Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: Bland Turismo: The REAL McLaunch story

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bland Turismo: The REAL McLaunch story

Last week saw the Australian launch of the 4th installment in Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo series. Since the first Gran Turismo on PSone, the GT series has redefined driving games, delivering the most realistic car racing simulations available on home consoles. The GT series appeals to a broad range of people, including car enthusiasts who may not have any other interest in gaming. Despite its lack of online play or car damage, Gran Turismo 4 is easily the most comprehensive and realistic racing game to date. The launch of Gran Turismo 4 really was one of the most anticipated game releases of recent times. So it was with great interest that I attended the official midnight sales launch last Wednesday night.

The 24-hour McDonalds on Parramatta Road, Stanmore is reportedly the most frequented McDonald's outlet in the southern hemisphere. It's also known as a place where young car enthusiasts like to drive-through and "be seen". No doubt these are the reasons why Sony felt the Stanmore Macca's carpark would be the ideal location to stage their public GT4 launch event.

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There was a large customised GT4 trailer set up in the middle of the car park, loaded with copies of GT4, PS2+GT4 bundles, force-feedback steering wheels and other accessories. Beside the trailer was one of those large light-up roadside signs usually used to indicate roadworks, displaying a running clock to let people know when it was finally midnight. There were about about twenty sales and promo people on hand decked out in GT4 t-shirts and caps. The area around the trailer was blocked off by large plastic barricades presumably to keep the people under control, and a handful of security guys were also around to keep everything orderly. Only one thing was missing: the punters.

When I arrived shortly before 11:30 there was no-one waiting. I thought it would pick up as midnight approached. Five minutes before midnight, only a handful of potential customers had shown up. One of the promotions girls called out to the security guards who were sitting smoking cigarettes across the carpark: "Hey, aren't you guys trained in crowd control?" "Yeah", one responded, "Where's the crowd?"

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Midnight. Sales began. The JB Hi-fi sales staff quickly served the dozen or so people who were waiting, and then went back to chatting amongst themselves. It was clear the event was not having the expected level of impact. At any given moment, at least 90% of the people there were Sony and/or promotions people easily recognisable by the laminated passes around their necks, which presumably gave them exclusive access to...err...the carpark. Very few civilians were about. Given that they weren't real busy, I took the opportunity to have a chat with one of guys from the promotions company.
"It probably could have been promoted more", he said rather obviously.
"I think it was promoted on a website."
That may have been something of an overstatement. As far as I know, the only promotion of the event was a single pinned topic that had been online for 6 days in the GT4 forums on the Australian Playstation site. I politely agreed that the promotion of the event had perhaps been a bit too low-key. I went on to explain that much of the thunder had probably been stolen from the event by the fact that the release date had been broken, and that I had been offered a cheap copy of GT4 earlier that day. "By who?" I didn't say, of course.

Many of Australia's die-hard GT fans had purchased their copies of the game long before Chris Constandinou 'officially' became the first person in Australia to buy the game that night. Despite threats of being given the lowest priority on future releases if they broke the release date on this one, a number of stores had started selling their copies of GT4 as soon as they got them. Everyone likes a store that breaks release dates. Everyone but the store's competition and suppliers anyway.

Sony's official take on the event was that the atmosphere was "electric" and provided an "unforgettable" experience. Hmm. I've got to hand it to the photographer from the official Playstation magazine though. He did his best to get some shots that gave the impression of genuine public interest, by gathering up all the promotions people and having them pretend to be clamouring to buy the game (see below).

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Only seconds after he had taken his photos, the tumbleweeds returned (above). Some dudes turned up at the drive-thru in a convertible Merc. The photographer quickly saw an opportunity and handed them a few cardboard GT4 dummy boxes. "Come're excited!" he said. They weren't that excited though. In a stroke of genius, the photographer summoned the two girls in the tight JB Hi-Fi T-shirts to get in the car with the dudes. Suddenly, the dudes were more enthused. They were encouraged to say "Titties!" instead of "cheese" just in case the ploy had been too subtle.

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I hung around for a couple of hours just to see whether it got any busier. While many of Sony's people were having a good time across the road where Spiderbait were playing at the Annandale, the carpark remained pretty barren. Wednesday nights apparently aren't a big night for Stanmore McDonalds. I had three strangers approach me at different times and ask what was going on. Two of them had never heard of Gran Turismo before. The other one was a stoned teenager who knew what I was talking about and was clearly amused by the unnecessary barricades and security people. "Sucked in" he said as he wandered back off into the darkness.

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I decided it was time for me to wander off into the darkness too, as I had a plane to catch in the morning. I actually felt sorry for the promo and sales people, some of whom were clearly wondering what the hell I had been doing there the whole time, given that I hadn't bought a copy of the game. Despite having turned down the offer of a copy of GT4 earlier that day, I went and bought a copy of the game before I left. And a Quarter Pounder.


Anonymous Vicer said...

Wow, they should have given you the game for free since you waited there for that period of time.

8:19 pm  
Blogger Reading on the blog said...

Hey Rob, maybe they should've whacked a bucket bong down in the centre of the apparent melee. Dont they know people are 48% more likely to hit the playstation after a quick hit?

6:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ouch. That had to hurt the pride of Sony on release night.

Very funny write up.

Still, I have little doubt that this night was a minor bump in the road to the success of GT4.

10:47 pm  
Blogger Petras said...

As soon as I saw the word bucket in the comments page, I knew they'd be a Dave in there somewhere. I guess once a cloud of smoke arose from said bucket, it wouldn't be long before curious noses started emerging from the Annadale and following the smell.

8:04 pm  

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