Sony's PlayStation2 will roll out as planned this October, but you won't see it on the shelves until after Christmas.
In an unprecedented move to take control of how the hot video game console is distributed in the UK, Sony Computer Entertainment will launch a high-street pre-ordering system in August. The result: every console that ships through the end of the year will be designated for a specific buyer.
Sony denies it is heading off production shortages, instead claiming the pre-order system is the best way to deal with what it expects to be extremely heavy demand.
"Our objective is to get PlayStation2 into homes as quickly as possible," said Kevin Jowett, sales director for Sony Computer Entertainment UK, in a prepared statement. "We feel that with this system, we can achieve this whilst offering our retail partners a level playing field to reap the rewards of being part of this successful launch, and also give our consumers the most fair and equitable solution."
The scheme goes into effect 14 August ahead of the 26 October UK launch.
Every retailer that currently sells PlayStation, the world's top gaming console with more than 72 million units shipped worldwide since 1995, will offer PS2 pre-orders. The units will then be shipped to the retailers for collection in the order they were requested.
Retailers will be able to charge a deposit at their discretion; a £25 charge is expected to be typical. Sony will take measures to ensure only one unit is delivered per household, and will prevent retailers from inventing fake customers to build up their stock.
Sony's unorthodox distribution system underscores the unprecedented popularity of PlayStation2, which inherits the market-leading legacy of PlayStation. Unveiled in Japan on 4 March, the system sold more than 1.4 million units by the end of that month, despite a high price tag of around £300 and lack of many new games.
If carried off successfully, the pre-order system could have several advantages. For example, consumers will probably have a better chance of getting their hands on one of the units than if they had to queue up before opening hours on launch day.
Retailers will also get a revenue boost in the usually slow late-summer weeks.
The scheme allows Sony to begin to measure UK PS2 demand two full months before it has agreed to deliver the product; and by effectively beginning to sell units and stimulate interest before the launch date the consumer electronics giant stands to increase the overall number of units it sells.
Sony also gets an automatic marketing boost: by preselling PS2 for two months it will no doubt be able to claim the biggest first-day sales for a console in history. And no need to worry about any pesky negative reviews, because those won't begin to appear until hundreds of thousands of consumers have already reserved their units.
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