My Playstation 3 adventure began at around noon on Friday. I stopped by Bic Camera in Yurakucho to find out the scoop on what they were doing for the launch. I already knew from their homepage that they would be doing sales on a first come first serve basis and I needed to know when they were expecting people to show up, how many units they were getting, where the line was, etc.
Well, they weren’t giving away any information. In fact, some of the people who work there knew less than I did! One interesting fact I did learn was that it is illegal (?) to line up outside of buildings in the Marunouchi area late at night. Cops will come and make you move. So the line was supposed to form around 5AM.
I should have taken that as a bad sign, but I didn’t and instead went home to come back at 4:30PM. When I got there, I ran into a couple of friends, Chris and Shu, who were sort of milling around outside the store, where the line would form. I joined up with them and we decided we were going to make a line. Which we promptly did. As soon as we moved over to beside the store, near the side entrance, about 6 or 7 other people did the same and we had a full-fledged line formed.
Roy soon joined and within about 30 minutes, about 30 people were in line with us, including a big bunch of homeless people and their “handlers”. At this point the Bic Camera people finally figured out what was going on and moved out to get people to leave the line. “You can’t line up here,” they would tell us. “You can go anywhere you want and wait until 5AM, you just can’t wait here.” “If you wait here, we will not sell you a PS3.” One guy in particular, who looked like he was in charge, asked us politely and persistently to move. I said “If you can guarantee me a PS3, I’ll move.” He told me “Look, don’t worry there are plenty of PS3s for everyone in this line and then some.” He wouldn’t tell me how many but after hearing a number of around 300 of each type from one other employee, we felt a little bit safer about giving up our spot. After quite a bit of haggling/arguing, we moved across the street for a little bit and then decided to go to Quiznos to get something to eat.
When we got back at around 6:30 or so, there was a slightly larger group of people, all sitting up against the Mizuho Bank building across the street from Bic Camera. The Bic Camera people were all lined up along the block, holding megaphones shouting “Do not line up here” and such. Which was fine by us and we sat down to wait out the night.
At around 9 or so, security guards from Mizuho met up with the Bic Camera people to tell them not to let their customers sit in front of their building. So the Bic Camera people came and told us to move off of Bic Camera’s property and everyone moved to the sidewalk.
Here is where I began to really feel that Bic Camera had simply not planned for this occasion. Supposedly, it was not OK for us to line up outside the store, yet it was OK for us to gather in huge groups around the block. There was simply no organization whatsoever.
As we waited, we noticed how many Chinese people were waiting around us. In fact, it seemed like almost a majority of the people were Chinese. Ken, an Aussie whom we had met, spoke to one girl who confirmed that most of them were Chinese exchange students who were getting ¥10,000 each to stand in line and buy a machine. They were giving them to stores who would then resell them at a huge markup to gamers elsewhere in the world.
Aside from the Chinese exchange students, there were also a lot of homeless people who were getting paid by Japanese people to do the same thing. It sort of made me mad, that so many people were lining up who had no interest in a machine for any purpose other than to make money.
We waited and waited, passing the time by chatting, making bathroom/drink/snack runs etc. We had turned into a larger group with the addition of a couple of German guys and some exchange students from Gaigodai. We busted out the Nintendo DSes and played a lot of Mario Kart DS.
It was at this point that a TV crew from the TBS show Akko ni omakase came over and asked to film us getting our Mario Kart DS on. We did and they interviewed most of us one by one…no telling it we’ll actually be on the show, but it airs tomorrow so we’ll see. The guys those were totally nice and we chatted with them off and on throughout the night.
Right after this, there was a false alarm. By this time, not only were there a couple of hundred people on our side of the street, there were even more on the opposite side of Bic Camera. Suddenly, there was a huge noise and everyone from our side of the street suddenly began running over to the other side of Bic Camera. It was absolutely insane…a stampede of people that swept up others in its wake. The employees of Bic Camera quickly began to yell “This isn’t it! This isn’t it!” and people slowly moved back to their original spaces.
Now here was when I realized this was going to get ugly. There were several hundred people all on edge, waiting until 5AM when they would announce where everyone could go to line up. This was just going to cause another stampede and this one would be much more dangerous because it was the real thing.
At 5AM slowly approached, the tension got thicker and thicker. Everyone was tired and ready to line up and get their new game machines. But the Bic Camera people would not tell anyone where or how the line would form. It was just ridiculous.
People began to slowly inch closer and closer to the store. Huge crowds of people began to block the streets, only to be pushed back by Bic Camera employees. At one point, one employee told our group of people that “We’ll be guiding the other group of people into the line and then we will guide you into the line” and that was it. All hell broke loose. Everyone on our side of the street rushed over to the other side to try to get into that group while the other group moved forward, towards the store. The front entrance had been roped off and TV and media were everywhere but that didn’t matter as they got trampled along with Bic Camera employees. I was fortunately out of the danger area, sort of looking on in astonishment and fear. This was an incredibly dangerous situation.
Roy called me and told me “Hey, they’re making the line down back where we originally were, c’mon!” and so I went to where he was. Sure enough, they were cordoning off a line and telling everyone to line up here. We did and then they eventually told us to turn around and walk back around the store. At first we were pissed because we thought we were going to end up in the end of the line but it turned out we were quite near the front of the line because they were going to let people in from the backside of the store. We were very happy after this and began to get excited.
As we made our way around to the front of the line and waited for the units to go on sale, more panic struck. People behind us in line were pushing and shoving, people were getting crushed and girls were screaming. This happened once farther back from us, but I was beginning to worry what would happen if that panic moved up towards us. Media were everywhere, from TV and print, journalists interviewing people and photographers snapping away.
A second panic hit and this one did come right up on me and Roy. It pushed me way ahead of the group and I couldn’t get out of the wave of people. Eventually it settled down, but huge groups of people who had been near the middle of the line had suddenly formed a clump right up front!
Basically, it was some of the worst organization I had ever seen. Bic Camera was completely clueless as to how to form an orderly, organized lineup. People were getting pushed and shoved around and people were jumping in front of others. It was totally ridiculous.
At 7AM, the opening ceremonies started, but I have no idea what happened since I couldn’t see anything. Apparently SCE CEO Ken Kutaragi was there, but I didn’t see him. I did see SCEE head honcho Phil Harrison taking some photos though.
As we waited until 8:00, 8:30, 9:00, our line never moved. They were clearing out that clump of people who had pushed their way to the front. We watched as people walked past us, holding the PS3 in their hands. Out of I’d say 20 to 30 or so people who walked by, maybe 1 of them looked like a gamer. The rest were either Chinese exchange students or homeless people. It was pretty disgusting that people would organize in such a way, depriving legitimate gamers of a machine only so they could price gouge someone else.
And to make the whole experience even better, it began to rain. And I had no umbrella. Shit.
As one point I saw one Chinese a guy sitting in a pile of around 30 PS3s. That guy was going to make a nice profit, but it pissed me off to think that 30 gamers somewhere in Japan were not going to get a machine because of him. An individual doing this on their own for their own benefit is one thing, but a huge organized scam like this is another. Fuck those guys. And fuck all y’all willing to pay through the nose for these things. It’s just a game machine!
Being totally dead, Roy, Shu, Chris and I wearily made our way to McDonalds for breakfast and then Roy and I shared a taxi back home. I immediately zonked out and just woke up.
I’m sure I’ll look back on this day as one for the record books, but right now, I’m mostly just glad I’m home and it’s all over…