Finding Xbox 360 is harder than playing it

Microsoft says more consoles are coming, as demand exceeds hyped expectations

November 23, 2005|By STEPHEN KIEHL | STEPHEN KIEHL,SUN REPORTER

They began arriving at 3 p.m. Monday with tents, lawn chairs and the conviction they would be among the first to own an Xbox 360. By midnight, the line at the Timonium Best Buy snaked around the building.

Not everyone would go home happy. The store, like so many others, did not have nearly enough Xboxes to meet demand on their first day on the market. The early arrivals were allowed in at 8 a.m. yesterday - an hour before official opening time. By 9, all the Xboxes were gone.

"It was like seeing little kids on Christmas," said store manager Jim Miller, who didn't know when he'd get more.

Retailers nationwide turned customers away all day. People who had paid for and pre-ordered Microsoft's newest video game system months ago were told they would have to wait. And, by evening, new Xboxes were commanding up to $2,500 on eBay.

FOR THE RECORD - A Page 1A article yesterday incorrectly reported that Electronics Boutique was offering a concession to customers whose pre-ordered Xbox 360s did not arrive this week. The retailer said the promise to customers was only that they would get priority for future Xbox shipments. The Sun regrets the error.

"We're looking at a situation here where the demand is so enormous it caught the world by surprise," said Carlos de Leon, an Xbox product manager. "The demand is greater than Microsoft predicted. We knew this was going to be a hot product, but we could never have imagined the fervor we experienced."

Microsoft says it expects to sell 3 million Xboxes in the next 90 days. Still, some in the gaming community believe the company deliberately created a shortage on launch day to build demand in the holiday season.

Internet-retailer Amazon.com and the Web sites for Circuit City, Best Buy and Wal-Mart all listed the consoles as being sold out yesterday. Power Gamer, a chain of four stores in the Baltimore region, expected to get 48 Xboxes. Instead, it got three - to spread among its stores.

Microsoft denied it intended a shortage. "There is no conspiracy behind the fact that quantities are not meeting demand," de Leon said. "It's just that no one could have imagined the passion from consumers to get their hands on an Xbox 360 on Day 1."

Microsoft, though, has been building the buzz for months. A pre-launch event in California's Mojave Desert on Sunday drew 3,000 fans from around the world - selected from 56,000 who asked for tickets - for an opportunity to play the Xbox before it was released.

"You don't see that for movies or other consumer electronic devices," de Leon said. "There is an emotional connection people have with gaming and the Xbox that is unrivaled."

Jay Lee, 27, a financial adviser from Timonium, said he has seen Xbox ads in video game magazines and Korean newspapers for months. So he was on a mission yesterday morning to find one. He went to Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, Wal-Mart, Electronics Boutique and Power Gamer.

None had any left.

"I came home at 12:30, empty-handed," Lee said. He put his name on a list at Best Buy and hopes to get one by Christmas. "I really want to get it, but I don't want to spend $1,000 on eBay."

The supply difficulty stems partly from the unusually tight schedule of Microsoft's launch. It was released in North America yesterday, and will be out in Europe next week and Japan the week after that. That plan has meant fewer consoles available in North America.

"There was a universal shortage of the systems," said Michelle Jones, a spokeswoman for Electronics Boutique. "Our initial shipment number was reduced, and it happened for all the retailers."

Jones would not say how many pre-orders Electronics Boutique could not fill, but she said those customers were being called personally and being given a concession, which she would not specify, to compensate for the shortage.

Sam Choe, owner of Power Gamer, said he's never seen a less organized launch of a video game system. "This is the worst," he said. "I have more complaints coming from four stores, and I'm just busy handling those calls. I'll be upset later on."

Microsoft said that its factories are working around the clock to make more systems and that retailers should be getting replenishments by next week. A spokesman advised those seeking Xboxes to check back with retailers every week.

The Xbox 360 retails for $399.99, with a slimmed-down version going for $299.99. But with so many retail stores sold out, the average price yesterday for consoles on eBay, including those sold with games and other add-ons, was $660. The online auction company said some console packages were selling for as much as $2,500.

Microsoft denied that it reduced promised shipments to retailers. Some retailers get their Xboxes from dealers, and it appears those dealers were promising higher numbers than they could deliver.

"Never have we lowered numbers after telling retailers what their Day 1 shipments may be," de Leon said. "Retailer expectations may have been higher than what our Day 1 quantities were. But our Day 1 quantities have not been lowered."

Fans who didn't get an Xbox yesterday were upset but not discouraged. Greg Jones of Baltimore spent the afternoon driving from CompUSA to K-B Toys to Best Buy to Wal-Mart. By 5:30 p.m., he landed at Power Gamer in Towson. He couldn't find an Xbox anywhere.

But, he said, "I'm sure I'll get one eventually."

One who did was Sebastian Gomez, 19, who set out at 2 a.m. yesterday to find a store where he could wait in line. He tried Target and Wal-Mart but said, "The lines were so long, it was ridiculous." By 3 a.m. he got to the Owings Mills Toys "R" Us, where he set up camp. There were 15 people in line ahead of him.

The store manager came out at 7 a.m. and told him the store only had 10 units. Lottery tickets were distributed, and Gomez got lucky.

"I'm playing it right now," he said in a telephone interview late yesterday from his Randallstown home. "The art is perfect."

Sun reporters Hanah Cho and Jonathan Pitts, and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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