As a video-game fanatic in my own right and as the editor of four game magazines in Brazil, I knew that to satisfy our readership with firsthand reviews I had to get my hands on a Sony PlayStation 3 on 17 November, the day it was to be released. After all, it was hyped as the most powerful game machine ever. The trouble was that Sony’s game division had no official presence in Brazil, and that it pretty much ignored the local media, despite the country’s several million gamers. If I wanted a PS3, I would have to come to New York City and wait in line.
And the waiting promised to be long. Because of production snags, reportedly due to shortages in Blu-ray laser components, the PS3 launch was going to be plagued by a scarcity of machines. Sony had originally planned to have 400 000 PS3 units for its U.S. launch, but industry analysts were saying the company would ship no more than 150 000. Sony remained optimistic, saying that by year-end it would ship 1 million PS3 units in North America, but again, some analysts estimated shipments would reach only half that amount.
Although I arrived in New York three days before the launch, lines were already forming at some stores. At my hotel room in Times Square, I strategized with the two Brazilian co-workers traveling with me. We decided to camp outside the Sony Style store in midtown Manhattan, on the ground floor of Sony’s U.S. headquarters, where the New York PS3 launch party was to take place. The store was going to receive 400 PS3 units, many times more than any other retailer in the city.
We crammed food, water, winter clothing, and umbrellas into our backpacks, then went to a discount store for three beach chairs, at $15 apiece. We got to the line, at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 56th Street, at 10:18 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 November—launch day minus 37 hours and 42 minutes. There were 152 people standing in front of us, so we were among the 400 lucky souls.
We killed time text-messaging our moms and wives in Brazil or playing our PSP and a Nintendo DS portable game systems. We also got acquainted with the folks around us. Chris, a talkative Bronx native sporting an NFL jersey and green headband, told us he wanted a PS3 for himself badly, but reselling it on eBay was an enticing proposition as well. His solution? To get an extra PS3, he had dragged his teenage sister along. The line even included some who didn’t quite know what a PlayStation 3 was. Case in point: a hapless secretary dispatched to the line to buy a PS3 for her boss’s son.
At some point, Sony reformed the line, corralling the crowd into fenced sections. After the reorganization, Sony staffers did a head count. To my horror, I found I had been pushed more than a hundred positions further down, to number 263. It was clear that many people were infiltrating the line—friends bringing friends and friends of friends. To avoid waking up to find ourselves outflanked, we took turns keeping watch through the night.
The next day was an emotional roller coaster, a disconcerting mix of extreme boredom and adrenaline-pumping moments. Sometimes we just sat there and stared at the sky. Other times we watched as cursing and pushing erupted because of line cutters. At one point we were shouting back at an anticonsumerism group that showed up to protest the PS3 launch. A while later we were ordering pizza from Domino’s.
But the worst thing was fatigue. We had spent long periods crouched under improvised plastic tents because of rain and wind. And the few times we left the line was to get in another, the one to use the congested bathrooms inside Sony’s building. My friends and I felt mostly okay; just plain tired. Sunk into my chair, wet, hungry, smelling not so great, I felt awful. My back hurt. My eyes burned. My stomach turned over. I wished I could just brush my teeth.
At 9 p.m., Sony began distributing numbered wristbands and my heart pounded. Finally I was handed a yellow plastic wristband numbered 365, another hundred places down from before but still good enough to get in. A few meters behind me, the unfortunate number 401 got down on his knees and begged for a wristband. The Sony staffers said they could do nothing, but added that more units would arrive the next morning. Stay in line was their advice.
As the scruffy crowd entered the store-transmuted-into-nightclub, suffering became joy. Inside, waiters circulated with hors d'oeuvres and soda, and Sony-hired models mingled with the mostly male crowd, who seemed more interested in the PS3 demo stations scattered about.
At around 11 p.m., Sony Corp. chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer got onstage. ”We’re very close to saying, ’Let the games begin,’ ” he told the crowd. Stringer was followed by Kaz Hirai, the bigwig of Sony Computer Entertainment and PS3 cheerleader in chief, who began shouting ”PS3! PS3! PS3!”
At last it was midnight—PS3 buying time. I lined up one last time and with one swipe of my credit card—US $600 plus tax—I received my PS3 with a 60-gigabyte hard drive and built-in Wi-Fi. With reports of buyers elsewhere having their PS3s stolen just after walking out of a store, my colleagues and I ran outside, hailed a cab, and zipped back to the hotel. We slept for 12 hours straight, our PS3s secured inside our heavily locked luggage.
Now back to Brazil, I’ve spent the past several days going through some serious PS3 test sessions, sometimes for 12 hours uninterrupted, preparing a series of reviews we’ll publish soon. Spousal complaints, however, have forced me to take the console to work. There, the other editors treat me as if I had won an Olympic medal. They salute me with pats on the back and high fives. And then they ask to try the machine. After me, I say, after me.
About the Author
Luiz Siqueira, an electrical engineer, is the executive director of Editora Europa , one of Brazil’s largest magazine publishing companies.