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?