Sales of the new console, which began at a handful of retailers in Tokyo, were the first of what Nintendo hopes will be around 1.4 million in Japan by the end of the year. An additional 1.1 million are forecast to be sold in the US between its planned launch on November 14 and the final day of 2001.
Although customers who lined up to buy the machine were pleased to get their hands on one, the excitement was less than when Sony launched PlayStation 2, which was the subject of a much larger pre-launch publicity campaign.
“About 20 to 30 people lined up over night to buy a Gamecube so we had security officers around since last night,” said Toshiyuki Fukuda, store manager of electronics store Laox. In contrast, there were about 1000 people lining up overnight when PlayStation 2 first went on sale early last year, he said.
Fukuda attributed the big difference in the number of people to the perceived market for each product. When PlayStation 2 launched, few people had DVD players and the console’s ability to act as a both a DVD player and game console attracted many consumers.
While the Gamecube doesn’t have DVD capability, it does have impressive hardware specifications. The system is based on an IBM PowerPC Gekko processor running at 485MHz, with graphics and I/O chips from ATI Technologies and an NEC Flipper system LSI (large-scale integrated circuit). It has 40MB of memory and an optical drive for proprietary eight centimetre (3.2 inch) disks developed by Japan’s Matsushita Electric, better known by its Panasonic brand name, which have a capacity of 1.5GB.
Initial customers for the Gamecube seemed to be people who simply love to play games, said Fukuda, and not those attracted by the technology. But that may be a problem — only three titles were launched with the console, with Nintendo promising another eight games by the end of the year. It’s not just the lack of titles that were criticised by game players either. For the first time Nintendo has not shipped a game based on its popular Mario character at the launch of a new game system. Instead, Mario Sunshine is due in the middle of next year.
Still, game players and Nintendo fans snapped up the console and one or two games as it launched.
Gary Young, who came with four friends from London on a holiday to Japan timed around the Gamecube launch, enthusiastically bought a console, saying: “Nintendo makes the best games in the world.”
However, Young was still critical of the Gamecube launch. “After the Nintendo 64 launch, it’s different this time. It’s not a great launch — there is no Mario title and Wave Race Blue Storm was written by a US team and looks disappointing.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Yasuhide Nishitani, another early customer at Laox.
“It is a disappointment because there are only three pieces of game software available on the console’s launch day,” he said. “When PlayStation2 launched, there were seven games available.” Still, Nishitani came to buy a console. “I just came to buy the console because I like new things,” he added.
Gamecube will be launched here in April — around the same time as Microsoft’s Xbox.
-- Martyn Williams