PS3 madness

Chaos erupts among campers in line to buy the new video game console

A scene straight out of Lord of the Flies started around 5 a.m. Thursday in front of the Best Buy.

The fight for survival was not for food or for shelter, though-just to be the first in line for the hallowed Playstation 3.

Sony's latest video game console will sell for nearly $600, but only a few dozen systems are available in Lawrence and demand for the PS3 in North America far outpaces the supply of some 400,000. In Lawrence, Best Buy said it had at least 26 PS3s; Wal-Mart expected to have 10; SuperTarget had eight; Hastings had 28.

So it's perhaps no surprise that many of those in line are not so much hardcore gamers as entrepreneurs. Out of the lines of people in line Thursday, only one was "definitely" keeping the system. The rest were all planning on selling them on eBay, where the PS3 is consistently netting over $3,000 and has sold for as much as $10,000.

Many of those at Best Buy had been in line since Tuesday, self-managing a growing crowd for the impending PS3 launch. Best Buy store managers had informed them that police would be called if any campers were on the premises before 8 a.m., so the Longhorn Steakhouse lot became the location for their queue.

The first potential PS3 buyers formed an unofficial line and , as campers arrived, their hands were numbered in the order in which they came, and their names were added to a list. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

PlayStation3 slideshow

Lawrence video enthusiasts talk about waiting for the new PlayStation3. See audio slideshow »

According to those early arrivers, things started to get hostile Thursday morning, when two males refused to join the line group, and threatened to rush the front of the building when they were allowed to at 8 a.m.

"I'm not gonna lie, our group went over and started haggling them," said Chase Johnson, a LHS senior who said he was first to arrive.

One of the late-arrivers, Greg Brinck, 19, didn't apologize for being less than orderly in his quest to be one of the few to score a PS3: "We were the anti-line."

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Rob Conard, another of this newly forming anti-line faction, said "I refuse to be branded," referring to the numbers on the other group's hands. Time went on, and the mob grew from 26 people to over 70.

As many in the group tell the story, obvious hostility between the two groups rose, and a Best Buy manager came out to try to settle things. Employees started setting up black poles to fence in a potential line, and the manager addressed the mob. He told them that a line would be forming "in three minutes," and there was to be "no running or pushing."

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Colby Guthrid tries to make a quick buck from passing cars.

As soon as these words left his mouth, though, someone rushed to the front, causing the entire mob to mobilize.

According to several in line, one manager was knocked down and "trampled," and there was constant shoving and pushing. Lawrence.com video game reviewer Andrew Campbell, who arrived early with the pro-line faction described it as "a mass of people near the front doors, and you couldn't even tell if you were 14th in line or 70th." Pushed up against each other, they were told that if any of them left the line for any reason, they would be forced to go to the back.

"People went nuts this morning," said Erik Oldberg, one of the unfortunates at the back of the line. As things were, no one could leave to go to the restroom, eat, or even squeeze out of the mob enough to sit or lay down. As those in line say, constant arguing continued until 11:30 a.m., when the mob was reformed and the situation started getting slightly more civil.

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The low-key Target gathering.

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Free donuts given to the campers from Wal-Mart management.

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The ridiculously luxurious (by PS3 campsite standards) Wal-Mart scene. Campers were presented with free donuts, power, and instructions for adjusting the heat overnight.

By 8 p.m. Thursday, the hostility had died down, and the scene more closely resembled an actual line. There are 30 people in line, and the last four are praying for a credit card malfunction by those in line before them.

Rachel Anderson is sitting in the cold, waiting all night to purchase one for her boyfriend. "I'm just hoping for an adventure," she says.

She got something of the sort when, during the morning semi-riot, police threatened to pepper spray several individuals. Though this never happened, the campers dealt other annoyances. "We got hit by four water balloons tonight," said Chase Johnson. "And a Best Buy employee said someone called in to tell them that we were going to get hit with a drive-by from paintball guns late tonight."

Target hosted a much more civil gathering, likely because that store will only have eight PS3s for sale. One tent with five inhabitants has hosted games of Monopoly and Clue, and is equipped with a gas-powered heater. The sounds of Hook on DVD emitted from the second tent. David Beck, an 18-year-old Lawrence resident bought the tent specifically for PS3 camping. "We've got a laptop, Lunchables, and energy drinks. It's kinda sad, but I don't want to sleep on the ground like the guys at Best Buy."

Compared to Best Buy, Wal-Mart seemed like paradise. Campers were placed in the Lawn & Garden section, surrounded by lighted Christmas trees. The group sat around watching movies on a laptop, enjoying the agreeable temperature and available power outlets. Wal-Mart managers have stopped by regularly to check in on them, show them how to change the temperature overnight, and even gave them free donuts.

Wal-Mart begins selling the system at midnight, while Target and Best Buy will begin at 8:00 a.m. From the looks of it, the scene at Best Buy is finally organized and civil, and they just have to put up with the cold and another 12 hours of waiting.

While sale of the PS3 is characterized by tight supply and high price-$500 for the basic model with a 20 GB drive and $600 for the 60 GB version with built-in wireless-sale of the Nintendo Wii, which starts Sunday, should relatively tame. With its $250 price tag and millions of units shipping on opening day, outlets predict that most people looking to buy a Wii won't have to wait more than a week, if at all.

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