Microsoft launches its Xbox

Festivities in New York's Times Square usher in the launch of Microsoft's Xbox console.

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X marked the spot at New York City's new Toys "R" Us store in Times Square, the site of last night's official North American Xbox launch event. The 101,000-square-foot toy store was not scheduled to be open to the public until Saturday, but it graciously served as the staging ground for hundreds of fans eagerly awaiting a chance to buy the $299 black-and-green console. At 12:01am, Eduardo Glucksman became the first official Xbox customer, receiving a console signed by Bill Gates himself, who was on hand to celebrate the launch.

"The future of gaming starts today, and it starts with the Xbox," Gates said. "The Xbox is a key part of our strategy to drive the digital entertainment revolution and deliver the future of interactive entertainment to the home. It's a great example of how Microsoft is innovating. But most important, it's incredibly cool."

Although Microsoft has yet to announce official shipment numbers, early returns from retail tracking services and analysts suggest that the company shipped around 400,000 launch units--many of which were allocated for preorders at retailers such as Electronics Boutique and Gamestop. Of the 19 games shipped, unsurprisingly, Bungie's first-person shooter Halo was the most sought-after game at launch.

In New York, as early as 7:00am the previous morning, colored wristbands were being handed out to gamers at the nearby WWF theme restaurant in order secure a place in line. At about 9:30pm, they were moved from the restaurant to a line outside Toys "R" Us based on the color of their wristband. Only those who wished to purchase the Xbox were allowed to stand in line and enter the store. While in line, attendees were treated to Xbox hats, T-shirts and glow necklaces, as well Krispy Kreme donuts topped with green sprinkles. The weather cooperated, with clear skies and temperatures in the '50s.

Felix Lora, 20, who lives in the Bronx, picked up his wristband at 9:00am and returned to Times Square after work to wait in line. He had camped out for a PS2 and also has plans to buy a GameCube. The Xbox games he was most excited over were Halo, Project Gotham Racing, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x.

"I'm a gaming enthusiast, so I plan on owning all the systems," he said.

On the other hand, Ilya Abramsky, 19-year-old Brooklyn resident, was interested only in getting an Xbox.

"I saw the comparisons of the Xbox to the other systems, and it's the best system there is right now," he said. "Plus, it's Microsoft."

Abramsky and his friend Basar Kazi had been waiting at the WWF restaurant since 3:00pm. Both praised the Xbox for its technical capabilities, but Kazi was particularly pleased with the way Microsoft handled the entire launch.

"We got a chance to play almost every single game that was out at launch," he said. "That gave us a chance to actually get hands-on experience. I think the Xbox and WWF did a wonderful job. I was disappointed by the PS2 [launch]."

Although the well-behaved but clearly excited crowd was mostly composed of the Xbox's target audience of younger males, other demographics also managed to sneak in. Yolanda Sweeting, a mother of three sons, was there with her husband to purchase an Xbox for the whole family, who chose the console over the PS2.

"My sons told me don't come back home without it," she said.

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