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Are midnight launches worth the effort?

Five hours after rush hour, an eerie silence envelopes the road as I cross it without waiting for the lights to change. The sodium-vapour glow of the streetlight overhead illuminates spiders cocooned around its bulb and picks out tiny sparkles of frost on the asphalt beneath my feet. Ah yes, my cold, hurried feet, which are pad-padding across said empty street at twenty minutes to midnight in the direction of town. It’s freakin’ freezing. And--I’ll admit it--I’m starting to question myself.

This is the dedicated gamer's midnight launch walk of shame. It could be any launch night, but this one in particular is Wii U’s midnight launch: November 29, 2012. I've got pictures in my work email archive from PRs that show fun-looking launch parties from London that same night (see below) but they're nothing like the reality that greets me as I arrive at the shop and stand in line waiting for someone to take pity on us and let us into the warmth. There aren't any giveaways, there aren't any costumes. Everyone's freezing. It's pretty miserable.

There's also the fact I’ve come on my own. My girlfriend had come with me for the 3DS’ midnight launch and we had huddled together in the queue outside HMV, excitedly carrying our prize back home to unbox it and marvel at its beauty. But this time, she’s asleep, safely back in a lovely warm bed. One that has covers and warmth. And warm covers. Did I mention them? They say 'KEEP COSY AND SNUGGLE UP'. Yes, they are pink, but I did not choose them. Not that I'd be complaining now. I can’t shake the nagging thought from my mind that maybe I’ve made a terrible mistake.

After all, we’re talking about midnight here. The part of night that no Brit should encounter first-hand in the plume-breath cold of November. The sort of night where anyone you see standing around in dimly-lit roads is probably up to no good, or drunk. Or both. Combine the thought of such lurkers with flimsily-wrapped, solitarily transported, brand-new electrical goods of high value and you’re basically walking around with a flashing neon sign above your head that says ‘mug me’. It’s unclear whether the recent stabbing of a man in London was directly related to his midnight launch purchase of GTA V, but let’s just say it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if he had been at home asleep.

It’s the same reason the slow process of picking up my midnight launch Xbox 360 ended with both my parents showing up in their car. Admittedly, it probably didn’t help that I’d left my mobile phone in my own car a couple of streets away so they couldn’t contact me, but I wasn’t about to give up my place in the queue to go back for that. Ah, the folly of youth. Of course, they turned up to find me grinning from ear to ear with an Xbox 360 in my arms and copies of PGR3 and Perfect Dark Zero. Ah, the folly of youth. 

The problem all stems from Dreamcast’s UK launch on October 10, 1999. Memorable enough that I can recall the date. The local game shop in my town (then called Electronics Boutique) put on the best midnight launch ever. There were Dreamcasts set up to play incredible showcase games like Power Stone, with competitions, prizes and generally a party atmosphere. I was there for a couple of hours because it had been advertised as being the ace event it actually turned out to be. Win.

But it isn’t like that any more. The shop staff are weary and security-conscious, the crowds are smaller… in fact, I look around me at the other people in the shop (all three of them. Literally) and start wondering if I really want to be associated with this event. Oh, good: an inner monologue. I am cooler than these people… right? Must be. Yes, definitely. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I purchase Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed (that I’ve already played on PS3) to ‘play’ on what is basically an expensive new toy that I just *had* to have at midnight. Twat. 

I would feel embarrassed walking back home if I wasn’t so worried. With the lights of the game store now far behind, the empty shopping complex has become a level from Splinter Cell. There’s a loud group of drunk students somewhere. So I stealthily wait for them to turn either one way or the other, then sneak around the behind them, sticking to well-lit areas like Sam Fisher’s obstinate younger brother, in the hope there’s at least CCTV if I do get mugged. 

And then, of course, when I eventually get in, it’s the usual story. A Day 1 patch that’s bricking consoles if you don’t let it run its inexorable course. Then the prospect of the Wii-to-Wii U Virtual Console transfer. I don’t feel well. Frankly, I’m exhausted. Slowly thawing out under an electric bulb while my new console updates itself, I finally get to test All-Star Racing and it works. Good. Now I can go to bed.

That one, perfect, life-affirming Dreamcast launch aside, it’s always been the same. Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Sony PSP, Xbox 360… I’ve been to the midnight launch of all of them and they’ve all disappointed. In fact, increasingly so as the systems themselves become more complex and initial setup is more complicated than 'plug in, switch on, have fun'. Maybe I should go to Oxford Street in London to really experience something.

In smaller, local shops, the event itself is just an exercise in getting people through the till as quickly as possible. But there’s never time to actually play the things after getting them home, yet the next day is inevitably spent too groggy to enjoy looking at a TV screen. I can’t understand why I keep putting myself through it. Nor why midnight launches have ‘become a thing’ in the industry. They’re pointless. Your pre-order will still be there for you at 9am the next day. Or even lunch time. Heck--how cool would you look waltzing in to pick up your PS4 a week later? You can imagine the assistants' amazement. Sure, I like to be able to say ‘I got mine at midnight’, but who cares really? Nobody.

So what will I be doing at PS4’s midnight launch? Come on now, have you not been reading everything above? The cold? The tiredness? The inner monologueing? Of course I’ll see you there. Dur!

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24 comments

  • F4G1TR0N - November 8, 2013 6:15 a.m.

    Seems like I am one of the few who actually enjoy midnights! I usually get a group of people to go with and we talk and olay with our 3dses till launch! The latest midnight, Cod Ghosts was great! Picked up the game, made some mixed drinks, and olayed for seven hours! Fantastic.
  • archnite - November 7, 2013 11:41 a.m.

    This article and these comments have drained me of all excitement. Thanks guys.
  • Shigeruken - November 7, 2013 12:58 a.m.

    I played Arkham Origins for two hours after it unlocked on steam at around 2am. The last midnight launch I physically attended was Halo: Reach, which my friend and I finished in four hours before class. I doubt I'll feel enthusiastic enough about any game to head out that late again.
  • brickman409 - November 6, 2013 4:15 p.m.

    The only midnight launch I've been to was for Madden 13. I don't even play madden, I just went because a friend of mine was getting it, and there was no school the next day, and I was bored and had nothing better to do. It was alright I guess, I got some free chips and soda, and a Papa Johns coupon that I never used. If I care about a game enough to buy it day one, usually I just preorder it and buy it later in the day.
  • GTull - November 6, 2013 5:36 a.m.

    I was 'invited' to Game on the launch day of Kinect for the official UK launch party. The party was good, free drinks and food and some 'celebrities' (note the quotes), but afterwards less-so, this was Oxford Street in London, and although we were spared the cold (because we were VIPs), we then waited about an hour and a half for midnight, which was no less boring instore, than it was out. Funnily enough (or unsurprisingly, given that it was Kinect), there wasn't much of a queue outside, so much so that they wanted us 'VIPs' to go out and make the queue look bigger. Then, at 11:55, a treat... 'The Wanted' show up to help the cashiers. For those who don't know, they're another plastic boy band in the vein of One Direction. Did I care? No... Was I worried about missing the last tube home? Yes... Did I care about Kinect, really? No. I just about made it home, went straight to bed and in the morning had the pleasure of 'Kinect Adventures' Lol. Never again.
  • deathsycthe - November 6, 2013 3:50 a.m.

    Go drunk...it works for me!!
  • Slayer11496 - November 5, 2013 7:54 p.m.

    I wouldn't go for a console, I love the early morning gaming though.
  • SpadesSlick - November 5, 2013 6:21 p.m.

    There is one new benefit to midnight launches in this day and age though; streetpass. I got 50 streetpasses at the X and Y launch because everyone who goes to these things usually thinks the same thing. Since you are waiting in line for hours, you can just constantly clear them out and pick up new ones at the same time.
  • Scoob - November 5, 2013 6:18 p.m.

    When I was hardcore into World of Warcraft, I went to the midnight launches of both The Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King. For that, or any other MMO, I would say it was worth it. Getting several hours ahead of the main pack of players is hugely beneficial. You're always a few steps ahead with the hundred or so people on your server who think the same, while the rest of the thousands are fighting in their crowded zones. You're the first into the new dungeons, have some good gear already, and are armed with strats, and almost always invited to the decent groups, while johnny come lately is dealing with undergeared PUGs. I couldn't see any other midnight launch to be worth it though. Especially consoles. There's just not enough good games near launch, and besides that, they always get improved a few short years down the line. And as for games, well, I guess the limited space on console drives is a bit of a bummer, but I've pre-purchased a few through Steam and had it pre-loaded and ready to go at midnight EST. Living on the west, it means I get to play my game 3 hours earlier than I should have been able to.
  • LordZarlon - November 5, 2013 5:18 p.m.

    I think that with the advent of digital distribution and the fact that, generally, there are always plenty of copies of games at the stores they don't matter as much as they used to. Back in the 90's there were times when the number of games and consoles where limited and, if you didn't get them at launch, you could be waiting weeks if not months for them to be restocked. At the end of the day though, if people want to wait outside, let them.
  • pl4y4h - November 5, 2013 4:07 p.m.

    The answer is no
  • SpadesSlick - November 5, 2013 2:38 p.m.

    At my Gamestop, there was close to 150 people there for pokemon x and y at midnight. At least in California they don't seem to be dying off.
  • BaraChat - November 5, 2013 1:47 p.m.

    I've never been remotely interested in midnight launches. I like pre-ordering games and/or consoles if the item itself REALLY interests me (I pre-order 4-6 games per year and only one console in my life ; the PS4), but not to get them early. In fact, I pre-order games because I want that "weight" off my back. I don't like to be uncertain about things I buy and I hate going somewhere and not being able to buy what I want at that precise moment. I want to "own" the game as early as possible, not necessarily have it in my hands. If I pre-order a game and it arrives 2 weeks later than it should, it won't bother me, because I already bought it, so I own it. Now that I think about it, it's a very weird way to see thing. Maybe it's a mini psychological disorder... Now I've disturbed myself.
  • jedisamurai - November 5, 2013 12:35 p.m.

    I've only ever attended two launches. One was for Sonic 2 (Sonic Tuesday! I got a free shirt!), and the other was for the only game console launch I have ever attended (at Midnight). It was September 9th, 1999 and it was the SEGA Dreamcast. Now, I've never before or since thought it was worthwhile to get a console at launch because 1. The consoles are way too expensive at launch and 2. There aren't any games for the thing I want to play at launch anyway. The Dreamcast was different. At LAUNCH it had games I wanted to play. It released for 199.99 And the games were (and are) amazing. I remember that night vividly. I had never seen lightening in my life and had always assumed that all a person could see was a flash in the sky. This night, the sky was literally constantly dancing with only a thousand lightning strikes in a rainbow of colors. When I arrived for my console there was excitement in the air. The lightening strikes caused the power to go out which made us all wait for them to be able to take our orders again, but I was so stoked just to be there it didn't bother me a bit. I was a teen and staying up that late for a console launch was really exciting to me. When I got that box in my hands it was absolutely beautiful and the system was even more beautiful. As the first few games came out I was enjoying titles more than I have in my entire life. To this day the Dreamcast and Saturn are my favorite systems, and that night will ALWAYS be a moment in my life that I treasure. Are there games and consoles now that I would wait in line at midnight to get? ....Not really. There are theoretical ones that would be worth it I suppose. If SEGA put out a new game system I might wait out in the cold for it. If a new Panzer Dragoon, Advent Rising, Alpha Centauri, Wing Commander, Chrono Trigger, or Mass Effect came out I suppose it might be worth it... And I would DEFINITELY stand in line at midnight for a new console Valkyria Chronicles But when all that gets released anymore are unpatched consoles with no games worth playing, buggy first-person-shooters, and stuff I wouldn't want if you gave it to me, I have to wonder if it would even be worth it for the only triple-A game series I care about. If I DID buy a new Mass Effect game, I would just feel ripped off as I then spend money on all the DLC. No, it's better to get new games a year or two after they release when all the bugs are fixed or the price drops sharply if they aren't, and all the DLC (or at least SOME DLC) is included. I bought the collector's editions of Mass Effect 2 and 3 for about 15.00-25.00 each, and feel sorry for anyone who paid 60.00 for the regular games when they launched.
  • GR_JustinTowell - November 5, 2013 3:46 p.m.

    Your Dreamcast story is awesome and I totally agree.
  • rxb - November 5, 2013 11:38 a.m.

    Good story Towelly. Fair play for sticking to your guns but the November cold means midnight launches here are a brave mission. My top tips would be take the day after off work, take a friend with a hot flask and be ready for delays if your buying a console not a game. I bought a copy of Gran Turismo 2 at midnight a long time ago. Fortunately no queue so I was in and out in 5 minutes. To be honest these days buying a launch console first day out is the real madness of this article. I don't want to be a pessimist but with the track record of new hardware and internet dependent systems, launch day is a massive gamble.
  • udUbdaWgz - November 5, 2013 11:37 a.m.

    i would actually argue that those who do it are making an unwise and unnecessary consumer decision.
  • metalheadredd - November 5, 2013 11:13 a.m.

    I've gone to 1 midnight launch, that was for Assassin's Creed 3. Well, there was no party or awesomeness, ran into people that knew me that I don't even like, and overall the only part that was good was that I could play the game that night. Except there was a day one patch and it had to install on the hard drive and I was to tired to actually play. GTA V, everybody got hyped up for, and I waited until two days later, didn't even preorder it and still got the atomic blimp. So forget midnight launches when I could be at home sleeping and warm, I'll simply wait until I have time.
  • Sinosaur - November 5, 2013 9:02 a.m.

    Midnight launches, for me, have only been worthwhile when I have friends there with me. It's a chance to hang out and get excited for a game, and if you're at a midnight launch it needs to be a game worth getting excited about. Wrath of the Lich King was worth getting excited for; went to the launch with my friend and then we went back to my place, loaded it up on our laptops and started playing. I recently moved and now the game stores aren't so conveninetly located, so when Pokemon X/Y came out, I decided to go handle some other shopping the actual release day, then just picked it up, no pre-order at all. Did I feel like I'd lost anything? Nope, started it up on the bus ride back and got to enjoy it without being horribly exhausted.
  • CitizenWolfie - November 5, 2013 7:07 a.m.

    Man, after the debacle I had setting up my Wii U for the first time, I really feel for you having to have gone through the midnight launch. I'm guessing it was a midnight purchase and then 6am before getting to play a damn thing. I've never had a console where I've actually had to look up a work-around online to get it fully set up (thanks to Wii U's shitty wifi capability). Personally I've only been to two midnight launches and had very opposite experiences. First was Battlefield 3 - I was excited more for the fact that it was my first midnight launch and was looking forward to that countdown and spending it with people equally psyched. It was nothing like that. No atmosphere, all of around 20 grim looking dudes gazing at their shoes and avoiding each other before grabbing the game and getting out. I was in and out within half an hour, feeling exhausted before I'd even unwrapped the box. The second was a couple of weeks later for Modern Warfare 3. Total opposite - queues out the door, a huge buzz of excitement and total strangers smiling and chatting away and exchanging "war stories" as we waited for 12am to strike. I came out probably 90 mins later and people who had already bought it were still around swapping gamer tags. Ended up playing all night. It pretty much summed up the whole BF/CoD rivalry for me.

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