The great game console preorder mess

The Web is abuzz with chatter about Sony Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii, both set to be launched next month

I'm no hardcore gamer, but I am pretty excited about the upcoming Nintendo and Sony battle in the never-ending console wars. How about you?

The launch of the Sony Playstation 3 (announced for November 17 in the U.S.) and Nintendo Wii (set for November 19) has set off a torrent of Web chatter and speculation about preorders--who has consoles to sell, how many do they have, and how can I get one?

In the middle of all this I have to wonder: Do the console makers get in on this preorder action officially? If they don't, is it even safe to pay for a console in advance?

I made a few phone calls, and what I have to say is: Buyer beware! Sony and Nintendo both tiptoed around questions regarding preorders. Sony says it has no official position on the practice. The decision to sell preorders, Sony says, is up to the individual retailer. So, if EBGames/GameStop or anyone else doesn't come through with those PS3s you got in line for at 3 a.m., Sony is not responsible.

Nintendo wouldn't even go that far. All the company says is: Buy your console through a reputable retailer. Thanks Nintendo.

Sony And Nintendo's position

The console makers are nervous about preorders. Neither would go on the record--and Sony didn't even answer PC World phone calls until I told them Nintendo was commenting! Maybe that's because Sony is only planning to ship 400,000 consoles to the U.S. (while Nintendo says is sending 4 million worldwide, the U.S. normally gets about half of such a shipment. If true, this time 2 million Wiis could be headed our way). Will that be enough to make everyone's holiday season happy?

Speaking of demand exceeding supply, we sent PC World staffer Amber Bouman out Friday to see if she could get in on the Wii preorder action at our local EBGames/GameStop store in Union Square in San Francisco. Here's what she had to say.

"There were 32 preorders passed out (this morning) but there were about 60 people in line.

"People I asked said they had heard about the preorder via EBGames/GameStop, friends, or through the industry. Some in line (at the store in San Francisco) mentioned dissatisfaction with the PS3 preorder process. Many grumbled that (the US$499 to US$599 that is the announced PlayStation 3 price range) is far too much to pay for a game system. And since a PS3 will cost about as much as rent for one month for me, I'm inclined to agree. But I also don't buy US$45 T-shirts from The Gap either."

Everyone who did get a chance to preorder a Wii at EBGames/GameStop had to put a US$50 deposit down but the company's e-mail announcing the procedure warns: "As we cannot control production and shipping issues by the manufacturer, a reservation deposit does not guarantee receipt of a system available to purchase at launch."

Great, so you preregister to preorder, get your self down to a store early in the morning, stand in line for hours, pay US$50 as a deposit (which you would get back) and STILL not be guaranteed the hardware. Geez, Louise!

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Erin Biba

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