A quick question for my readers

On Saturday afternoon, after a morning of rounding on the service's patients and doing some odds and ends in the office and the lab, on the way home I stopped at the local Best Buy because I needed some blank DVDs. To my puzzlement, there were people lined up outside as though they were camping out for tickets for the most popular rock band in the world. There were sleeping bags, chairs, tents, and coolers. I had no clue what was going on. Then I saw this, and realized that it was the afternoon before the midnight launch of the Nintendo Wii.

Can someone explain to me why people would line up for days ahead of time for a midnight launch of a game console? I mean, I like this sort of stuff, and it's not as though I haven't done my share of youthful waiting to be first in line, although I certainly don't do it anymore. Still, I remember back in 1982 (the days before the Internet allowed online ordering and when Ticketmaster was still a relatively new way to buy tickets) when my friends and I took turns in line waiting to buy tickets to see The Police in Ann Arbor. (We scored front row seats.) Even so, I would never have lined up for days ahead of time to get one of these game consoles right after the stores opened. I can wait until it goes on sale, weeks or months from now.

What is the attraction that drives people to go to such lengths?

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I think it's just about being one of the first. Game systems don't come out too often, it's an event. Granted, most of them are probably creeps, but it is a culture. I'm sure many of them would be boggled by you and your friends waiting in line for concert tickets.

Unless it was MC Chris. He brings down the house.

The question is: does Nintendo (or Sony, or whoever) makes enough pieces to sell to everyone? If not (and is that by design), the whole supply-and-design kicks in. People do not want to be the ones to be left without. Also, many of those first-bought machines are immediatelly resold (often on eBay) by 4X the price for those who do not want to stand in the rain.

My son will get a Wii for Hannukkah - there is plenty of time to wait to get one.

It's a community thing.

My friends and I are pretty big gamers (between us we have nearly every console ever made) and outside of work and family it is the biggest thing in our lives. We get excited about the next console release and can't wait to share the fun and brag a bit. Standing in line to get a console at launch is a badge of honor for some of the more hardcore gamers.

That being said I have my limits. I got a couple of the consoles at launch (and some of the bigger games like halo2) but would never stand in line for more than 5-6 hours maybe.

By Joshua White (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

I'm not sure what to tell you, Orac. See, I really want a Wii. But not badly enough to take time off work and camp out in the cold. I didn't do it for Star Wars or Lord of the Rings and I certainly won't do it for video games, much as I love them. But some people will, and those people are usually...well, you wouldn't want to talk to them. Or look at them. Or be within a five mile radius of them. But at the end of the day, they just have different priorities than the rest of us. Different priorities and either less patience or more, depending on how you look at it.

The real question is how many of those people lost their jobs over the Wii? I know of at least one in my area. Now that is sad.

We need to come up with a way to make working toward world peace (or ending hunger, or cleaning up the oceans, etc.) as cool/rewarding/exciting as video game supremacy.

Being first certainly applies to some of these people, but many are selling the new system to someone who doesn't want to stand in line and is willing to pay $1000 or more over retail price. Ebay (and similar sites) has basically allowed the growth of a new form of 'entrepreneurship,' in which people purchase relatively scarce items at retail and resell them at a profit.

Frequently these items are toys: Hot Wheels, action figures, Tickle Me Extreme Elmo. Sometimes the items are actually scarce, as with certain action figure manufacturers that produce 'variant' figures in limited numbers. Other times it's simple price arbitrage: I've got it now and you want it now, so you pay me lots extra because you can't wait.

Christmas, of course, is prime time for this activity, because parents don't want to put an IOU under the tree. People actually do eke out a living at this, and frequently don't actually have other jobs to lose (though often they couple it with part-time jobs or other relatively flexible employment).

I'm familiar with this activity through various hobbies I pursue, but television stations and other news outlets that interviewed these people often uncovered the profit motivation (at least in the coverage I saw). And Ebay has slapped restrictions on sellers who are listing these systems, which also indicates that many are in it for profit.

My son wanted one really badly. At 17, waiting a few months for more units to become available is pretty agonizing. Being a teenager can really suck, so if a new game system can make him happy, fine with me. He has braces and acne and wants to buy a cape. He's a nerd boy!

We got up early Sunday and drove around to all the stores, but all had lines that exceeded the number of units available. We went to a store that was handing out tickets to raffle off a chance to buy one of the two (2) units they had. He won!

I once asked him why he needed so damn many video games, and he responded "Why do you need so many books?"

You know, I really didn't answer Orac's question. Let me try again.

What is the attraction that drives people to go to such lengths?

It's fun. And challenging. It's interactive and difficult enough that you have to try hard and you get elated when you accomplish a difficult feat. Accomplishing a task, even in a virtual world, is very satisfying.

It's the center of social life for my son and his friends; and I'd much rather they were hanging out in my living room playing Guitar Hero than roving around out in the world wreaking vandalism and science-knows-what on the community.

Video games have led my son to read a lot of books he wouldn't have read otherwise, including a lot of old stuff like Beowulf and some Roman histories.

If it's a present for a child, standing in line can be the difference between a package under the tree and an IOU from Santa ("What do you mean, *Santa* couldn't get one?"). The XBox 360 was released about this time of year, and I didn't get one until late spring--and I had a reservation from a Electronics Boutique.

And of course, some people are simply planning to buy one and flip it for twice the price on EBay to enthusiasts who have more money than time.

For the Wii, there is a decent chance that there will be more available before long, because Nintendo is going for innovative control design rather than state of the art computing, so they probably are pumping them out as fast as they can. For the new Sony console, Sony probably doesn't really want to sell more than the minimum required to give the impression of a successful launch, because they are losing money on every unit sold. They'll probably never sell enough games to early buyers to make that back. The longer they can hold back, the cheaper they'll be to make.

I don't understand it, either. I mean, to wait for a movie, because you know that other people might spoil it for you if you wait too long to see it, has a little bit more reason behind it. That being said, I've found that waiting until Tuesday or Wednesday after a Friday release works pretty well. But camping out for something that isn't going to change, that isn't going to stop being available, that, in fact, will be obsolete within 18 months, seems ludicrous to me. Of course, we also don't have kids who want the latest thing for Christmas or believe Santa's going to get it for them. (Besides, if it's a Christmas present, want to bet the shelves will be restocked sometime in the next month? Sheesh.)

This one's easy:

Go to one of these "lineups" and ask the individuals standing in said line when their last day was. My rough estimate of the percentages?

1% In the last month
3% In the last year
6% In the last five years
90% What's a date?

By anonimouse (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

Please replace "day" with "date"...ah, screw it. If you misspell the joke, you kinda deserve what you get.

By anonimouse (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

Re: coturnix
"The question is: does Nintendo (or Sony, or whoever) makes enough pieces to sell to everyone? If not (and is that by design), the whole supply-and-design kicks in. People do not want to be the ones to be left without. Also, many of those first-bought machines are immediatelly resold (often on eBay) by 4X the price for those who do not want to stand in the rain."

Not trying to be a Nintendo evangelist or anything, but Nintendo is trying to get 4 million consoles for sale globally by Dec. 31, Sony is trying to get 2 million consoles globally. With Sony though, the problem is that the Blu-Ray disc drive that's included with the PS3 takes so much time and money to make that they had to reduce their initial launch numbers. Hence, the eBaying.

By Justin Hirsh (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

I just wanted to put in my voice with Joshua White, that it's being part of the community as the reason why one is willing to wait in line for something that others would seem trivial.

The folks in line for the Wii (and the PS3 earlier) will get (or hope to get) something that will give them, hopefully, hundreds of hours of entertainment. There are many people who do the same for a two/three hour movie... and at that time, one can meet many new people with a predetermined mutual interest. I waited for about two hours to get Viggo Mortensen's signature (he was publishing a book of his artwork) and met someone who became one of my best friends, who accompanied me to many other signings and talks.

Who else would be willing to wait in line for a free viewing of Van Helsing than someone else you met at another line party?

Bronze Dog has a good point. Aside from Zelda, though, I couldn't tell you. Heck, I didn't even get a Game Cube until about 6-8 months ago, and I love Super Smash Bros. Melee, the Metroid series, and, of course, the Zelda series.


You seem like a great Mom. Your son is lucky.

By grubstreet (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

GrrlScientist needs help. Do you have any contacts who might be able to help out?

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

I think it's a complex addiction, having watched my son over the years play games for hours, days, longer. Some simpler aspects relate to conquering the game, with its hedonistic elements of blowing things and people up, and the way that the games unrealistically give the characters superpowers of survival and rejuvenation.
Then there is the social, what-do-you-talk-about-when-hanging-out-with-friends -- the games give you a common ground for talking, oneupmanship, macho stuff.
At some point, it takes on a life of its own, and you GOTTA have that new game, GOTTA have that newest console, or maybe all of them.
And just like addictions, there can be some ruinous aspects. Aside from the distraction from real-world things like school, one thing one could say about these kids is that they tend to lack communication skills, even with each other, seeming to talk in sentence and thought fragments, like the conversation is just a sidelight or distraction from what they're thinking. My son seems to have outgrown it or at least not spending so much time on it. He hasn't been talking about getting a PS3 or Wii or even an XBox 360 -- he stays with his PS2.

The problem with the Zelda theory is that the same game is also coming out for Gamecube not long from now. Sure, you can't use the Wiimote for it, but contrary to the rumors, it's not really fully-interactive swordplay. (But ah, if it was...)

I think it's more like a pride thing- 'I was the first person in [Insert City Name] to get a PS3/Wii, I waited for 6 hours'.

will be obsolete within 18 months

Pfft. I got my first console over a decade ago; it'll become obsolete when I pick up my Wii in a couple of weeks (UK launch is later, you lucky gits). And that's only because the Wii can run games from the older consoles; without that, the old ones would never be obsolete.

Consoles never go obsolete. I still play my 20-year-old original 8-bit NES on occasion.

Of course, being able to download old games onto one system's hard drive is very convenient.

It's not the having; it's the getting.
Orac, surely you remember when finding British SF show stuff (like, oh, say a Dalek cookie jar) was a challenge. Hell, I remember when if you wanted anime, you found a source, cultivated a relationship, brought over a second VCR, and got a 6th or 7th generation tape that had one line of indecipherable subtitles every 5 minutes if you were lucky. Now there are 12 Dalek cookie jars on ebay, any of which I can have in time for Cephalopodmas (or another holiday near the end of December). Being a serious collector is supposed to take a little effort. Resources like Ebay and BitTorrent are fun (and useful) but too much like a caged hunt.

I myself avoid consoles now except for when Nintendo brings the price of their latest down to a good bargain, then I'll buy it for whatever Zelda game is on the platform.

As for the obsession with getting consoles as soon as they come; it's part of the reason why the games I play now tend to be on PC. The culture of 'Now!' spoilt console gaming because they tend to be of lower graphical and gameplay appeal whilst being more expensive. It's due in part to 'pester power' exercised by some children on their parents which now seems present in some adults that don't realise that if enough of them wait, the prices drop very quickly and if they are more picky the quality will go up. PC gamers tend to collectively put off buying a lot of games until the prices go down until they believe it's at a retail tag that matches the game's worth. Which is why a lot of piracy is actually players testing the full game before forking out money, which they usually do if the game is good. Demos usually don't reflect the full game well-enough; certainly no games magazine will give a review score to a game based only on what appeared in the demo either. I of course do not condone piracy but it still stands that few actually play a copy without buying the full retail.

By Lucas McCarty (not verified) on 23 Nov 2006 #permalink