The Xbox One officially launches today, so of course there were events last night to herald the arrival of the console in customer hands at midnight. The major action took place in Los Angeles, New York London and Berlin, but we have reports also from San Francisco and Toronto.
It’s amazing the difference an event team can make. Last week at the PlayStation 4 launch in San Francisco, Sony sent a PR team and a dozen PS4 demo stations, while GameStop sent president Tony Bartel and VP Jason Cochran along with other staffers. The result was a party with searchlights painting the building with Sony logos, a DJ dishing out tunes and raffle prizes, PR folks and GameStop associates passing out t-shirts and other goodies to the crowd of over a hundred people.
The Xbox One launch at the same GameStop store on San Francisco’s Market Street was sleepy by comparison. Ten people waited in line outside the front door. There was no DJ, no party atmosphere, no crowds inside, no piles of Xbox Ones waiting to be handed out to eager customers. It looked like just another night at GameStop. Several Xbox One demo stations were set up and running, but no one was playing them. (The only demo station in use in the store was someone playing FIFA 14 on a PS4 demo station.) There was a handful of customers in the store, but they were looking at a wide variety of things, and not just Xbox Ones. The in-store displays for the Xbox One were impressive, as was the store’s appearance in general.
The GameStop store in San Francisco expected to do a very good business with the Xbox pre-order customers buying additional products. As for availability of the Xbox One, it’s anyone’s guess at this point. Certainly both Sony and Microsoft are trying hard to manufacture more consoles and get them out to stores, particularly for the Black Friday shopping extravaganza beginning next week. (GameStop stores will open at midnight on Thanksgiving Day, and many other retailers will be opening early as well.) This GameStop, at least, is ready to handle customers for any system, with plenty of space, numerous demo stations for all systems, and well-stocked shelves.
This showing in San Francisco is probably more representative of launch time at most stores, with people coming in to pick up their pre-orders and not much else happening. The hoopla at official opening parties is fun and photogenic, but the bulk of the sales is handled with little fuss at most stores. The excitement is inside the eager customers who have pre-ordered these new consoles, buying into the promise of new technology more than the reality of a handful of launch titles.
The takeaway message is that neither the PlayStation 4 nor the Xbox One’s future should be judged by the size or quality of the crowds at carefully managed launch parties. Sales of both consoles will be constrained by manufacturing for some time to come. Generating enthusiasm now is useful in many ways for Sony and Microsoft, but the big challenge for both companies will be to maintain that enthusiasm when there aren’t enough consoles to go around . . . and to maintain that enthusiasm later, when there are plenty of consoles to go around.
Microsoft actually delivered Xbox One units to the Times Square Best Buy Theater by armored truck! After a performance by Macklemore to get the fans fired up, Xbox corporate VP Marc Whitten finally took the stage as the clock neared midnight to officially count down to the very first Xbox Ones being sold in the US. Being in Times Square it definitely had a New Year’s Eve vibe to it as he counted down. The first ten fans who had been waiting in line from the start were welcomed onto the stage and jogged in through the crowd like an NFL or NBA roster.
Microsoft’s launch party in Berlin is at the Microsoft Center in the Unter den Linden district with around 500 guests from the media and the games industry. Thirty of those are local celebrities including actress Jessica Schwarz and David Kross. Like London there are no official midnight sales at a retail outlet, but Microsoft’s German Xbox boss Oliver Kaltner and Microsoft German CEO Christian P Illek are on hand to share some of their goals — one of which is to grow market share mid-term to 40 per cent (it currently claims around 30 per cent). Part of that is by increasing the marketing message, with Kaltner stating: “We have the biggest marketing budget in the history of Xbox in Germany. We are speaking about a double digit million euro budget.”
A chilly crowd is beginning to respond more warmly to Microsoft’s Xbox One showcase in London as celebrities take to the stage. So far, music has been interspersed with gameplay and trailers as zombies, legionaries and the ubiquitous purveyors of Mountain Dew circulate through the crowd. A solid core of people who’ve planned to be here has been supplemented by various curious passers-by, both gamers and those simply intrigued by the spectacle. Despite a few technical teething problems the show is now in full swing, with Katy B taking the stage as we spoke to the audience before retreating to a nearby hotel for warmth and wi-fi.
As forecast, the rain started falling as the evening wore on. And while it made for a generally cold and miserable evening outside, the weather couldn’t keep the lines from growing. In the minutes before midnight, Best Buy’s line was roughly 50 people long, with around 80 at EB Games and more than 150 at Future Shop, where the retailer and Microsoft were giving out all manner of swag and keeping a party atmosphere rolling with the help of a DJ. The scene also attracted some EB Games employees, who were enticing gamers to make the short walk to their store with promises of plentiful unreserved Xbox Ones and, as a clincher, the ability to wait inside the store.