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Sony's November 16, 2006 North American launch of a mere 400,000 PlayStation 3 consoles indisputably provoked at least two shootings, riots and multiple armed robberies. A Wal-Mart manager in Milwaukee forced waiting PS3 customers to play musical chairs, causing several injuries. The Medialoper blog catalogued the mayhem, though most of its news links are now dead - like the mania for the console itself and like community college student Peyton Strickland of Durham, North Carolina.
It's arguable whether to count Strickland's December 1 killing toward the PS3 launch's increment of human misery. On launch day, a University of North Carolina college freshman filed an armed robbery report with the New Hanover county sheriff's office. He had waited in line for three days at Wal-Mart to get two PS3s, but two guys in a Pontiac drove up, beat him up and stole the consoles. Investigating, police identified Strickland and an accomplice. The police looked up Strickland's page on an online social network, a Facebook clone called Campus Blender; he, like 50,000 other 18-year-old suburban white boys on Facebook and its clones, had posted a photo of his friends posing with (legally owned and licensed) firearms. Assuming from this that Strickland was armed and dangerous, the sheriff's office sent its Emergency Response Team - 16 heavily armed officers, including Sheriff's Corporal Christopher M. Long - to Strickland's home with a search warrant. They used a battering ram to break down the unlocked front door. Strickland was inside, unarmed and playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour with a friend on one of the stolen PS3s. Corporal Long, mistaking the sound of the ram for a gunshot - that's right, his own team's battering ram - panicked and fired, blowing out Strickland's brains and thereby sparing the public a trial to determine his guilt. Long also killed Strickland's dog, Blaze, who had not been involved in the robbery.
Ordinarily, this would be just another day defending the peace in North Carolina. Unfortunately for Long, Strickland's father is a lawyer. Long was fired; the district attorney charged him with second-degree murder, but a grand jury declined to indict. The New Hanover sheriff's office later admonished several deputies who sold raffle tickets to raise money for Long's family, calling it "most inappropriate" to offer as a prize the season's hot new must-have gift item, a brand-new Sony PlayStation 3.
Not to trivialize these grim episodes, the most dramatic casualty of the PS3 launch is the console's godfather, Sony legend Ken Kutaragi. As engineer of the original PlayStation and mastermind of its successors, Kutaragi had guided the line from strength to strength. Its success vaulted him to the top of Sony Computer Entertainment International, where, as chairman and CEO, he made SCEI, for a time, the sprawling megacorp's most profitable division.
Live by PlayStation, die by PlayStation. The PS3's six-month production delay and launch supply difficulties, among many factors, contributed to Kutaragi's sudden removal from day-to-day operations in November 2006. His replacement as CEO was Sony veep Kazuo Hirai, who ran Sony Computer Entertainment America; Hirai's replacement was Jack Tretton, co-Chief Operating Officer of SCE America. Both are Sony marketing veterans, both stoutly champion the PS3 and in public interviews both dismiss, as trivial carping, complaints about the PS3 launch.