The Xbox 360 Waiting in Line Action/Adventure Diary
Or, How Passive Nonviolence Got Me a Premium Pack

By Dan Amrich

Sunday, November 20, 2005
11:00 am
Teh Fu7ur3

I’ve been planning on getting an Xbox 360 at launch for months; today, the prep officially began. The goal is to camp out at my local Best Buy store overnight, as I’ve done with a few other game console launches. Some have been rainy, some have been tiring, all have been successful. I keep going to Best Buy because, with every console launch, they’ve gotten more and more organized.

With just under 48 hours to go, I started to gather my wits and my devices. All my electronic gadgets need to be charged and ready to go: PSP, iPod, cell phone, digital camera, laptop. All the non-electronic stuff just needs to be washed. I’ve made a checklist, and I’m preparing every item today so tomorrow night when I leave for the store, I don’t have to think about it.

6:30 pm
Batteries are charged, laundry is clean, and almost everything is ready to go. But I was poking around the OXM message forums and saw other people talking about their plans, and realized I may be in for more than I bargained for. Word has it that Best Buy is making you buy bundles. I just called the store and they will open a few hours early to accommodate the launch, and they confirmed that it’s bundles only--but they could not tell me what those bundles included or how much they were going to be. So…I’m planning to sit all night in the cold and only after 12 hours will I find out if I can even afford what I’m waiting in line for? I think Best Buy just lost my loyalty.

7:55 pm
I just called around to seven or eight local stores--Best Buy, Target, and Toys R Us--and got interesting stories from all of them, but not much hope. Best Buy is not only doing bundles but leaving it up to each store as to how big that bundle is; the one in San Francisco is reportedly $2000 and includes an HDTV. Most of the rest of the stores, if they were willing to say much at all, said they got anywhere between half and a third of the units they were expecting. The highest allocation was 75 units; the lowest, 10. Places that did preorders usually said the Premiums were already gone, so anything they had was Core. The shortage is officially on.

Monday, November 21, 2005
2:00 pm

The news is no better. We’ve identified a local Target that reportedly will be getting 35 units (based on yesterday’s phone call), so we take a trip down to talk to the staff and let them know we’re from an Xbox magazine. This holds absolutely no weight. The manager cannot speak to the press, but he does let slip that they are expecting 18 units. This is half what they said on the phone, so now our chances just got much worse. Beyond that, they can only say those magic four words: First come, first served.

Two guys are in line already--Ruben and Jon. They got here at noon--20 hours before launch. They’re not planning on buying anything but the unit itself, maybe a controller. But no software--they’re renting from GameFly. They’re way mellow. We told them we’d be back later in the day.

5:30 pm
The Plan

My plans to go home first are abandoned--we’re now totally paranoid and figure that every second counts. Gabe and I roll up with a blanket and a stack of Xbox 360 launch guide magazines. Only one other guy has shown up since, and he’s going in shifts with his cousin. That means we’re #4 and #5 respectively. We’re golden--all we have to do is hold out.

I unfurl a 4’x4’ square of heresy--a picnic blanket with the PlayStation 2 logo embroidered around the edge. My ass is still cold.

Now the number of units at this location has grown to 20. We still don’t know how many are Premium (comes with the hard drive, a wireless controller, and a remote for $400) and how many are Core (bare bones for $300). And anybody who is willing to line up this early wants a Premium. The Core is soundly mocked as “the ‘tard pack” by hardcore gamers who think it’s a bad idea. I think it’s a bad idea too. I’m here for the Premium. If there were more than ten people in line, I was planning to bail and just leave it open to the fates.

My wife Kat is due to stop by with some accessories (a folding chair, Clif bars, another blanket) in a few hours. I am reserving the right to pull the ripcord and go.

10:15 pm
Teh Fu7ur3 Cr3w

The line is nine. If the numbers are right, one more person gets the last Premium pack; after that, we want to be honest with them and let them know that it's Core or nothing, because we wouldn't want to wait either. After receiving nice visits from several helpful friends, including Greg Vederman from PC Gamer and Ryan McCaffrey & Thomas Baxter from Official Xbox Magazine, stopped by on their way home from the Future Network USA offices to either drop off food or just hang out or both, the shopping center security arrives. They say we cannot stay here--they own the rapidly emptying parking garage, and although management says it's all good, they are unconvinced. We're not loitering, we're waiting. We are quiet, orderly, no open alcohol containers, nothing suspicious. We are here with an acknowledged purpose and the store knows it. Hey--if you sell us the machines, we will leave. But Ryan (who, along with Vede, already had a retail Xbox courtesy of Microsoft and was really just there to offer friendly support for a while) spoke up and told him it was all discussed with Target management, and he should speak with the store manager.

Target security just spoke to the shopping center security. We don't know what was said, but Target security guard Ed said everything's cool, and the shopping center security guy walked away without a word. We like Ed.

Also, our friends distracted us long enough to realize that we have made it past the crucial 12-hour mark. (And while Will Smith from Maximum PC couldn't show up in person, he later sent this drawing of what he thought he was missing. Please note my trademark blue hair, not to mention his natural talent.)

11:55 pm
L to R: Gabe, Me

Just before midnight, we realize it's 50 degrees. Feels much colder. Everybody has busted out some fleece and blankets. Someone's come to wash the shopping carts with a high-pressure, noisy-as-hell hose. And a friend called to say that Xbox 360 packages are going on eBay right now, before launch, for $1900. Everybody thinks the same thing: Am I hardcore, or am I stupid?

The eleventh guy in line says he knows for a fact that there are 12 Premiums, not 10. Since he's the cutoff point, I hope he's right. We now wonder if the manager has put two aside. This is the nature of these things--educated guesses, shreds of information, paranoia. And just eight hours to go.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005
3:30 am
That's My Queue

I nodded off for about an hour, thanks to in-ear headphones, Bach, and fatigue. Amazingly, we're still getting phone calls and even visits from loved ones who are somehow still willing to lend support and hot coffee. Actually, it was just industry legend Andy Eddy, a night owl who hunted down a large coffee for Gabe. The line keeps growing; gotta be 24 now. I have not gone back to talk to any of the other people to let them know they're getting Core or nothin'. One guy in line is an employee; no special treatment for him, even though he chats up the night manager through the sealed doors.

5:02 am
I'm not sure if I caught a nap or passed out, but Gabe joined me. While we were unconscious, even more people arrived, and now we've gotta be over 30. Are the rumors of a new allocation--40 total, 20 of each--true, or just wishful thinking for those people in the back?

It's amazingly cold; I don't have a thermometer but with the wind chill it's totally freakin' frigid. Two jackets, two blankets, a scarf, and a fleece ski hat are not enough to ward off the chill. If you can't hear me it's because I'm typing with gloves on.

6:00 am
Good Morning, Sunshine!

This was when we thought they were going to issue numbers or vouchers. Instead, the guy who works here has rounded up some of his friends and they're starting to mob the doors. More paranoia and guessing--the belief is that they're going to take “first come, first served” literally, and if they are at the door, then screw the nerds who waited all this time. “We've waited too, it's cold out here,” I hear one say. Target, we need structure. We can see the managers and early crew milling about but they are trying to pretend they don't see us.

6:35 am
Still no numbers, but the crowd did dissipate when they found out the first guys in line had been here for over 18 hours with about two to go. This is hardly a guarantee but it's better than the idea of a fistfight breaking out to claim our places. And one guy from the Cutting Mob keeps coming up from the back of the line to yell “Hey, where a manager at?” at the glass doors. He's also trying to bribe them to come over and talk to him. One in every crowd.

The sun is coming up. Maybe the cold will subside soon.

7:00 am
Still no numbers. Still no contact. The Bribe Guy is now up to $100. There are about 50 people in line and nobody has told them that most of them are too late.

7:20 am

The manager finally comes out and says that they will distribute numbers. He does not actually do this, just promises that it will happen. And he doesn’t want to disappoint anybody, but they only have an allocation in the teens. When pressed, he caves and says they have…seven Premiums. The kid in eighth place is heartbroken. All of a sudden, we look like geek gods for lining up 14 hours earlier.

7:22 am
The bargaining starts. Bribe Guy says he’ll give people $50 for their place in line. Gabe shoots back, “Dude, what happened to the hundred you flashed earlier?” Bribe Guy slinks back into the crowd.

Kat reappears and takes all our crap (chairs, blankets etc) to the car. She said she wants to see how this ends. Little did she know what kind of show she was in for.

7:45 am
Endless watch-checking pays off--the manager finally comes out with a burly-looking guy who wears a coiled earpiece and hands out numbers. I get Premium #4, Gabe gets Premium #5…and, oh, that’s all we have for Premiums. Wait--less than half an hour ago, you said you had seven. Now the guy behind us is the heartbroken one. Gabe makes a comment about the Premium allocation number magically decreasing using the word “scam,” and that makes Earpiece lose his temper.

We're tired, but we're not stupid. We know the guy back further in line who works for the store is probably a recipient of one of those mysteriously missing Premiums. In any case, just 13 tickets are handed out total. That means five units have magically disappeared from the time we spoke to the manager the previous afternoon and now.

Bargaining, round two. Someone offers to pay $150 for any ticket--and gets it for a Core package. Wham--now this guy who didn’t wait at all just bought his way into the line. People who have waited for hours were turned away. Doesn’t seem right, but that’s a free-market economy.

Now the scuffles begin. One of the Cutting Mob takes issue with Jon, the kid who’s second in line, saying he was... looking at him. Words are exchanged, exchanges get heated, and it’s happening right in front of me. Ed from Target Security is nowhere to be seen, nor is the guy who wanted us to leave altogether last night. Now, we have a potential situation. Gabe is increasingly angry at Target’s total lack of control, communication, and authority.

8:02 am
The first three: Erick, Jon, and Ruben

We’re let in. We all have numbered tickets and they’re marked as to whether they are Premium or Core. We all trot back to the electronics department where they are…not ready. The software is still locked in the cabinet so now the manager with the key has to be in multiple places at once. Accessories are lined up on a wall that you cannot see without losing your place in line. There are two registers ready and waiting but some people are getting units without having a ticket. This is quickly figured out and stopped.

Then Kat, who is off scavenging accessories on my behalf, notices that someone with a Core ticket is claiming a Premium. Oops. The cashier didn’t know there was a difference. At the same time, we spot a guy in a blue fleece pullover with a Premium in a bag, running for the exit.

Oh shit. If the one Kat stopped at the counter is Gabe’s, that Premium walking out the door is literally mine. Fourteen hours of my life is running back to the parking lot.

Don't kill my Geo!
I take off in a dead sprint, clutching my ticket and my credit card. “Come back--security wants to see you!” They spot me and dive into their car. I run to them, screaming all the way that there was a mistake and security says they need to return to the store. I get to the car and and Blue Fleece pokes his head and and says “They sold it to me!” “Yeah, but they made a mistake and they want you back in there now!”

I’m standing behind his Honda. He can’t back out without hitting me and he can’t go forward without hitting another car. A green Geo Prizm.

MY car. He’s either going to ram me or my parked car to get away with my Xbox.

Fuck you, dude. You can’t take everything from me in one shot.

Ed, where were you?
He tries anyway, little K turns, trying to sneak past my car or force me to move. I do the passive resistance thing and simply get closer to the car. Security is nowhere in sight. I scream to one of the guys arranging the shopping carts to call security.

Finally, Earpiece and Manager come running out, full tilt. “Turn the key now,” barks Earpiece. “Cough up the Xbox.” “But you sold it to me.” “We are voiding that transaction. It’s not yours and I’m not going to stand for this. You’re giving it back. Come with me.” Blue Fleece complies. He paid for it, but he stole it at the same time.

I knew all that City of Heroes would pay off! Another burglar nabbed!

I run back inside. Kat--who, due to her design work on all the retailer brochures over the last nine months, knows more about what the Premium Xbox 360 looks like than any woman on the planet--was filling in Earpiece and Manager on what was going on while I was sprinting, so we owe her for saving both of our systems. Kat 4 teh win!

8:15 am
Gabe pwnz j00

I get checked out. Blue Fleece is standing there, watching as I buy my/his Xbox 360 Premium Pack and Project Gotham Racing 3 for $487.10. And he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

I don’t actually want to face Blue Fleece. I am thinking seriously of asking for a security escort out to the parking lot. Instead I go over to the kindly older security woman and linger while Gabe gets checked out.

“Never a dull moment, huh?” “Nope,” she says. “Did you get one?” “Yes, I did,” I said. “I got the one that the guy tried to take that he wasn’t supposed to take. Every day’s an adventure.” “Wow, good for you,” she said. “You should write a journal so you can tell your grandkids.”

Funny you should mention.

We aren't sure, but we think Blue Fleece left with nothing.

Justice prevails.

--Dan, 11/22/05


Since writing this journal and getting some sleep, I looked at the photos a little closer and found that I had photographs of Blue Fleece himself--including some damning evidence!

Let's take another look at that photo of the three guys who were first to the counter:

That's Erick (third in line), Jon (second in line), Jon's amazingly supportive dad (who slept in the car and helped hold his son's place when he needed to get warm in the car), and Ruben, the very first guy in line. And next to Ruben...a guy dressed in blue fleece. OMGthatstheguy!1! I hadn't even realized I'd got a photo of him.

Let's look closer still. The vouchers were colored--white for Premium, green for Core. Ruben's is white.

The ticket in Blue Fleece's hand? Green.

He had a legit claim for a Core system. Instead, he got what he deserved.

Me too.


I post often at Rock and Roll Confidential where this is my avatar:

My posting pal Ermghoti read the 360 tale and whipped up his own artistic interpration of events.

The end. Happy holidays, y'all.