Sony's PlayStation 3 made its highly anticipated debut in Japan to long lines yesterday, with local stores selling out their supplies of the video game console in a pattern that's expected to be repeated around the world.
Throngs of people lined up for hours around Bic Camera, an electronics retailer in downtown Tokyo, to get their hands on one of the consoles. The enthusiasm was so great, clerks with megaphones asked the crowd to stop pushing, warning that all sales would end if there were any injuries.
"Standing in line today is the only way to make sure I got one," said Takayuki Sato, 30, among the buyers who queued up at Bic Camera in a line snaking around the building in a complete circle.
But would-be buyers were turned away even before the store opened at 7am.
The retailer refused to say how many machines it had, but a spokeswoman speaking on condition of anonymity per company policy said the store had wrapped up sales of its entire supply by 1pm.
Short supplies were reported elsewhere, too. Sanae Saito, a clerk at Yodobashi Camera Co chain, said her store's stock had already sold out Saturday morning, although she declined to say how many machines were available.
"It's all sold out with the people in line now," she said. "So many people waited in line."
Plagued with production problems, Sony Corp has managed to ready only 100,000 PlayStation 3 machines in time for its debut in Japan. When it goes on sale in the US on Nov. 17, some 400,000 PS3 consoles will be available there. The console's European launch has been pushed back until March.
It was not immediately clear whether the console sold out at all retailers, and Sony said that information would not be available for several days.
Ken Kutaragi, the head of Sony's game unit known as the "father of the PlayStation," said he was thrilled by the reception to the PS3.
"I am so happy so many people are waiting," he said in an informal countdown ceremony at Bic Camera. "Thank you for waiting from late last night."
Powered by the new "Cell" computer chip and supported by the next-generation Blu-ray video disc format, the console delivers nearly movie-like graphics and a realistic gaming experience.
Sony will be losing money for a some time on each PS3 sold because of the high costs for research and production that went into the highly sophisticated machine.
Game makers, including Sony, must recoup the exorbitant development costs for the machines by selling software, and programming the PS3's cutting-edge hardware is an expensive and time-consuming task. Only five games were on sale for the PS3's Japan launch date.
Sony expects to lose US$1.7 billion in its gaming division in the fiscal year through March next year.
In an unprecedented move, Sony slashed the price for the cheaper PS3 model in Japan ahead of its launch by 20 percent to about US$420 in what some critics have scorned as a desperate effort to maintain market share in the face of intense competition with Nintendo Co's Wii console and Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360.
Wii goes on sale Nov. 19 in the US and Dec. 2 in Japan. The Xbox 360 has had a year start.
Prices vary by retailer, but the more expensive model, with a 60-gigabyte drive, sells in Japan for about US$510.
"It's a bit expensive, but I really wanted it," said Hirotoshi Iwadate, a 23-year-old hospital worker, clutching a big bag with his new PS3 after standing in line since 10pm Friday. "I came here straight from work."