Bracing for the Xbox 360 rush

If you need to find Joey Nelson at dawn on Tuesday morning, your best bet is a Best Buy near Los Angeles.

Like thousands of videogame enthusiasts around the country, Nelson–a 23-year-old quality assurance tester–will be waiting for the store to open so he can get his hands on an Xbox 360. The Microsoft game console will finally, after months of hype, go on sale just after midnight Tuesday.

And while those with a little patience will likely be able to get Xboxes in the days or weeks following Tuesday’s official launch, it’s the threat of shortages that’s drawing people like Nelson to early-morning lines. “It seems like if I don’t get it on day one, I might have to wait awhile,” said Nelson,
In fact, there are countless ways that would-be Xbox purchasers can score one of the hot consoles, regardless of whether they want the $399 premium machine–replete with a wireless controller, a headset, a remote and an external hard drive–or the $299 “core” unit.

Several thousand hard-core players will have the first opportunity to buy one of the consoles at a 36-hour launch party to be held starting Sunday evening in Palmdale, Calif., on the edge of the Mojave Desert. There, invite-only attendees will be able to buy their Xboxes beginning at 8 p.m. Monday night, Microsoft said.

For those unable to attend the Palmdale event, there will be more than 15,000 retailers carrying the new Xboxes, said David Hufford, Microsoft’s director of Xbox product marketing. And at least 4,500 of them will be opening their doors at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Many retailers say they are expecting walk-up interest to exceed the number of Xboxes for sale on Tuesday. But not all retailers say they expect a problem.

“We’re not aware of any shortages,” said Karen Burk, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart, the country’s largest chain of retail stores. “We’re anticipating being able to meet the demand.”

For those retailers that do expect more demand than supply, like Toys ‘R’ Us, Circuit City and CompUSA, early-morning visitors should expect long lines and systems designed to notify those in line whether they actually have a chance at getting an Xbox or not.

“The units we have in each store will be sold on a first-come/first-served basis,” said Amanda Tate, a Circuit City spokesperson. “This is definitely a hotly anticipated item, so we are expecting demand to outstrip supply. We would definitely not be surprised to see lines outside the stores prior to opening.”

Katie Means, a spokesperson for CompUSA, explained that those in line at her company’s stores will be given vouchers guaranteeing the right to buy an Xbox. Until the vouchers run out, that is. At that point, the reality is that consumers will have to wait to buy one of the new consoles. But Microsoft hopes they won’t have to wait long.

“Replenishment, replenishment, replenishment, that is the key word here,” said Hufford. “We’ve got thousands of people working in China right now cranking out boxes. The minute they come off the line, we’re boarding them up and putting them on 747s.”

Meanwhile, as countless thousands of Xbox buyers get their consoles at retailers, many others have pre-ordered from Web sites belonging to Circuit City, Wal-Mart and

The advantage of pre-ordering, said Tate, is that those who did so were offered a guarantee (if they were willing to pay for express shipping) of getting their Xbox on Tuesday. But she added that pre-order supplies were limited. (Circuit City’s online store experienced a spike in traffic, and subsequent slowness, on Friday afternoon minutes after the console went on sale. The supply sold out in less than three hours, Tate said.)

Jay Musolf, a spokesperson for Best Buy, also said his company had offered pre-orders–though only to members of its loyalty program.

“Our main goal is to give our customers a chance on the day the Xboxes come out to (get one) at the stores.”

But while in-store customers will be able to buy the consoles in person and make their own decisions about accessories or games, many pre-order deals forced buyers to pay substantially more for packages including several games, extra controllers and the like.

Hufford said Microsoft had nothing to do with the pre-order packages.

“I think what you’re seeing is retailers are all trying to differentiate their offerings from their competition,” he said. “Retailers are going with huge offerings to lure in the most hard core of the hard core.”

But while thousands will be lining up around the country, not all game fans are going to rush out on Tuesday morning.

Jon Gilkison, a 32-year-old software architect from Los Angeles, said that while he has been willing to stand in line for launches like that of Sony’s PlayStation Portable, he has no such plans for the Xbox 360.
“It doesn’t feel like a 2.0 upgrade,” Gilkison said. “It feels more like a 1.5 upgrade. None of the launch titles have that next-gen feel to me, and that would be the point of upgrading. And even though I’m an Xbox die-hard, I’m personally a little more excited about Nintendo’s (forthcoming) Revolution, and am waiting to see how that pans out.”

Still, sentiments like Gilkison’s aside, there is clearly no shortage of excitement about the Xbox launch, and most retailers seem primed to quickly sell out their initial allotments.

In fact, some Xbox enthusiasts worry that Microsoft is building up a buying frenzy by deliberately sending retailers minimal numbers of the consoles. But the company said that notion couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I can understand that there’s some anxiety around people wanting to get their consoles on the first day,” Hufford said. “The truth is we’re not holding anything back. We’re going all out with the Xbox 360 launch to ensure that we put every product we’re capable of making on the shelves on the 22nd.”


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