Last week, two of the biggest products of the year launched within 24 hours – and games retail certainly rose to the occasion.
The High Street is accustomed to handling midnight openings and star-studded launch parties, but the timing of Black Ops’ and Kinect’s UK debuts triggered the busiest week in games retail history.
There were early queues braving the elements, with hype and excitement building as midnight approached. Stunning store displays were erected by bleary-eyed staff. And a global media frenzy watched on as gaming went big.
Throughout the week, the UK was buzzing with COD and Kinect activity, and London was at the heart of it all.
MCV was on hand throughout the entire mad week – not only the two-day period encompassing the official openings, but also the build-up and the aftermath.
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 7TH
16:12 – There’s still more than a full day to go before Black Ops is on sale, but avid fan Dwayne Martin is already queuing outside GAME, Oxford St.
“I’ve been waiting for this one for so long,” he says. “I fell in love with Modern Warfare 2, and now with Black Ops I’m in love again.
“I’ve prepared myself for all the elements – I knew it would be cold, I knew there’d be rain. I’ve been planning this all month – I was even going to come on Friday to make sure I was first.”
MONDAY NOVEMBER 8TH
05:03 – Activision’s team arrives at London’s Battersea Power Station to begin setting up for the evening’s Black Ops event.
There are tanks to park, a marquee to construct, projectors to install, a stage to erect, a black carpet to roll out and a day full of technical rehearsals to look forward to.
11:07 – Even the increasingly bitter British weather isn’t enough to put consumers off picking up the latest Call of Duty. At the head of the queue outside the Oxford St branch of HMV is Imram Chowdhury.
“It’s so cold that I’ve been dancing just to keep warm,” he tells us. “And it’s raining. People have been wandering past wondering why I’m standing around out here.
“But it’s been worth it. I saw an ad for the midnight opening in the paper and ran straight here. When I asked where the queue was – they said ‘you’re the first person’. I was so happy, I’ve never been first for anything in my life.”
16:36 – Pearl Robinson, manager of GAME’s Oxford Street branch, is busy getting the store ready for the approaching midnight opening.
“Preparations are well on the way,” she says. “Everything is taking shape, and all our troops are in position.
“There’s already quite a few people lining up outside. Some have been there since last night – they’re settled out there with umbrellas and chairs.”
16:57 – Back at Battersa, the specliast gaming and lifestyle media start setting up cameras and equipment along the black carpet, all hoping to get an interview with one of the many celebs tipped to be attending. And a copy of the game, no doubt.
18:02 – With construction complete, Activision’s own in-house filming crew began setting up their equipment for the launch party, preparing to document one of the publisher’s biggest events to date.
18:28 – Coaches begin transporting guests to the power station from the nearby Vauxhall station.
A small army of Call of Duty-branded shuttlebuses have been prepared for this evening, regularly running between the two destinations.
19:01 – The doors open at Activision’s official launch party. Over the course of the evening, 650 journalists, 40 celebrities and dozens of industry icons and competition winners pass through them.
Stars in attendance include Shayne Ward, Brian Freedman, Alex Reid, NDubz, Professor Green, Gail Porter, Sophie Ellis Bexter, Goldie and some of the girls from ITV drama The Only Way is Essex.
21:34 – Footballer Wayne Bridge represents the UK in a pan-European celebrity Call of Duty tournament, battling stars from five other territories. The tournament is hosted by presenter George Lamb. Bridge doesn’t win.
22:19 – Meanwhile at Oxford Street, the final touches are being made for HMV’s midnight opening, with the store decked out in camoflague nets.
Retail assistant Maxim Savard says: “It’s been hectic. We’ve been preparing for hours, but we’ve received so much stock that it’s taken a while to fully set it up.
“It’s going to be our biggest event of the year. We’ve had others where we expected more people, but this one is really going to draw in the crowds. We’ve got plenty of great free stuff for consumers who buy the game here, like strategy guides and goodie bags.”
22:24 – By now, around 50 people are lined-up outside HMV, with the queue stretching down Oxford Street.
A Monster-branded truck is entertaining the crowded with rock music and free Monster energy drinks for the inevitable all-nighter of online COD deathmatches.
22:32 – Over at Battersea, the celebrations are rounded off with special performances from MOBO award winning artist Tinie Tempah and upcoming UK artist Labrinth. After the show, the media are urged to head over to Oxford Street for the official launches.
22:35 – The queue for Call of Duty outside GAME stretches beyond Oxford Street, around the corner and into Newman Street. There are too many people in it to accurately count.
22:41 – GAME’s staff have all donned military costumes to honour occasion and are now manning the tills, preparing for the queue of COD enthusiasts outside.
“There’s a bit of a cult behind Call of Duty,” says sales assistant Hugh Rankmore. “It’s the one game that people love to play online with their mates. It’s like the shooter version of FIFA – if all of your mates buy one game, you’re going to get the same one so you can play with them.
“I have a hardened edition pre-ordered out the back, but I won’t be able to play it until Thursday, because after this we’ve got the Kinect launch and then the first day of Kinect sales. So I’ve got a day off on Thursday – a whole day to play Black Ops.”
22:48 – GAME manager Pearl Robinson ensures that everything is ready before allowing people into the store.
“The preparation has been really good,” she said. “We’ve got everything sorted out, nothing has gone wrong and now we’re just waiting to let the customers in.
“I’ve been at it since 8.30 this morning, getting stock and materials from another store. And tomorrow’s just going to be manic. But it’s fine, because Black Ops is a brilliant game. Everyone’s going to love it.”
23:00 – The doors at GAME are opened for the first wave of customers. They are allowed to file into the store, led by the increasingly excited Dwayne Martin, and begin queuing just in front of the tills.
23:30 – Midnight approaches. Treyarch game designer Dave Vonderhaar arrives from the launch party at Battersea. He leaps onto the counter, and excites an already excitable crowd.
GAME’s head of PR Neil Ashurst has also arrived – how is he feeling at this point? Nervous?
“What kind of a question is that?” he laughs. “I’m not nervous – more excited. We’ve been working on this for months, knowing that this day is coming, and this is the culmination of everything. So now is the fun part.”
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 9TH
00:00 – Call of Duty: Black Ops officially goes on sale. All hell breaks loose at the tills, as consumers clamour to get their copy of Activision’s latest shooter.
00:16 – Vonderhaar briefly escapes the wave of star-struck fans asking for autographs on their new purchases to speak to MCV. He is just as excited as the gamers, and very impressed with the dedication some of them have shown.
“People have been queuing up for so long – it’s amazing,” he says. “I’m having such a great time. I knew there would be a lot of people, but I had no idea it would be as big as this. It’s overwhelming on every level.”
00:22 – The queue outside GAME still stretches from Newman Street, but now it leads all the way through the store up to the checkouts.
00:27 – Meanwhile, further down the road, HMV’s head of games Tim Ellis watches on as his staff work through the queue that is still building outside, letting them in waves of ten to twenty gamers. By the end of the night, the store has served over 350 consumers.
“We’re really pleased with the outstanding turnout,” says Ellis.
08:14 – But there’s no time to rest once the sun has risen. Xbox 360 fan Rafael Snowdon and his friends arrive at GAME on Oxford Street. The queue for Kinect has officially begun.
12:42 – Recovering from last night’s event, Activision’s Andrew Brown reflects on the success of the launch party and the early reception on the High Street.
“We are absolutely delighted with the events of last night,” he says.
“The launch event at Battersea was truly incredible. The turnout to the midnight openings across the whole of the UK seemed to be at least as big as last year, and we know Call of Duty: Black Ops has even greater awareness and anticipation than Modern Warfare 2, so we’re hopeful for big sales today.”
14:11 – HMV’s Tim Ellis reports that other midnight openings around the UK have been just as successful as that of Oxford Street.
“Many of our larger regional flagships such as Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle drew impressive 200-plus crowds last night, which is great,” he says.
“Overall, our stores averaged queue sizes of around 100 people – a remarkable feat when you consider how many midnight launches there were around the country.
“All of our stores were well up for it. Obviously it would have been nice to have given them more promotional support on the ground but, our games teams around the country more than made up for it with their enthusiasm, so I’d like to thank them along with everyone at Activision.”
14:37 – With COD out of the way, the industry focuses on the impending release of Kinect. Microsoft has already started setting up a stage at the National History Museum’s ice rink.
17:29 – The gates open at the Natural History Museum in London for Kinect’s official launch party. Rumours of celebrity guests begin to spread.
18:35 – The night’s entertainment kicks off with a display of ice skating and dancing by UK performers Ice Act.
18:42 – Tonight’s host Kate Thornton (pictured above) arrives, following a video on the evolution of Kinect.
After introducing the motion controller and demonstrating how easy it is to access video and music content, she not-so-subtly ends up finding the first act of the evening on the Zune marketplace.
18:46 – Popular boy band The Wanted walk out and perform their biggest hit ‘All Time Low’, during which the girls of Ice Act perform a stunning synchronised routine on the rink below. The pop group follow this up with their new single ‘Heart Vacancy’.
18:55 – The lads are followed by X Factor winner Leona Lewis, who performs a trio of her most successful songs: ‘Bleeding Love’, an acoustic version of ‘Naked’ and ‘Run’.
19:11 – The music finishes and the attendees are allowed onto the rink. Mulled wine and hot chocolate are passed around to keep everyone warm on this cold night, and people flock to try demos of Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports.
20:32 – The launch party comes to
a close, although a few stragglers need to be removed from the ice rink before Microsoft can begin to take everything down.
22:06 – Roughly 30 people are already queueing outside GAME’s Oxford Street branch for the official midnight opening. It’s not quite the massive queue that was here for COD, but the consumers are just as excited. Rafael Snowdon still holds on to his place at the front of the line.
“Microsoft has taken the first brave step into motion control,” he says. “Obviously, Nintendo did it with the Wii but that was with controllers. Kinect is the first time games have stepped away from the controller. It’s the first step into what will be the future of gaming.
“The wait has been worth it. Me and a couple of friends thought we’d make a day of it, we’ve met some other great people. It’s been a good day. And I can’t wait to get home and set Kinect up.”
22:17 – Kinect mastermind Kudo Tsunoda arrives at GAME. When he’s not demonstrating the device to waiting press and competition winners, he’s dishing out free Kinect t-shirts, baseball caps and foam hands to the eager crowd outside.
22:37 – Cheryl Conn, manager of the GAME concession at Hamleys is on hand to help with the preparations. The store has been completely transformed from the COD-branded event last night, with Kinect demo spaces set up, hundreds of dummy boxes stacked up and every visible shelf packed with Kinect games.
“We’re really on top of everything,” she says. “There’s shedloads of stock to sell, but I’m sure we’ll run out.
“We’ve been preparing for this launch for weeks, but it’s taken all day to dress up the store after last night’s Call of Duty launch. The turnout looks good so far, but I imagine even more people will turn up – there’s still over an hour to go.”
22:43 – The Wanted make their second appearance, posing with the Microsoft team and playing Kinect Sports with Tsunoda.
22:51 – Having invited her to the launch party across town earlier tonight, GAME has now brought competition winner Rebecca Hopkins and her son Max to try out Kinect for themselves and be among the first to purchase it.
“Kinect is brilliant – Max has really enjoyed playing it today,” she says. “He’s been really excited about this – he couldn’t sleep last night. I was going to get this for him for Christmas, but I won’t be able to hide it from him now.”
23:17 – UK Xbox boss Steve McGill has joined in the festivities.
“It’s wonderful to see the number of people here,” he says. “I think they’re going to have a great time. Preparing for the launch hasn’t been too manic. Our thanks go to retailers – there are hundreds of stores open tonight for Kinect’s launch. And of course we had Call of Duty last night, which always does well on Xbox 360. These guys have had a really busy 48 hours.
“The team and I are a little bit tired. Obviously we’ve just come from the party at the Natural History Museum, which went down really well.
“It wasn’t your normal launch party because we were aiming at a broader market – so it wasn’t one of your usual industry events that go on until midnight and everyone gets drunk. It had a really nice vibe.”
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 10TH
00:00 – Kinect for Xbox 360 officially goes on sale. The Wanted pitch in to help GAME’s sales assistants with the flood of customers that keep pouring in from the street.
00:13 – Kudo Tsunoda signs a few Kinect boxes and games, eagerly posing with customers and revelling in the culmination of years of development.
He says: “We’ve worked on this stuff for so long, so it’s great to see people queuing up to buy it or having fun trying it out in the store.
“This is the whole reason I got into the video games industry in the first place – doing stuff like this. It’s just been awesome. Kinect is one of the best things things I’ve ever done in my professional career.
“You don’t usually get to participate in something this innovative, something that brings something so new to entertainment – and that really shows in the level of excitement you see in the people buying Kinect.”
08:53 – Treyarch’s community manager Josh Olin reports that Xbox Live stats for Black Ops suggests strong sales, with more than one million gamers already logging on for the multiplayer.
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 11TH
While Kinect sales data has yet to be released at the time of writing, Activision is celebrating first day sales of 1.4m units in the UK, amounting to £58m and smashing the record set by Modern Warfare 2. It’s been a busy week for all involved, but it has definitely paid off.