Midnight PS3 madness in Japan

Thousands gather outside various Tokyo retailers for the chance to obtain one of Sony's scarce next-gen consoles.

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TOKYO--Getting a preorder for the PlayStation 3 has been nothing but hardship for many gamers in Japan, since it was expected that trying to buy a unit without one would be next to impossible. However, it may turn out that lining up to buy on launch day isn't going to be as difficult as it once seemed.

Around the time of the 2006 Tokyo Game Show, Sony announced that its day-one shipment of PS3s in Japan on November 11 will only be 100,000 units. In 2004, the company shipped double that number of PlayStation Portables, which sold out in a matter of minutes. To make things worse, recent industry reports have been saying that the actual shipment could be as low as 80,000 units.

Most retailers have kept their expected PS3 inventories secret, but a few places disclosed figures that brought a chill to gamers without preorders. Laox announced that they would be receiving only 10 to 20 units for each of their stores in Nakano, Toyosu, and Atsugi, though it kept its Akihabara branch figures undisclosed. Best Denki's Shinjuku branch and GEO's Ishikawa branch revealed that they will be getting only five units each, despite both of them being nationwide chains.

Finding a PS3 preorder on the Internet seemed equally unlikely. Amazon Japan closed its preorder offer just 20 minutes after it opened last month. The online shop for national chain Tsutaya overloaded, closing down in just five minutes. Gamers praying that Sony would offer a massive number of preorders at its official shopping site were also disappointed. Two weeks ago, Sony Computer Entertainment Japan announced that it won't sell the console at all online.

Many national chain stores announced weeks ago that they wouldn't be taking preorders at launch due to a lack of units. Established chains including Sofmap, Kojima Electronics (no relation to the Metal Gear Solid producer), and most Bic Camera stores opted to hold raffles on launch day and sell units to the lucky winners.

The last resort for getting a PS3 console at launch was going to be stores that were going to sell the units on a first-come, first-served basis. And as it turns out, it pays off to never give up.

Lucky PlayStation 3 happy magic ticket!
Lucky PlayStation 3 happy magic ticket!

GameSpot made the rounds through the stores of Tokyo around midnight. To our surprise, when we reached Akihabara's Yodobashi Camera, Tokyo's biggest electronics store, at 1:30 a.m., the huge line of over 600 people had disappeared, with only a small row of about 70 or so people milling about the store's entrance.

Looks, however, can be deceiving. The line had actually grown to a size of nearly 1,500 customers, and Yodobashi employees decided to move everyone into the store's basement-level parking lot. All the customers that were moved were given numbered tickets that guaranteed them a PS3, although some people in the back were told that they may not be able to choose between the 20GB and 60GB PS3 models. The 70-odd people outside weren't guaranteed a PS3, but they decided to continue lining up with hopes that there may be some leftovers or cancellations.

Inside the parking lot, most of the people seemed lively, probably because they knew they were going to get a PS3. They might have also been happy that they didn't have to wait for days outside. The man in the very front of the line had only arrived at 10 p.m. the previous night, while the last customers, who had tickets numbered in the mid-1400's, hadn't shown up until midnight.

Another store, the Laox Asobit City, also had a large number of people lining up for the PS3, although nowhere as many as the Akihabara Yodobashi Camera. As mentioned above, Laox has been one of the few chains that revealed the number of PS3s it will sell in most of its stores, so we expected the Akihabara line to be about 30 people by midnight, at most. But by 1:30 a.m., the line stood 250 strong, and an employee was shooing people away from its end, saying the store had no more units to sell.

At the Shinjuku Yodobashi Camera, there were a total of approximately 780 people waiting to buy a PS3. Similarly to the Akihabara branch, the people in line were given numbered tickets that guaranteed them a unit. And at the line's end, there was a sign that read "sold out." According to one of the customers in the rear, he was able to get a ticket despite showing up as late as 10:30 p.m.

So what happened when the clock struck midnight? In a word, nothing. Unlike in the US, Japanese retailers don't begin selling their consoles once the date changes, forcing gamers to hold out until morning.

GameSpot will bring another update in the morning to cover the final countdown to the PS3's launch. Stay tuned.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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