PS3 countdown in Japan: The calm before the storm?

Retailers discourage lines in Japan, but on the eve of the launch, curious consumers begin to congregate.

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TOKYO--In sharp contrast to US reports that consumers are already lining up for the upcoming stateside launch of the PlayStation 3 on November 17, Japanese consumers are having to get decidedly more creative.

With reports that Sony cut its estimate of hardware for the Japanese launch by 20 percent--to roughly 80,000 units--many retailers have had to manage consumer expectations, as well as their own. Smaller stores initiated preorder programs for a very limited amount of units, while some chains decided simply to eliminate preorders entirely. Established chains such as Yodabashi and Bic Camera have opted to either sell units to whoever is lined up at their stores at 7 a.m. on launch day or hold raffles on the units they have to sell. Sony's online store in Japan, which took preorders for the PlayStation Portable before the system's December 2004 Japanese launch, is having nothing to do with the launch--offering none of the hotly anticipated consoles to gamers in Nippon.

The actual process of lining up for units, regardless of the number available, is turning out to be decidedly more challenging than it was for the PSP's Japanese launch, as well as the PlayStation 2's Japan launch in March, 2000.

While some stores are allowing consumers to line up, others are discouraging overnight camp outs. The Yodabashi Camera in Shinjuku, Tokyo's venerable electronic establishment, is informing passersby and hopeful loiterers that they must disperse--in Japan, throngs are considered to be a public nuisance and the store risks being reprimanded by authorities and prevented from selling units at all.

This is a considerably different situation than the PSP launch in 2004, when hundreds of consumers were arranged in a serpentine line that sprawled through most of the area around the store. Still, despite the presence of police officers who are discouraging the crowd from congregating, it is expected that the growing crowds will shape themselves into a proper line as the evening wears on.

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