Video Game Console's Debut Sparks Violence

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 18, 2006

Armed thugs yesterday robbed a line of people waiting to buy the PlayStation 3 in Putnam, Conn., and a man who refused to hand over his money was shot in the chest.

In Palmdale, Calif., police shut down a Super Wal-Mart Stores outlet after a line of people waiting for the new game console got out of control. In Tysons Corner, police fired pepper spray toward a crowd of about 200 people who rushed the locked doors of a Circuit City Stores outlet before it opened.

Forget video game violence, Sony Corp.'s new PlayStation 3 delivered a dose of real-world insanity yesterday as it hit retail shelves across the country -- and sold out moments later. Low supply led to long lines and short tempers outside retail outlets.

The game console's launch even managed to embarrass former Sen. John Edwards after Wal-Mart issued a press release saying an Edwards staffer had asked his local Wal-Mart for help in acquiring the highly sought-after device. An outspoken critic of Wal-Mart, Edwards released a statement yesterday characterizing the action as a mistake by an intern.

Sony delivered 400,000 units of the PS3 to the United States for the launch and said it would ship 2 million units worldwide this year.

The low supply, caused by a component shortage, has sparked a demand so high that the $500 and $600 devices were selling for thousands of dollars on the online sites eBay and Craigslist.

EBay spokesman Hani Durzy said 500 auctions for the PS3 had closed as of early yesterday afternoon, with an average selling price of $2,700. A search for "PS3" turned up 11,000 auctions on the eBay auction site yesterday, including one that listed the console for the "buy it now" price of $10,000.

The ability to make a quick $2,000 or more by selling PlayStations on the Internet caused profiteers to join gaming enthusiasts in the long lines and tent cities that popped up outside stores this week.

One man who camped out for three days at a Rockville Best Buy store said Thursday night that he was looking forward to getting some cash in return for the console.

"It's like a vacation, but I'm getting paid," said Olney resident Woody Hill, who was fourth in line. Others in line estimated that 5 percent of their ranks would keep their PS3s.

A few folding chairs away, Silver Hill resident Mauricio Soto, who planned on keeping his console, was the first person to start waiting on Tuesday night. Some of his fellow campers said if there wasn't any violence at the Rockville store, it may have been thanks to Soto.

Best Buy managers didn't communicate with the PS3 line outside, but Soto took the initiative and started a list of his fellow campers in the hope of preserving order when the store opened yesterday morning. Soto and others conducted a roll call every hour. Anybody who missed the call got taken off the list. Everyone in line got a number, written on their wrist with a permanent marker.

Soto has experience in these matters. He was parked on the same patch of ground at the same store six years ago when the PlayStation 2 came out, though that was only for one night.

When it opened yesterday, the Rockville Best Buy had 65 people waiting outside and only 34 systems inside, so some folks went away empty-handed.

Across the street, at the Rockville Circuit City, about 150 people were lined up outside when the store opened for a special midnight sale of its stock of 100 PS3s. Radio station DC-101 was giving away a few units, and the parking lot was packed with hopefuls.

On the other side of the store's entrance, campers were roped off with police tape to keep latecomers from trying to cut in line. At the front, Douglas Shelton, a construction worker from Oxon Hill, danced with his wife to the music being pumped out from the radio station's tent. Despite having camped out since Monday, he was still enthusiastic about getting the PS3 for his 12-year-old standing nearby. "My son is about to get his gift," he said.

Last year's hard-to-get game system, Microsoft's Xbox 360, launched with similar supply shortages. Tomorrow, Nintendo Co.'s new system, called the Wii, will go on sale for the first time. Nintendo has not said how many units will be available the first day, but analysts say the Wii likely will be more readily available this season because the $250 system does not contain technology as rare as in the PS3.

Now that the tents and the sleeping bags have been put away, the PS3 console has already earned at least one positive review.

"We love it," Soto said in a phone interview yesterday. "It's a pretty big price to pay, but the graphics are awesome and the games play really well."

It's been a week of little rest, but he was trying to put off crashing for just another couple of hours. "I want to go to sleep, but I'm trying to get a few more games in first."

Another new PS3 owner, Michael Torres of Bethesda, said he was too exhausted to take the console out of the box yesterday. Torres and his wife had been camping out at Circuit City since Tuesday. At some point, he came to regret the urge to get a new PS3 no matter what, but he also didn't want to give up his place in line.

"I would never, ever do that again," he said. "You're under a tarp, sitting there with the rain pelting down on you -- you're asking yourself 'why?' and you're not coming up with any good answers."

Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company