OK, so even though I told you that there were lots of alternative ways to get your PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii, some folks just can’t stand to be away from the action. After all, launch days are kinda like the Olympics — they only come around once every four years (or maybe more in the case of gaming). And if you’ve ever been a part a system launch, you know the magic. Fifty or sixty hardcore gamers standing outside a store talking ‘geek’ about what games they pre-ordered or what information they’ve heard about the system so far. Anytime you group people together with a similar passion of any kind, it’s a recipe for fun.
But as much fun as launch days bring, they can also bring about the worst in folks. I pray that everyone will be safe and that they’ll make this an experience to remember for good reasons. And with that said, this list was inspired. This is a download of my experience of over twenty-plus years of gaming and having been a part of six console launch days. No, I’ve never had to stand on line without knowing that my system was reserved. But I’ve spoken to enough people and accumulated enough knowledge to share. And with that said, here’s my list of guidelines to insure that your camp-out in front of Best Buy, Target, Circuit City or Toys R Us is safe and not in vain.
1. Bring friends. (The more, the better). It might be difficult to find folks who are this hardcore about gaming — so much so that they’ll take a day off of work and camp out in front of a store in November. But if you’re going to do it, this is the kind of thing that is best done among three or four committed friends. (Basically folks who won’t leave when it starts to get cold or who won’t back out at the last minute.) Why? Well, for starters, you’ll need someone to hold your place in line while you go to the bathroom (or there are alternatives….. calm down, I’m kidding.) But seriously, there are more than a few reasons why having three other gamers with you is a good idea. You’ll definitely want the security as you’re coming out of a store with a shiny new PlayStation box in a big yellow and blue see-through Best Buy bag. (And there are a bunch of other reasons to bring friends that I’ll mention later.) But just trust me on this one. You’ll want to huddle up your crew for this quest. Round up your posse and have them start planning around the date now.
2. Get to know the store manager. Now. – There’s nothing worse (and I mean nothing) than taking all of this time to camp out overnight, only to find out that the store isn’t getting any units. Or perhaps that they have only four (after all of the in-store corruption and holding systems for family members happens.) Your first job is to seek out the store manager. (Things like this are best done in person — not over the phone.) Go during your lunch hour or after work. Don’t be shy. Tell the attendant that you have an important question and that you need to speak to the store manager. I find it’s best to dress respectably (business casual is fine) and have a pen and notebook in front of you when you speak. And keep asking for folks until you get the top girl/guy whose answers satisfy you. You’ll want to know a few things:
a. Are there any promotions that you’ll be running for the PlayStation 3/Nintendo Wii launch day(s)?
b. Do you have any expectation of how many systems will be in your store on launch day? (Or if you’ll have any at all?)
c. Do you know if anyone has already expressed a desire to wait outside the store for a system?
d. Where is the best place to line up? (Nothing’s more embarrassing than waiting for days outside of a Best Buy to find out that the line is at another entrance. And yes, I’ve heard about this happening.)
e. “…and what is your name, sir/ma’am?” (This one is very important. If the manager senses that there’s a chance that their false information could result in affecting their job, they’ll take this opportunity to clarify anything they aren’t sure of. (Especially in light of all of the negative press Best Buy received last year during the Xbox 360 launch.) Once I even had a store manger take my information after I asked him a few questions about another tech product. But this was only after I made direct eye contact and asked him for his name.
If nothing else, this let’s the manager know what to expect on launch day. When he/she sees your face now, they’ll more than likely remember the discussion in November. This can only help you. Perhaps the manager will ask you for your name and have someone call you as more information is made available? Also, amidst a launch day crowd and lots of confusion, it could warrant you a bit of favor if that manager sees and recognizes you.
More importantly, talking to the manager lets you know what to expect from the store. If the guy looks like he doesn’t have a clue about “one of those new PlayStation-thingees”, then perhaps you’re shopping at the wrong store. (More on that later.) But your discussion with the store manager doesn’t stop there because when you get to the launch line in November — even if you’re not the first one to arrive — you’ll want to….
3. …talk to the store manager and let him/her know that you are standing in line! This is not such as big a deal if there are already folks on line, but I’ve heard about situations where people started lining up outside of an electronics chain on the left and somehow folks began to start lining up on the opposite side. The lines each slowly grew and nobody asked any questions until more and more people began to show up and confusion ensued from there. Avoid this altogether. If you’re first in line, just walk inside (and while you’re there, familarize yourself with where the bathroom is) and then ask for the manager. Let him/her know that you’ll be standing outside and for which system you’ll be waiting for. (Hopefully he/she recognizes your face if you followed my number 2 and the conversation will be brief.) Also, there might be some sort of bracelet or ticket that they’ll have to hand out. It’s a small but important step if you expect to play Resistance: Fall of Man on the weekend of November 17.
4. The early bird gets the worm. The PlayStation launch is on a Friday this year (November 17). If I were crazy enough to camp-out, I’d probably think about taking a few days off and starting to camp out no later than early Thursday morning (…or possibly as early as Wednesday….or maybe even earlier depending on how many hardcore folks there are in your town. (HEY! I see those juding eyes through the screen. Don’t get all judgemental on me. Folks lined up for a year in advance of the Star Wars prequels….and those were shite AND they didn’t get anything to take home for the experience.)
Anyhow, this is where having ‘talked to your store manager’ comes in handy. If you were friendly enough, more than likely he/she will have clued you in if anyone else has mentioned when they plan to start lining up.
If you’re insanely hardcore, you might even want to start a “watch” around the store… As you or your buddies pass by the store on your normal route in the days leading up to the launch, give them a shout out via mobile phone if you happen to see anyone lining up. And bring your stuff with you. If you see folks starting to form the line, perhaps you’d want to consider parking the car and hopping on the line yourself.
5. Be Social. If you’re going to have to stand among a bunch of strangers in a competitive situation, ease the tension by talking to folks. And I’m not talking about just the folks that you bring to the launch. If you bring buddies, each of you should start talking to other folks in the line. (This is usually a problem for me. I just like to zone out sometimes and read or….what else…game.) But it’s definitely to your advantage to talk to people. First off, talking can usually uncover information. “My cousin is inside working tonight and he said that they have only 12 PS3s”. Or perhaps one of you will get some other details that you can bring back to the group. Hey, you might make a new friend (that you’ll put on that mysterious online friends list that Sony has yet to discuss.) It just helps to ease the atmosphere. I still remember some of the folks that I met during the PS2 and the Dreamcast launch. But if you can’t be convinced to be nice just because sometimes it’s a good thing to be nice, know that you can stay more connected to the real-time information flowing around you if you talk to folks who are there for the same reason that you are.
6. When it comes to stores, discriminate. Last year a lot of folks were upset that I got a system without standing in some long line when many of them waited in the the rain — overnight — for an Xbox 360 — in vain. One female friend almost cornered me at work: “How is it fair that you can get a system, but I waited longer and didn’t get one?” And so I asked her, “Where did you wait?” Her reply? “Wal-Mart”. And therein lies the problem.
Even though a store might carry PlayStation or Nintendo products, it doesn’t necessarily say anything about their commitment to gaming. For some stores, gaming is a complete afterthought. Just some section in the back of the store, next to the television displays. And this isn’t standard to any one chain. One Wal-Mart might have a great gaming section while another location’s section is horrible. This is why you want to start interviewing managers now (see number two) to find out who has a launch day plan and who didn’t even know there was going to be a new PlayStation.
If you’re in the group of folks that didn’t (or can’t) find a a place to pre-order a system, you’re limited to camp out in front of stores that generally don’t run pre-order programs. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but the main stores that you’ll probably want check with (at least in the Northeastern section of the U.S.) are: Sears, Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Circuit City, Toys R Us and (God forbid) P.C. Richard’s.
7. Bring a survival kit. (And get comfortable — you’re going be here for awhile.) – If you’re going to make any kind of serious sacrifice to get your new next generation system, you’ll want to bring all of the necessary essentials for survival. Those fold up plastic and fabric chairs are practically made for events like this. Also, November = winter. Dress for an outdoor trip. (Don’t forget, most of that time will be spent sitting in one place.) Bring food (including enough extras for the guy you met outside whose brother works inside Target. It could pay off.) Having some kind of makeshift pillow would be a good idea, but the plastic fold up chair is essential. After all, what good is it to get a new system yet be too stiff to sit down and enjoy it?
8. Know the rules of the line. – We’ve all been to an amusement park and watched the kids who cut the line. We’re upset, but we won’t make a big fuss over it. Hey, maybe you’ll wait a little longer, but the ride’s not going anywhere. These rules are multiplied by a factor of 5000 when you’ve waited for hours….maybe days…. and someone decides to let their friend hop on line in front of them just before the Circuit City doors open.
I don’t know all of the “Rules of the Queuing Line,” but someone let me peek at their guide book once. Two of the rules I do recall are as follows: If you followed number one in my list and you have a bunch of friends, it’s okay for one to step out of line to get a bite to eat for the group (be nice and ask if anyone else wants anything….ok, maybe not not everyone. Maybe just the dude behind your group.) However, only one from the group should leave and it shouldn’t be for any substantial period of time. Half an hour, tops. Same goes for bathroom visits. Basically the rule is this: for each person in that group standing in line expecting to buy a system, they should have waited with everyone else in the group. (Bonus: If you want to wait in shifts, but only because four of you are standing in line to buy one system, make a mini-announcement so that everyone can hear that you’re only buying one system. And this time around, even that might not calm folks.)
The second rule I peeked at is one for all of you “solo journey” folks. You people will certainly want to follow number five on the list because when you need to go to the bathroom, you must let the person behind you (and maybe even mention it to the lady in front of you) know that you need to make a short trip to the restroom. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the same courtesy when nature calls for them, as well. But don’t mention that you’re going to the bathroom, only to return three hours later. Folks who queued up behind you will start to unsheathe swords and draw arrows from quivers if you pull stunts like this.
Undoubtedly folks who didn’t read this post are going to bring a bunch of friends — but not having done their homework, they won’t know which stores are expecting what. And that will lead to five friends waiting in five different store lines for systems. It’s okay if they’re only buying one system between them. But if they all expect to come home with systems and four folks slip in line at about 8AM in front of a hundred angry dads, how do you think that’s going to turn out? (If I had to guess, it would probably involve news cameras and ambulances.)
I guarantee you — about 90% of all skirmishes that happen during this launch will be because of some sort of misunderstanding that falls under this area. Don’t be the guy on the news — know the rules of the line!
9. Be alert! – This goes hand-in-hand with, “bring friends” and “be social”. Especially if you’re not familiar with the area where you’re going to wait in, keep a heightened awareness about you. (Kinda like you do when you’re sitting at the airport gate before your flight.) Just like the lady tells you as the flight is preparing for takeoff, look around while you’re on line and plan your route back to the car once you get your system. (And please….. for the love of all that’s good and holy…. don’t take the bus home. You just spent $600 on a system. Find $10 and buy a cab ride home. Please.) Bottom line is this — the goal is to slide that PS3 into the space in your home entertainment system. Giddily smiling as you walk back to the car, happy that you’re carrying the next generation in gaming under your arm might result in you getting “got”.
10. Bring a covering. – Here’s one that most folks don’t consider. Rather than walking out of Best Buy as a target with a big yellow and blue bag, why not bring something to make your $600 less conspicuous? Most people who have considered this go with the ever popular “black garbage bag”, but sometimes those can be just as conspicuous. My suggestion – get a big Macy’s shopping bag or a large shopping bag from any other clothing store. (A pink Conway bag is your road to success). Also, remember to put a few shirts inside of the bag so that you can drape them over the box. Again, it sounds silly, but the whole point of gaming is fun and you want to ensure that you get home safely so that you can enjoy your system. And that brings me to my next point…..
11. If you sense danger, WAIT! – If you’re in the rare situation where you feel that you’re not safe, go back to the store. It’s the mall’s responsibility to make sure that you have a safe environment in which to shop. At Best Buy or Circuit City, talk to those annoying guys that bug the hell out of you for your receipt when you’re trying to leave the store. Tell them that you don’t feel safe and you think some security is needed outside of the store. Then hopefully the “mall cops” will deter any theft and you can go home safely. Thankfully I’m a big guy and I haven’t had to do this before. But it’s not about just you. Perhaps there’s some Mom who doesn’t see the danger that you see. Why risk the trip just because you’re in a hurry to get home and play? You’re risk losing your money and the system that you waited on for hours. If you sense danger, swallow your pride, go back to the store and make sure that there’s enough security there for everyone to get home safely.
I’d rather wait inside the store — even for an hour or more until the situation is safe — than to have the system in hand, only hours from glory and rush out into danger, not only putting the system in jeopardy, but your life as well. Patience, Young Skywalker.
12. If you wait in line a day or more in advance of launch, agree to sleep in shifts. – This might sound rather silly, but if get your place in line on Wednesday (November 15), discuss with your buddies a plan for sleeping. I know it sounds as if I’m overcomplicating the experience as if folks were in an episode of ‘Lost’, but whaddya want?!! I knew a guy who was so hardcore to get a system that he stayed up for the two days that he was on line (Xbox 360) and as it got closer to the 9am hour, sleep began to overtake his body. He eventually got his system, but think of the risk he was putting himself in…. (especially considering number ten on the list) walking out of a store needing desperately to rest with a $700 bag in your hand.
Now, if you’re with a group, this one is easy. (Usually there’s a guy who can operate on little to no sleep.) However, if you’re alone, this will be a challenge (to say the least). But as you’re being social (see five), at least discuss it with the folks you are standing around. (My strong advice is that if these aren’t folks that you know and you need to sleep a few hours before the actual launch date, “don’t trust em!” You might wake up in a lawn chair by yourself in front of Circuit City at 11:30am with a damn PS3 bracelet still on your arm — that is, if they didn’t cut that from your wrist! And no, I didn’t hear about this actually happening, but it does sound pretty funny.)
13. Enjoy yourself! – Hey, this is a game system launch — bring games! Bring a DS or a PSP and see how many folks show up on the network. Again, you might make some new friends that you can look for later on that day on the PS3’s mysterious online friend finding system. The point is, as much as this is a sacrifice, it’s a time to celebrate your passion. I mean, let’s not get too crazy….. don’t dress in cosplay or anything, but bring a portable system and a few games. (And don’t get so excited about the new system that you lose or forget your $199 PlayStation Portable. Yet another good reason to have a bunch of friends — someone can guard the knapsacks of gaming goodies.)
My advice is to take a few mobile phone movies. This experience can be something you look back on and laugh about. (That is, provided you actually get a system.) But forsaking all other rules…. above all else….please…..
14. Please, Please, Please — BE SAFE!! – I would love to turn on the news on the 17th at 6pm and see only corny news stories about “PlayStation Mania” where they stick a camera in front of some little kiddies who just stare and drool on the mic. But sadly, I suspect that Friday November 17 is going to be one crazy day. Remember — above all else, this console is not worth your life. If faced with the unfortunate situation of having it stolen, just walk away thanking God that you lived to talk about it. No system is worth your life or your health. It’s unfortunate that the economic situation is such that hard working folks can’t all afford to enjoy the fun, but that’s just the sad state of affairs that we live in. Best thing you can do is get a system and share the experience at home with a friend who might not have been able to afford one. But please, please….just be safe.
And there you have it. The Console Launch Day Camp-Out Guide – Nintendo Wii and PS3 Edition. I hope this helps you out a bit and brings you good favor as you endeavor upon buying during one of the most exciting times in gaming history.
Images courtesy of CNet’s News.com and Geeksquad.com.