Japan begins Xbox 360 countdown

Microsoft holds prelaunch bash thanking Xbox Live community members with speeches, tchotchkes, and cocktails.

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TOKYO--Much like last month's Zero Hour event, Microsoft is holding an event for hardcore gamers on the eve of the Xbox 360's launch in Japan. While the official launch ceremony is scheduled to take place a few hours from now at the Shibuya Tsutaya shopping center, Microsoft is also holding party at its Xbox 360 Lounge solely for a few select members of the Xbox Live community. The party began Friday night, and will continue until about two hours before the console goes on sale Saturday morning.

About 15 minutes before the countdown party's 9 p.m. kickoff, more than 80 people had already gathered outside the Xbox 360 Lounge to get in. The crowd became larger as the hour neared, and it seemed that most of the 120 lucky gamers that won a ticket to the event had lined up before the doors opened.

Once Microsoft staffers let everyone in, the Lounge became packed--no surprise, as the building normally seats about two dozen people. Catering and cocktails were on hand, as were several Japanese Xbox 360 launch titles. Every Party, FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, Ridge Racer 6, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Perfect Dark Zero, and Tetris: The Grandmaster Ace were running on 11 Xbox 360 units.

The party began with a quick opening speech from Koide Masahiro, Microsoft Japan's Xbox marketing chief. "We sincerely thank Xbox Live members for their support. We really look at the Xbox Live community as something very important. It's like a treasure to us. We would've really liked to invite everyone from the Xbox Live community and thank them, but unfortunately, that's not physically possible," said Koide. "With the launch of the Xbox 360 tomorrow, we'll be launching a new version of Xbox Live."

Following Koide's speech, Microsoft Japan's Xbox Live marketing manager Tsurubuchi Tadashige took a 360's wireless controller and showed off the new Xbox Live on a large, 200-inch screen on the wall. The crowd went wild when he played a classic game of Gauntlet downloaded from Xbox Live to show how users can invite friends to play games together.

The gamers were a bit stunned when Peter Moore, the man behind the Xbox 360 project, made a surprise visit to the lounge during the middle of the party. "It gives me great pleasure here, less than nine hours before the launch in Japan of the Xbox 360, to speak to some of the most loyal fans in Japan," said Moore.

"The last two weeks have been an incredible success story for Xbox 360 throughout North America," he continued. "On the evening of November 22nd, four and a half thousand retail stores in North America opened their doors at midnight to welcome hundreds of thousands of fans to be the first to get their hands on the Xbox 360. As I'm sure you know, the Xbox 360 in North America was sold out within the first two hours of sale."

Moore then addressed the console's European launch. "We then moved to Europe on December 2nd at midnight, thousands of stores across Europe, from the UK to France to Germany to Italy, opened their doors to the Xbox 360 fans, and the Xbox 360 was sold out within 75 minutes."

Finally, Moore came to the Japanese launch, saying "and so here we are now in Tokyo, just a few hours away from bringing the Xbox 360 to Xbox Live subscribers, some of the most loyal gamers that have stuck with us throughout the years. There have been some difficult times here in Japan, but I think this next generation will pay off your loyalty, and then some."

As a further thank you, everyone in attendance was given a set of blank business cards bearing the Xbox Live logo, which they could use to write their gamertags and exchange them with other people at the Lounge. There was also an event where owners of popular Xbox fan sites challenged each other via Every Party minigames in front of an enthusiastic audience. Those present also were given an Every Party board game.

GameSpot will bring more coverage of the Xbox 360 launch in Japan in the coming hours.

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