LONDON (Reuters) - The Sony Playstation 2 finally hit Europe on Friday but shortages led disappointed fans to offer extra cash to buy the game consoles from the lucky ones who got them first.
The state-of-the-art console, offering faster and more vivid gaming than its forerunner, was delivered to a limited number of fans who ordered early, but won't be on free sale in the shops until next year because production can't keep up with demand.
In Britain, around 80,000 people on the waiting list turned up to collect the hotly awaited new machine at games shops, many of which opened specially at midnight to turn the event into a special occasion.
They paid $420 for the slim black box which uses an advanced 128-bit processor and has an inbuilt digital versatile disc player.
It is Sony's answer to new or coming products from main rivals Sega, Nintendo (news - web sites) and Microsoft.
A few buyers headed straight to the Internet to try and sell them for a big profit on UK auction sites like QXL, EBay and Freeserve.
People who failed to get onto Sony's list of the 165,000 people to get a Playstation 2 (PS2) by Christmas were offering up to about $630 buy one on the gray market.''
The lowest bid for the couple of dozen consoles so far up for grabs was about $422 -- just slightly more than the retail price -- but no one had offered the approximately $700 one seller demanded.
Sony said its pre-ordering system was designed to dampen down profiteering after consoles sold for four-figure sums in the United States when they went on sale there in October.
It says Playstation's Europe launch was delayed by a month because factories could not meet high demand in Japan and then the United States, partly because of chip shortages.
It denies it has deliberately kept the consoles in tight supply in order to boost the hype.
It does not make good business sense to restrict the number of machines for people at the busiest shopping time of the year,'' a Sony UK spokesman said.
Because Europe has a different television standard to the United States and Japan, where the Playstation first went on sale in March, fans could not jump the gun by buying abroad.
Half a million Playstations are due to be shipped in Europe before Christmas. Three and a half million have been sold in Japan.
Analysts say Europe is the world's largest market for video game machines. In Britain, almost one in four households is estimated to own an original Playstation console.
By Richard Meares