LONDON--The trials of Sony's next-generation console during its long journey to European shores have been well documented. The higher relative price point, the three-month delay, and finally the removal of the PlayStation 2's chipset have all made negative headlines in the past year, to the increasing unrest of the population here.
But Sony finally unleashed the PlayStation 3 in the UK tonight, with a midnight launch at Virgin's flagship store on Oxford Street, London. After receiving warnings about safety from the Metropolitan Police, Virgin decided to prevent fans from sleeping rough and made space in its basement to accommodate the hardiest gamers.
Even so, not many took up this offer of hospitality, and with only a few hours to go before launch, there were just a handful of dedicated people lounging in sleeping bags, watching the clock. But as midnight drew near, more fans began to trickle into the store, and after some photo opportunities with the massed ranks of the media, they were ushered upstairs for the final hours to enjoy some light entertainment--including break dancing and basketball juggling.
Around 120 people had joined the queue shortly before midnight, and if the prospect of getting their hands on the latest bit of high-tech gaming hardware, along with a complimentary copy of Resistance: Fall of Man, wasn't enough, Sony had one final trick up its sleeve.
Just minutes before the tills were due to start ringing, a Sony representative made the shock announcement that everybody registered in the queue would receive a free Bravia 46" HDTV, something which took some time to sink in with the gobsmacked crowd.
Jason Sarris, from Wood Green in London, said, "I'm speechless, I still don't believe it. I think it's a hoax." Akwasi Poku, from Forest Hill, also in London, added, "It's restored my faith in Sony. I was thinking about getting an Xbox 360, because it's half the price, but now it's paid off."
It's just the sort of reaction that Sony Computer Entertainment UK's managing director, Ray Maguire, was hoping for. Moments after the first PS3 had been officially purchased, he told GameSpot UK, "The issue for me is that not many people here would have a flat panel HDTV. It should only be about a week before everybody's got them in their homes."
He went on to add that in the UK, only about 15 percent of homes contain a high-definition television, compared to around 25 percent in the US. "We're lagging behind, but just about everything being sold nowadays is flat panel, and we're in the situation that people are starting to wake up to 1080 [resolutions] rather than 720 [ones]."
Also attending the event was the president of Sony Worldwide Studios, Phil Harrison. In a brief interview with GameSpot UK, he admitted that the past few months had been something of a rocky road but was keen to put the problems in the past. "I can't deny that we would have loved to have launched everywhere in the world last November, but that's behind us. The important thing is that people who buy a PS3 today or tomorrow will be getting a machine which has got a better network functionality, better firmware, a better variety of software, and a bigger range of Blu-ray movies."
The event at the Virgin Megastore was the only official event to take place at midnight, although there will be two further events taking place later in the morning at HMV and Game, also on Oxford Street, London. GameSpot UK will be at both venues to report all the details.