“Everyone here who wants a 360 will be able to leave with a 360.”
In these new console-hungry times, when pre-orders are difficult to find, it’s hard to imagine anyone declaring such a rural statement. But that’s exactly what a Best Buy representative said 15 years ago, on November 22, 2005, as Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 at a phenomenal “Zero Hour” event in the Mojave Desert.
“Our goal with the launch event is to reward the gamer by creating the ultimate Xbox 360 oasis,” said former Xbox executive Peter Peter Moore at the time. “Gamers in ‘Zero Hour’ will have bragging rights to say ‘I spent over 24 hours in the epicenter of the gaming universe, and I was among the first generation of the next generation of gaming.”
Microsoft staged the Zero Hour event in a huge hangar, clearing the space to make room for an event platform and a small army of gaming stations surrounded by beanbag chairs. The whole scene was further intensified by the colored green, the Xbox brand landmark. Even the outside of the building had green lights.
A 2005 IGN report on Zero Hour described the event as the space age setting of techno music and white dome reminiscent of Spaceball City. The domes housed important information about key Xbox services and features, as well as … alcohol. The booze apparently played a part in the subsequent bean bag chair fight that broke out in front of the hanger.
“While we were asking questions a cacophony of screams and shouting started to come behind us. We turned around to find that the crowd of people who had been sitting quietly in front of the hanger door had suddenly transformed into a pack of raging monsters that intended to destroy everything that was free and shaped like a mushroom, “an IGN report reads. “Yes, excitement before the launch led to a wild bean bag chair throwing a fiasco, which was actually pretty funny.”
The multi-day event was a little press event, a little fan convention. Launch parties like this are not unusual when new consoles launch, but this one stands out for its unusual location and environment. The Mojave Desert isn’t exactly a large media market, but the hangar’s event space offers impressive visuals.
Gizmodo’s 2005 comment described it all in humorous terms: Burning Man as interpreted by Microsoft marketers. That description is completely won over, as one Microsoft employee told the website that the similarities are purposeful. The same report also cites an interesting trivial piece: The hangar was used in the shooting of the Mission: Impossible movie. Twist!
I checked and my inactive Flickr account still gets my photos (horribly low res) from the event. Enjoy this walk down memory lane. Let me know if anyone sees himself! https://t.co/c1xDI2AYUW
This will always be a very special event for me.
– Larry Hryb (@majornelson) November 22, 2020
Events like this used to be much more common in the games world. I wasn’t in Zero Hour, but I could tell all sorts of stories. About the Call of Duty review event held at a Palm Springs resort that felt like a scene out of it The Prisoner. Or separate events in Florida hosted by Capcom and Midway (RIP) that were basically just an excuse to provoke the media with booze in Miami. None of these events can make a bad game good, but that didn’t stop the corporate powers-that-be from trying!
Thankfully, those types of incidents are more refined than a normal occurrence these days, even when there is no furious pandemic keeping people locked up in their homes. But these large, expensive, and crowded conglomerates definitely came with great photo opposites.