Microsoft's advertising campaign for their new Xbox 360 game console has shifted from thirty-second clips of people jumping rope and having massive water balloon fights to actual gameplay. As much as I enjoyed watching the skills on display with the rope jumping and the pandemonium contained within the urban water balloon fight, the newer commercials are not only far more successful in demonstrating the product, but they're also funnier.
One particular commercial stars footage from Project Gotham Racing 3 and players are playing online and asking one another where they're from. After a couple states and countries are mentioned, one decidedly British voice pipes in that he's from a place called "first place" and that the others aren't likely to ever see it. It's a very clever bit of polite trash talking and, when this bit of comaraderie is combined with the incredible graphics on display, it does a very good job of making the viewer want to buy an Xbox 360 right away. The commercial then fades to black and Microsoft's new tagline "Jump In" blips onto the screen.
As a longtime fan of the Project Gotham Racing series (I was touting it as my favorite racer back on the Dreamcast when it went by the preferred name of Metropolis Street Racer) I want the game tremendously and it alone is the reason, as of right now, that I want an Xbox 360. And therein lies the problem. I want an Xbox 360 but cannot have one. Microsoft wants me to Jump In, but apparently my vertical leap isn't what it used to be because I can't seem to find anybody willing to sell me one.
I went on a quest last Thursday. I figured that with it being 10 days since the launch of the Xbox 360 that if I went to all of the major stores in the area and was there, out front, when the doors opened, that perhaps I would find one. The fact that I was conducting this quest in Microsoft's backyard made my optimism seem that much more deserved.
7:00, Fred Meyer, Issaquah
I waited outside for the doors to open and when they did, I and one other guy rushed to the electronics department to see if they had gotten any in yet. It's been 10 days since the launch of the console and not only had they not received a single one since the launch, the manager I spoke with has gotten no word from Microsoft or anybody else about when new deliveries could be expected.
8:00, Target, Issaquah
A large crowd was waiting outside Target for it to open. Many of us were there for the Xbox 360, while several others were there waiting for the latest Matchbox Cars. Who knew? The doors open and several of us take off fast-walking through the store towards the electronics department at the rear of the store. I took the scenic route through the ladies underwear section (okay, it wasn't that scenic, it was Target after all) and arrived their first. Nothing. After some milling around in a disappointed stupor I found a manager and asked him. They hadn't received a single console since the launch and weren't expecting any before the New Year. Several customers begin gossipping about a purported quarrantine.
8:30, Best Buy, Bellevue
I stopped at the Best Buy where Bill Gates himself handed out some Xbox 360's just 10 days earlier, thinking they opened at 9 o'clock. A manager was outside smoking and informed me that the store didn't open till 10 o'clock and that they hadn't received any since the launch and didn't expect any at least until next week.
9:00, Toys R' Us, Bellevue
I battled downtown traffic and made it to the Toys R' Us in time for their opening. One other guy who used to work at Bungie was there also. He too mentioned rumors of a quarrantine but was hoping that this particular store would have some systems. The two of us race-walk stride for stride into the "R Zone" when the doors open and are instantly met with mockery by a butter-faced clerk behind the counter. They hadn't received any systems since the launch, so the manager who approaches says, and apparently 400,000 systems have been found to have faulty hard drives and are quarrantined. They told us there is the chance of getting one later that day when deliveries arrive, but they wouldn't count on it.
10:00, Circuit City, Bellevue
Last chance saloon. Nada. I couldn't find anyone who would give me a straight answer as to whether or not they had even gotten in any since the launch, but everyone I spoke with was in agreement that they'd be surprised if they received any before Christmas. I tried telling them that I used to be able to dunk a volleyball and that I wasn't going to re-sell it on Ebay, and that all I wanted to do was Jump In with the British guy who was in first place on the commercial, but they didn't care.
I know it's a long time before the Playstation 3 comes out next year (don't believe the Spring, 2006 nonsense; it will be September at the earliest) and that Microsoft has plenty of time to get a sizable installed user base for their Xbox 360, they are in the process of defeating their own purpose of launching the new system so early. After all, for every one person you hear saying how much fun their having with their Xbox 360, there are a half-dozen more like me who are growing exceedingly frustrated with Microsoft's inability to live up to their own self-generated hype.
As one person had written on a message board I frequent, this isn't about "overwhelming demand" it's more about "underwhelming supply".
Microsoft reportedly shipped roughly 400,000 systems to North America for the launch of their system and reports from several news sources are citing Ebay officials that over 40,000 Xbox 360's have so far been sold on Ebay with the average console fetching over $200 more than retail price. I didn't want one bad enough to forfeit my choice of games and accessories to Gamestop and Electronics Boutique, and I'm sure not going to pay some greedy Ebayer top dollar for one either.
And maybe I'm being naive and old-fashioned, but I shouldn't have to either. Microsoft has been talking about how important getting a head-start on Sony is in the next-gen console war, but here they are, apparently searching for a misplaced set of ignition keys.