The X360: To Buy or Not to Buy

...on launch day. That is the question.

There's no arguing the fact that I will eventually own an X360, and probably by the end of the year. Nevertheless, I must say that as much as I have enjoyed gaming on my current Xbox, this will be the first console in a long time that I may not be getting on day one. There is a big part of me that sees the pile of games on my shelf and thinks that I need more time to wrap up the loose ends in this current generation of systems. On the other hand, I also crave a system whose entire library of games will take advantage of my HDTV and boast better audio and more robust online features. I also look forward to the enhanced physics and general more that is sure to come with the newer higher-tech gaming system.

For better or worse, however, the reason I won't be picking up a system on launch day is because of retail greed. Gamers looking to pre-order a console had essentially two choices. The first option involved going online to either Electronics Boutique's or Gamestop's websites (the companies are in the process of a merge) and pre-ordering a bundle. In what has to be the worst trend in retailing to ever hit the digital age, these stores don't allow you to simply purchase the Xbox 360 as a standalone entity, but rather you get to pick out which pre-configured bundle you'd like. And as if that wasn't bad enough, bundles built around the $399 Premium version of the X360 (i.e. the only version anybody with some common sense would want) start at $599 and go all the way up to $3600.

I'll give you a second to take that in.

They expect you to drop a minimum of $599 and simultaneously forfeit your decision-making ability at the door. It doesn't matter if you hate the games included in the $599 system, if you don't have enough money to get the next bigger bundle, you're S.O.L. Feel free to take a moment to mutter whatever homophobic mysogynistic phrase comes to mind.

And that brings us to the other option, actually going to Gamestop or Electronics Boutique and pre-ordering a console in person. There's been much written of late on how these stores have migrated to a pattern of only ordering enough merchandise to satisfy the pre-ordering faithful, and how it's all about pushing the sale of used games which yield these stores a much higher profit margin. But that's not the reason I stayed away from going this route. You see, I don't trust these stores. How can you when you see them take a game from a drawer, put it in a case and re-shrinkwrap it in front of your very eyes and then sell it to you as "new". I could go on, but I don't need to because my cause of suspicion was well-founded.

I didn't pre-order a console because I never in a million years expected Microsoft to be able to fully satisfy the demand while being committed to a global same-day launch. And when push came to shove and these stores received a fraction of the systems needed to satisfy their pre-orders, I fully expected them to take the most unethical, greed-laced route they possibly could. And, according to many separate accounts, that's exactly what they're doing. Faced with a shortage, one might expect a retailer to apologize, explain the situation, and go down the list of pre-orders giving the systems out on a first-come-first-served basis. And one would be wrong when dealing with Gamestop and Electronics Boutique. Instead, we have good reason to believe that these stores are being instructed at the national level to only hand over the systems to those customers who pre-ordered the most accessories and games. Forget the people who allowed Gamestop to hold onto their money for half a year! Instead, hold the X360 hostage and whoever buys the most shit they don't really want can have it. Oh, and good luck getting your money back on that pre-order. I'm sure they'll expedite your return.

I really hate the fact that my trepidation regarding these shady stores seems to be proven deserved, but to be honest, I'm not really surprised. If this does prove to be the case, I don't know if many people will bring themselves to shop at these stores again. There are plenty of specialty retailers online and the larger stores such as Best Buy and Toys R Us and Frye's get all the same games and never try to shove a used product down your throat (although that could be changing according to industry rumors). In no other area of retail can I think of an example in which the larger big-box stores act more ethical than the smaller boutiques, but when it comes to videogames this is definitely the case. Despite the miniscule floorspace of these stores, their actions showcase a level of greed of Wal-Mart proportions.

As for me and the X360, I'm still torn. I get access to a X360 test station whenever I need to use one for work, as I had when working on the guidebook for a launch title, and I have reason to believe I'll be working on guidebooks for at least one or two of the upcoming early 2006 titles. That being said, I'm a total Project Gotham whore and can't stand the idea of not getting online with PGR3 on day one with the rest of the sweaty masses. None of the other launch titles interest me, but PGR3? Drool. I may just have to camp outside Toys R Us on Monday night and wait for midnight like everyone else. I don't want to, but I think it will be at least four months before one can walk into a store and see an unclaimed X360 sitting on the shelf. I hate console launches.

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