This morning's launch of Grand Theft Auto IV appears to have gone off with more than a little measure of success - at least if people queuing outside retail outlets in the 'provinces' were anything to go by.
SPOnG decided to remain away from the obvious excesses of London to gauge the feelings of real gamers - those not blinded by the bright lights and the loose morals - regarding the long-awaited launch. The fact that the Metropolitan Police have effectively banned midnight launches was not, of course, the issue. You can see pix of the queues from both the North East (glorious down-town Wakefield) and the South East (glorious down town Southend) at the bottom of this story.
First we'll hear from our "Down South" correspondent, the inestimable Svend:
Owing to Oxford Street’s ban on midnight launches (there wasn’t even an official launch party lined up) I went to the next best place – London’s seaside, Southend-on-Sea – to capture the atmosphere of its midnight launch. GAME, at half past 11, attracted more than 40 future Niko fans. This figure shot up to over 60 as the clock struck 12. Local newspapers were present to photograph the scene.
The first person in the queue, an eager bloke by the name of Kevin, had been waiting since ten o’clock in the evening, probably sustaining himself from the nutrients of good feeling around him. A big fan of the San Andreas game, Kevin’s hoping GTA4 will be more refined and filled with more action than before.
Over at GameStation, things were even more hectic, with over 70 people snaked outside the doors, down the high street and around the corner of the nearby Zavvi store. Staff were enforcing a ‘one in, one out’ strategy to avoid being swamped, and one or two drunks took their time out of their busy staggering schedule to heckle some of those in the queue.
The first customer, Brad Davis, emerged from the GameStation doors triumphant, with his hands on a copy before anyone else in town. With GTA being his favourite game series, Brad was willing to battle the lukewarm elements from nine o’clock, and naturally can’t wait to put some hours into Niko’s American Dream.
A quick rally of the people queuing for the game showed more intended purchases for the Xbox 360 version than the PlayStation 3 – not surprising considering the current user install base of each console here. What was surprising was that, given the evident number of hardcore gamers lined up, not one person we spoke to had heard of the recent pirate copy of the game available on Torrent websites around the world.
The amount of excitement generated for Grant Theft Auto 4 is perhaps so great that potential loss in sales generated by the illegal copy won’t even factor into what will has already become another roaring success for Rockstar, and money in the bank for Take Two.
Now, for the unitiated, SPOnG is based in the north of England - yes, we're not part of the incestuous down-south video-media. So, we trod off into the night to see what historic Wakefield's games emporia had to offer in the way of in-queue violence, drunken rioting and GTA IV scrums.
Queues outside both GAME and its hipper cohort GameStation were, it has to be said, far longer than for the Halo 3, PS3 or Wii launches (the two most recent comparators). We also attempted to get a smile and a stat from the people behind the counter at Blockbuster, which remained open. Sad to say, that after we had identified ourselves in a merry manner and asked, "So, how many did you sell? What was the Xbox 360 to PS3 split like?" we were met with terrified looks. We were rapidly handed HQ's telephone number as the assistants both nodded towards the front door. Aside from two SPOnGers and two assistants, the shop was as empty as the information provided was sparse. What did they think we were going to do?
So, back to GAME and, down the road, GameStation. The most outstanding detail from both, it has to be said, was the sheer laid-back politeness of the queues. GTA fans must surely exorcise their inner demons by shooting and running over prostitutes; randomly mowing down passers-by and generally getting Immoral (note the capital I). Because in real life they appear to be pleasant, well rounded and even helpful individuals.
They were also - for the vast majority - coming to collect pre-orders. Those pre-orders were also, for the most part, for Xbox 360 versions of the game. No one, it seemed, had come to purchase hardware. "You've got to realise that it's mostly the hardcore gamer who is out at midnight", we were sagely advised by a staffer at GAME.
So, it's more than possible that no hardware was shifted off the back of GTA IV purely because the people purchasing the game have all the consoles they need. The fact that pre-orders were the (excuse us) order of the day also meant that the triumphant bag waving and whooping that often accompanies such events was nowhere in sight. Pre-orders and the fact that we were in Yorkshire, where we know how to behave with decorum.
Limited Edition packs of the game were few, far between and not - as far as we could tell - being purchased. This may have had something to do with the fact that the few copies available up here outside of London had already been snapped up by people who could wait until a sane time of day.
So, as far as we can ascertain from these two strawiest of straw polls at each end of the country... the Xbox 360 version of GTA IV appears to have the lead. Of course, it is very early in the day...
Also early in the day right now is the NASDAQ on which Take-Two's share price currently sits at its closing price from April 28th. This was $26.47 (£13.20) - already above the offer from Electronic Arts of $25.74 (£14.75). The market opens again at 09:30am New York time (that's 2:30pm BST).
Stay tuned to see how much blood really ends up on the floor. Game on.