If it felt cold in Ginza on Friday afternoon, it felt absolutely freezing in Akihabara at 7am on Saturday. Outside the famed electronics district’s largest store, Yodobashi Camera, a carefully corralled line had formed in an area bedecked with PS4 posters and decorations. By my reckoning, about 150 people turned up for the 7am opening, which was counted down by a lady whose voice was far too cheerful for 7am on a Saturday morning. “Zero!”, she exclaimed at the end. “Yay…” mumbled the crowd, waving the PS4 branded scarves they’d been provided. Japan isn’t a nation given to American-style whoops of delight at the best of times – I reckon turning up for a 7am launch is enthusiasm enough. Asking for hearty cheering on top of that is a bit much.
Even on the strength of preorders alone, PS4 is almost certainly going to be the most successful console launch ever in Japan, matching similar performance in the USA and Europe.
Only a handful of those at Yodobashi had queued overnight for the console, a member of staff told me, with the rest arriving in Akihabara on early trains. Perhaps the Ginza launch at midnight took some of the shine off staying out overnight to wait for a new console, since you won’t even be in the first 100 to get one, while the weather undoubtedly played a part as well. Still, the turnout by 7am was impressive.
Last time I attended a console launch in Akihabara was the 3DS back in early 2011 – that time, hardly anyone queued up for the console, although a number of sites posted pictures of long queues which, had they bothered to actually speak to anyone, they would have discovered were for a newly released Kamen Rider toy, not for the 3DS at all. The scale and atmosphere of today’s event couldn’t be more different from Nintendo’s troubled launch.
I walk around a bit asking people what games they’re going to buy. A surprising number seem to be happy enough with the Knack bundle – perhaps it’s going to go down better in Japan than it did abroad – but Yakuza: Restoration is definitely the top pick. Battlefield 4 is also a popular choice, much more so than Sony’s own Killzone: Shadow Fall. As for games everyone is looking forward to down the line, Final Fantasy 14 has pride of place, but Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is also on plenty of lists. There’s a solitary vote for Watch Dogs; “it looks so cool”, an earnest young man tells me.
Yodobashi was the only place in Akihabara with queues for launch, but plenty of other stores had signs advertising the new console. On the district’s main street, gigantic retailer Sofmap helpfully indicated that it had about 300 PS4s in stock for launch day – a pretty huge initial shipment, and other retailers around Tokyo also indicate that they’re very happy with the number of consoles they’ve received for day one.
While I wandered Akihabara, a friend texted me from Yurakucho, a business district near Tokyo Station, where he was waiting to pick up his preorder from Bic Camera. He’d just spotted Hiroshi Kawano turning up to watch the launch in a bright blue PS4-branded coat, presumably none the worse for wear from Nagoshi’s sake gift.
On the other side of the city in Shinjuku, Bic Camera also opened at 7am to sell PS4s. I dropped in on the way home to chat to a friend on staff there, who told me there were “20 or so” people waiting when they opened the doors in the morning, with the console selling strongly ever since. Echoing comments I’ve seen in the Japanese press, he told that PS4 is the most pre-ordered product the store has ever sold. “We still have stock, but it’s still early,” he said. “We got a lot of consoles but I’m pretty sure they’ll all be gone today. If you want one, you should get one now.”
I demur. I’ll probably check back later, but it’s risky to try to estimate a console’s performance based on a launch like this. From here, it looks like a sell-out opening weekend despite the huge levels of stock Sony has provided for launch, but “here” is central Tokyo where demand is likely to be highest. Retailers elsewhere may be left with a surplus of consoles; or sales may slacken considerably once pre-orders have all been collected.
Even on the strength of preorders alone, however, PS4 is almost certainly going to be the most successful console launch ever in Japan, matching similar performance in the USA and Europe. With its home territory launch in the bag, PS4’s lead in these opening skirmishes of the generation will be extended; and Sony can rest assured that it still commands enough devotion from its fans to keep them warm through some pretty cold nights (and mornings) on the Tokyo streets.
PlayStation 4 launched in Japan on February 22.