiting this Baltimore Best Buy were a testament to geeks and nerds everywhere.

2. The Demographics have Changed

Jason K. Helton

The latest video game demographics from the Entertainment Software Alliance show that the average gamer is now 30 years old. Tonight's visit to Best Buy reinforced this claim. Instead of expansive lines of awkward gamers nervously, barely able to contain their excitement, the relatively small line was comprised mostly of gamers in their 30's. Aside from a few college students and the occasional family (Baltimore County public schools are closed today), almost everyone I spoke to wasn't planning on cracking open the electronic Pandora's Box upon returning home. Instead, most would have to wait until after their day jobs were over before losing themselves in Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, or any of the other big selling launch titles.

A gentleman due to start work only a few hours from the midnight launch specifically wasn't going to even open the box, for fear that once he started, he wouldn't be able to stop. When asked why he didn't take the day off, the response, "You have to make the money," is a prime example of the maturing gamer now dominating the market. It's that money which has the video game industry thriving, and looking likely to continue growing.

3. Bundles Cost a Bundle

Jason K. Helton

We are long past the days when game companies packaged a ton of bonuses in a launch time console. Only Nintendo still subscribes to the notion that you need to pack in a game to sell systems, and even they have limitations (the deluxe Wii U's pack in of a downloadable Nintendoland didn't have gamers clamoring to buy Nintendo's latest system). With consoles either breaking even or losing money, it's up to software, subscriptions and accessories to make up money for both retailers and manufacturers. Online retailers like Amazon have limited pre-orders to people who purchase packages that include games and accessories, and even Sony's online store will not allow you to pre-order a system sans games or controllers.

Best Buy's bundle, which potentially could save you money over the long run, is so costly that despite all of the pitching and free financing offers, it was beyond the reach of most gamers tonight, including myself. The Epic Gaming Package consists of the system, an additional controller, two games of your choice, a two year subscription to Playstation Plus, a two year protection plan and a membership to Best Buy's Gamer Club which discounts new games by 20 percent for the next year. As great as it may sound on paper, even with the discounted games, it clocks in at a whopping $800.

Let's put this into perspective:

Playstation 4 - $400

2 Games of your Choice - $120

Additional Controller - $60

2 Years of Plus - $100

Playstation Protection Plan w/accidental damage - $60

Total - $740 vs Best Buy's $800

Granted, the Best Buy plan gives you discounted games for two years, but you would have to buy 8 additional brand new games over the course of two years to just break even for the purchase of the Gamer Club membership. While it might be useful for some, this could very well go unused, particularly with the new generation consoles embracing the digital marketplace concept.

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