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PlayStation 2 makes its North American debut
Graphics cause glee, but dearth will disappoint
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Retailers across the continent began selling the PlayStation 2 on Thursday, but electronics giant Sony Corp. expects to fall far short in meeting the demand for its long-anticipated video game console.
Weeks behind production schedule, Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. is offering only 500,000 PlayStation 2 systems for its release in North America. Many have already been pre-sold.
The company had planned to ship 1 million units for the launch and the shortage has led to shopping frenzies at malls and toy stores.
Dozens of gamers lined up hours before the PlayStation 2 officially went on sale at stores that began selling at midnight.
At a Software Etc. outlet in Atlanta, about 40 people lined up to be one of the first to get a pre-ordered PlayStation 2.
Bilal Dottony, a 19-year-old student at Morehouse College, said he ordered his console in March after learning of the stampeding crowds in Japan.
A self-described "hardcore gamer," Dottony also owns a PlayStation, a Nintendo 64 and a Sega Dreamcast. He tried to maintain his composure after he carried his
But not everyone at the late-night launch was taking their PS2 home to play.
Matt Collins, 23, was already contemplating how much it would cost to ship it overnight to the person in Tennessee who bought it from him on the eBay auction Web site -- for $600, twice the retail price. As of mid-afternoon on Thursday, some PlayStation 2 units on eBay were selling for upwards of $1,000.
"This is heavier than I thought," he remarked. "But I'm sure I can get it there on time."
Collins added that he has several other PS2s on hold at other local stores, all of which are destined for online buyers -- aside from the one he's keeping for himself.
Troy Evans, 34, and Jimmy Rogers, 29, had allocated the remainder of the early morning hours for a PlayStation 2 marathon session. Rogers had driven from nearby Athens, Georgia, to accompany his friend.
"We've bought lots of munchies and we won't be answering the door," Evans said.
The PlayStation 2 is the first video game console for Evans, who said he bought it primarily because of its DVD player capability. Both men had been counting down the hours until the release and were among the first customers in line.
Representatives from Software Etc. had been advised not to speak with the media because of Sony's shortage. However, one employee said that anybody who hadn't pre-ordered a unit would be hard-pressed to find one at any shop before Christmas.
Twiddling thumbs, not joysticks
Sony announced a month ago that it was drastically scaling back the number of consoles it would ship for the launch. Experts blame across-the-board shortages of computer components, from memory chips to flat panel displays to simple connectors.
There are also reports that the company has been plagued by
Sony said it will ship 100,000 units a week to retailers every week from now until Christmas. Company executives acknowledge the trickle may not be adequate to handle the holiday season demand. Despite the delays Sony still expects to sell 3 million consoles by the end of March. The PlayStation 2 will be released in another 17 countries on November 24, specifically the European Union, Switzerland and Norway.
Many retail outlets pre-sold PlayStation 2 consoles, but the spotty supply suggests many consumers, even those who ordered them in advance, would be left twiddling their thumbs instead of their joystick controllers after day one.
"Customers have been waiting all year for this launch and the limited allocation has only increased the frenzy," said Kirk Konigsbauer of Amazon.com, which begins offering a limited number of consoles for online sale on a first come/first serve basis Thursday afternoon.
At a Best Buy outlet in Atlanta, people began showing up Wednesday evening, braving the night with sleeping bags and lawn chairs. When the store opened in the morning more than 100 people were waiting out front.
Bobby Butler, 34, snagged the 96th and final ticket voucher to buy an unreserved console.
"I was sweating it out when they counted off this morning," said Butler, carting around his infant son Devin and PS2 accessories in a baby carriage.
"My daughter Ashley has leukemia and this is all she wanted for Christmas," he said.
For others, the search for a console is itself a game. Those seeking them in retail outlets should target larger stores, preferably those that do not specialize in computer games, said Wes Nehei of GamePro magazine.
"You want to find some outlet that's off the beaten track," he said. "There are going to be people all over the place trying to beat you out. They're gamers, you know. They're gamers and they're strategizing so they've got this game plan in place."
Sony already dominates the annual $7 billion video game industry, primarily with its original 32-bit PlayStation, released in 1995.
PS2 is not the first to reach the 128-bit plateau -- that distinction belongs to Dreamcast, which Sega launched about 13 months ago. But industry analysts have said the Sega console has sold only moderately well in the market and most analysts expect PS2 to eclipse its sales.
Police intervene in PlayStation 2 fracas
The craze over PlayStation 2 boiled over at a suburban Atlanta Wal-Mart, where a crowd of about 70 people got angry when the store had just 21 units to sell, police said.
At least two men -- a 52-year-old and a 19-year-old -- got into a heated argument as the manager tried to restore calm. According to the police report, one of the men lurched toward the other, the teen prodding the older man, saying, "If you want some, come and get some."
"Just before this argument came to blows, officers stepped in and placed both of them under arrest for disorderly conduct," said David Schofield, the chief of police in Woodstock, Georgia.
"The rest of the night went pretty smooth," he said, adding that both men went home without the new toys.
A real player, in the DVD sense
Nevertheless, the console packs plenty of performance. It can crunch numbers twice as fast as an Apple G4. It sports a 24X-CD ROM drive. It delivers impressive and smooth graphics that rival high-quality film and the best 3-D animations.
"The best powder I have ever seen," said one player testing out "SSX," a game from Electronics Arts in which snowboarders grind, plow and flip their way down convincingly dangerous and realistic slopes.
Perhaps the most important perk, the PS2 can play digital versatile disc (DVD) movies, a feature that Sony hopes will make the $299 console a standard appliance in North American homes. The game pad controls the DVD functions with a relatively rudimentary interface, allowing users to skip ahead, pause or view special features.
In Japan, the presence of the movie player has reportedly driven up sales of DVD movies.
The PS2 is also backward-compatible, meaning that it will play all old Sony PlayStation games. There are more than 20 PlayStation 2 games currently available for the new system.
Nintendo and Microsoft Corp. are both releasing new video game consoles in the fall of 2001, called the GameCube and Xbox respectively.
Correspondents Greg Lefevre and Rick Lockridge and CNN.com Senior Editor Wayne Drash contributed to this report.
The PlayStation Paradox
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