NEW YORK – Days of waiting paid off for Sergio Rodriguez, one of the relatively few able to buy Sony's PlayStation 3 when the coveted console went on sale early Friday.
He was among the die-hard gamers and entrepreneurs across the country who braved foul weather and heckling by passers-by all week for the chance to shell out $500 or more for the sleek game machine.
With shortages resulting from production problems, many had camped out for days without knowing if they'd be going home empty-handed.
At some stores, the crowds got rowdy and stampeded for the shelves, injuring a man in Wisconsin and forcing authorities to shut down a Wal-Mart (WMT) store in California.
In Connecticut, two armed thugs who got wise to the PS3's high price tried to rob a line of people waiting outside a Putnam Wal-Mart store at 3 a.m. One person who refused to give up the money was shot, state police said.
In Lexington, Ky., four people waiting outside a Best Buy (BBY) were hit by BB pellets, though none was seriously injured, according to WKYT, whose own reporter was hit as she interviewed buyers.
Rodriguez had been waiting outside the New York Circuit City (CC) store since Sunday for the a midnight launch event, and he was the first to walk away with the PS3 as people still standing in line outside the store cheered.
"This is the best game ever. It's so worth the wait," the 25-year-old graphics designer said. "Some people may call me crazy, but I really love to play."
With Sony (SNE) promising only 400,000 systems for the nationwide launch, the chance of disappointment was high. While retailers tried to keep expectations low, lines snaked around the block at many stores — even those that weren't going to begin sales until later Friday.
Saby Madrigal, an 18-year-old college student who worked for a month at a liquor store to save for a PS3, waited in line outside the Circuit City for 24 hours without success. Still, she vowed to keep looking.
"For the work we had to do to get all the money to get the stupid system, I'm going to search every single store in town," she said. "I don't care, I'm going to get it."
Some who saw long lines at the midnight launches simply went to another location, with later openings and smaller crowds. Nonetheless, about 50 people were in front of Ahmad Mustafa, 24, outside a New York Best Buy with only 34 units available.
Ernie Ferreira, 22, of Allentown, Pa., who was visiting relatives in New York, was No. 4 in line and didn't mind waiting for the store's 8 a.m. opening.
"Only seven or eight hours, I can handle that," he said. "I did it three nights already."
Nathaniel Lord, who camped out for three nights at a Best Buy in West Hollywood, Calif., spent more than $700 on a console and game.
"I thought about going home to shower first because I haven't showered in three days, but I think I'm just going to get another energy drink, log on and get started," said Lord, a recent graduate of California Institute of the Arts.
Sony, which has contended with laptop battery recalls and trails rivals in key products such as music players and liquid crystal displays, is counting on the PS3 to maintain and build its market lead in consoles.
Some customers were buying PS3 machines for themselves or as gifts, but many were hoping to resell them at a profit. Units were fetching several thousand dollars early Friday at the eBay Inc. (EBAY) auction site.
James Salterio, 27, explained the reason for his two-day camp-out outside a west Houston Target Corp. (TGT) store: Greed.
"I'm gonna sell mine," Salterio said, figuring he could make anywhere between $1,500 and $4,000.
His 21-year-old brother, a gamer, wanted company in line, so Salterio decided to make a profit in the process.
"It's capitalism at work," he said.
Edgar Alcala, 18, who grabbed one of the first spots in line at San Francisco's Sony Metreon Mall on Wednesday morning, said he was looking forward to a warm, dry bed and a hefty profit.
"When I get home, I'm going to take a quick picture of it, slap it on eBay and go to sleep," Alcala said minutes before the store's doors opened at midnight Friday.
Potential customers braved freezing temperatures in Fargo, N.D., and heavy rain and winds in Baltimore and other East Coast locales.
"Katrina could come through here and I wouldn't switch," said Marco Cajas, 20, of Baltimore. "I spent the night on the cold street."
Even a volunteer for former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina asked for help in getting a PS3 — from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which the potential 2008 presidential candidate frequently criticizes.
Edwards said the volunteer "feels terrible" about seeking the console from Wal-Mart a day after his boss criticized the retail giant, saying it doesn't treat its employees fairly.
Wal-Mart accused Edwards, the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 2004, of not wanting to wait his turn.
Short supplies and strong demand were feared to be a formula for trouble as the PS3 hit store shelves, a half-year late because of problems completing work on the console's built-in, next-generation DVD player.
In Palmdale, Calif., authorities shut down a Super Wal-Mart after some shoppers got rowdy late Wednesday. In West Bend, Wis., a 19-year-old man ran into a pole and struck his head racing with 50 others for one of 10 spots outside a Wal-Mart.
Many stores reported calm.
At a Best Buy in Boston with 140 machines for sale, employees simply gave out tickets for the first 140 in line so that everyone can go home.
At San Francisco's Sony Metreon mall, a "sacred scroll" notebook kept track of the first 505 people in line so they could go to the bathroom or pick up food without losing their spots. Some got wristbands guaranteeing a unit.
There was even a vibrant economy in Mount Laurel, N.J. Restaurants not only delivered pizza and wings, but also dispatched workers to hand out menus. The Dick's Sporting Goods store nearby sold camp chairs and more than a few tents.
Even as retailers drummed up publicity by throwing parties and inviting celebrities, Best Buy Co. Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc. and others warned customers all week that supplies would be tight.
Sony promised the 400,000 machines in the United States for Friday's launch and about 1 million by year's end. Worldwide, it was expecting 2 million this year, half its original projections.
Jack Tretton, executive vice president at Sony Computer Entertainment America, said retailers will be receiving new PlayStations daily — expedited by plane rather than ships.
"At some point we want to get to some degree of normalcy, but that remains to be seen," Tretton told The Associated Press, adding that seeing all the people camped out and lined up for the console "kind of makes all the effort worth it."
Enthusiasm for the PlayStation 3 wasn't dampened by its high price tag — $500 for the basic model with a 20-gigabyte hard drive and $600 for the 60-gigabyte version, which also has built-in wireless.
Sony crammed the PlayStation 3 with the very latest in cutting-edge technology, and it dominated the previous generation of consoles with 70 percent of the global market.