By Craig Zammit

SYDNEY: At 12:01am this morning thousands of consumers battled their nocturnal impulses to be among the first in the country to purchase the long-awaited PlayStation 3 gaming console.

Retailers across the country including Harvey Norman, Myer, JB Hi-Fi, EB Games and others hosted midnight openings for eager PlayStation fans keen to get their hands on the RRP $999.95 console.

Many consumers have remained loyal to Sony’s flagship gaming device despite continued delays to its Australian release and the considerable headstart given to its competitors, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii, which both launched last year.

Sony Computer Entertainment Australia (SCEA) confirmed that discussions with its retail partners revealed that hardware pre-sales alone were well over $20 million.

SCEA managing director, Michael Ephraim, attended the midnight opening at Myer’s Sydney city store to officially launch the new console down under.

“It was a night for games and consumer electronics retailers to celebrate this new chapter in home entertainment,” said Ephraim.

“We are thrilled to see the PlayStation 3 on sale at our retail partners across Australia. There has been so much talk about our next generation console that it is exciting for us that the public now get to experience it for themselves and make up their own minds.

“Our retailer partners have always been very supportive of PlayStation and we are delighted that demand was so strong from consumers for the PS3 prior to launch, that many of them benefited from opening their stores at midnight.”

EB Games salesperson, Ken Le, said that although he expects PS3s to enjoy long term success, he felt the launch lacked the excitement of other recent console launches.

“Xbox 360 had the largest hype [on launch] because they were the first next generation console to come out. Wii didn’t have as much hype but they didn’t really need it – they were successful without needing to do anything, but PS3 has been so delayed that it seems like most people have lost the hype for the next generation consoles,” said Le.

“Although in saying that, I do think the PS3 will go well in the long run. It’s my opinion that the PS3 will probably be at its best in about two or three years – which is pretty much what Sony hope for.

“They didn’t plan for a huge launch because after all the PS3 does come across as quite expensive and not everyone can afford it. So the PS3 I think is more a product for the future, not really for now,” Le said.

Whether or not stock levels for the PS3 are maintained after launch will remain to be seen, but Ephraim claims that stock shortages will not be a concern.

“I am confident going forward that we have ensured there is enough stock in the country to keep up with ongoing demand from consumers, especially those who have not pre-ordered, but still want to purchase a PS3 as soon as possible,” said Ephraim.

However, rumours are circulating in the games industry of an updated Xbox 360 which will surpass the 60GB PS3 hard drive.

The so-called ‘Xbox 360 Elite’ is expected to come in a sleek black casing and with120GB hard drive and HDMI output. While pricing and availability have not yet been confirmed, Microsoft hopes that the 360 Elite will impact on PS3 sales, although Le does not think it will.

“It seems to me that the Xbox 360 Elite is Microsoft almost admitting they made design errors with the original 360 and now they are correcting them,” said Le.