8 Observations on Surviving a Playstation 4 Midnight Launch

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.

4. Lots of Demand, Supply Not So Much

Jason K. Helton

A little under one hundred Playstation 4 systems were pre-ordered at this specific Best Buy store. With another twenty for the general public, this left a large group of people without a system this morning. Those Playstation-less will be venturing out today to other retailers or returning to Best Buy to try to pre-order the next batch. Others will go online, where they will pay a premium on Craigslist or Ebay. As of 3:30 am, Ebay auctions are adding a minimum $100 premium on Day One consoles, and as supplies run out, those numbers are going to go up.

I spoke with a gentleman tonight who recounted the story of his friend, who pre-ordered five Playstation 4 systems, and had already received $1000 each for four out of the five to be delivered this morning. The staff at the store I was at last night hope that the company will be able to accommodate almost everyone who wants a system before Christmas, and pointed out that the outlook is much more positive than previous Playstation or Xbox launches. With some effort and luck though, hopefully most gamers will be able to join this new system generation without getting violated online.

5. I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

Jason K. Helton
The gaming section, 10 minutes after midnight

According to store manager Cynthia, this is the first time her Best Buy store had attempted a midnight opening for a system launch, though anyone watching would have felt the staff were seasoned pros. Gone are the days where camped out people waited in the cold for midnight hour and the doors to open. Instead, once the tickets were distributed and the unlucky sent away, the doors opened allowing people to shop for games and accessories, as well as stay out of the cold.

Instead of your average, disinterested retail employee, the seasonal staff working the launch consisted of experienced and opinionated gamers. I met Anthony, who was not only working his first launch at the store, but was in fact working his first day at the store. A hardcore gamer, he previously worked at a local import gaming store before joining this team. His gaming knowledge would have been expected at a Gamestop, but not a general retailer, and was likely not found at other retailers selling this morning, and he was just one example of the team working this morning.

Apparently it was all part of a grand plan, developed over months by corporate higher ups and distributed a month in advance to all of the launch stores. The plan paid off: those not getting a system tonight could go home and lick their wounds early, while the rest had picked up their systems and were out of the store ten minutes after they were made available. By the time the scheduled 1 a.m. closure came, the store was empty aside from myself and twenty or so staff members, and those staff members looked as if it was just another day on the job for them.

6. Exclusives Will Not Sell Systems (At Least Not Playstation Exclusives)

Jason K. Helton

Two types of games were flying off the shelves this morning: First-Person Shooters and Sports. The sports genre was dominated by EA as usual, with Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 taking the top sales spots for the shooter genre. The shelves were filled, though, with Sony exclusives like the allegedly mediocre Knack, with Killzone performing somewhat better but still readily available at the end of the night.

A major factor in the initial failure of the Wii U was a lack of launch titles. The poor reviews and limited number of Sony exclusive titles, while not a hindrance to system sales, puts the Xbox One on almost equal footing despite initial doubts about Microsoft’s entry into the new console wars. It’s likely that when the Xbox One launches, its list of exclusive titles will sell well, but will still benefit more from Call of Duty and the entire EA collection. The new generation console wars look like they’re coming down to an old fashioned Queensbury Rules slugfest.

7. Gamers of the World Unite

Jason K. Helton
New games, new friends

There’s something quite cool about seeing a random group of strangers bond over something they hold dear to them. While there were groups of friends waiting together, the majority of the people attending the launch were solo acts, though it wasn’t long before everyone was acting like old friends. There was no competition, no fighting, and even the staunch opinions of hardcore gamers were traded peacefully. Gamers of every age, race, and skill level spent their two hour wait happily trading console launch war stories, gaming conquests, or opinions on what to buy. It was a beautiful thing, that gamers could come together without it sounding like your average Xbox Live gamer chat.

8. This Is Not the Playstation 3 Launch

Jason K. Helton

The last generation of game system launches brought out the worst in people. High prices, low stock, and no Internet pre-orders meant that people had to do this the old fashioned way: waiting hours on end in line. While pre-orders have been sold out for some time, the lines were nothing like what we experienced last generation.

I arrived around 9:45, taking up spot number 28 in line. By the time the tickets were handed out, the line seemed to have doubled, though there were no signs of unrest, no pushing or shoving; everyone was as well behaved as a military formation. As the counting began, you could see anxious people wondering if they would make the cut. The tickets stopped getting handed out 6 people ahead of me; the magic number this evening was 22.

Surprisingly, there was no grumbling, no anger, no voicing of frustration. The unlucky mass going home were doing so in silence, seemingly as cheerful as they were getting into the line. Best Buy was prepared for the situation, though, handing out coupons for money off accessories to those not going home with a system, and telling everyone how they could sign up for the next round of pre-orders, with some possibly coming in as soon as Sunday. It wasn’t necessary, but it was a nice touch, and even the disappointed left with smiles.


Jason K. Helton
The first Woodlawn, Md Playstation 4 owner

I can safely say that this was the best console launch experience I’ve ever been to. Between the planning, the people, the staff and the experience itself, what could have been hours of monotony turned into a great time had by all, even those whose job it was to be there. The only thing that would have made the evening better would have been if I was number 22 instead of 28. It’s back out into the trenches for me, but if you’re planning to be at a Best Buy for the Xbox launch, you’re likely in for a treat. A special thanks to the Cynthia and the staff of the Best Buy in Woodlawn Maryland for having me out this morning and congratulations to everyone who woke up this morning with a Playstation 4 attached to their TV.

Jason K. Helton

Also By Jason Helton:

Ten Amazing American Arcades

Six Ways Assassin’s Creed is Worth Your Booty

Ten Deservedly Forgotten Video Game Peripherals