Sony’s PlayStation3 has been dogged by delays, knocked back by technical blunders and even, according to some, priced out of the reach of its target audience.
But for those looking to pick one up online, the bidding on Japan’s most popular auction websites on Monday saw consoles changing hands for anything between Y90,000 ($765) and Y150,000 – substantial premiums to the Y50,000 to Y60,000 price tags in the stores.
In most cases, the auctions attracted about 100 bidders each – people who, according to the traffic on Japan’s biggest internet chatrooms, had tried and failed to buy the machine when it went on sale in Tokyo three days ago.
By most estimates, Japan’s entire stock of PS3s had sold out by lunchtime on Saturday.
Workers in Tokyo’s financial community, who could not face Saturday’s 7am melées at the electronic stores, were particularly close watchers of the auctions. In some reported instances, the bidding for a single PS3 unit and three games had soared above $2,500.
The PS3 appeared equally sought-after on non-Japanese auction sites such as eBay, but the sellers’ status could rarely be confirmed. With US games fans forced to wait another week until the console is launched there, some machines are thought to be winging their way there courtesy of the online auctions. At least three Japanese lots on eBay touted themselves as having already been converted for US power supplies and televisions.
The online feeding frenzy comes despite an advertising campaign in which, some analysts believe, Sony deliberately allowed customer expectations to wane. Because of the many production problems that emerged late in the day, Sony was able to launch its showcase product with only 80,000 units available in Japan.
Close observers of the PS3 launch said they were unsurprised that there were so many PS3s available on the online auctions, since it was clear at many Tokyo retailers that professional buyers had loaded the queues with their minions.
At Tokyo’s Bic Camera electronics store, where the PlayStation’s inventor, Ken Kutaragi, was ready to greet the first customer, many of the “games enthusiasts” who had camped at the front of the queue did not even buy software with their new machine.
Analysts attributed the huge traffic in the PS3’s online secondary market to the positive assessments it has received from Japanese discussion groups.
Popular themes on those sites include the observation that while the PS3 is an expensive medium for video games, it works out as a cheap way to watch movies in high definition.