By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website
Dedicated gamers have started queuing for the long-awaited Xbox 360 which makes its debut in the UK at midnight.
Fans queued up in the US for the Xbox 360
Microsoft's machine is the first next generation games console to go on sale, ahead of those from Sony and Nintendo.
But retailers have warned that fans may be disappointed as most shops have already sold out of all their stock due to limited supplies.
Some gamers have been expressing their frustration at the expected shortage of Xbox 360s in online forums.
Supply and demand
The Xbox 360 is one of the most eagerly-awaited consumer electronics debuts of the year.
It is vying with Apple's iPod and Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) at the top of many people's Christmas lists.
The console sold out quickly when it was released in the US last week, with some machines subsequently appearing on the online auction site eBay for inflated sums.
XBOX 360 SPECS
Three IBM PowerPC-based 3.2 GHz cores
One teraflop overall system floating-point performance
ATI graphics chip with 10MB of embedded DRAM
512MB of 700MHz GDDR3 RAM memory
Detachable 20GB hard drive
Built-in Ethernet port
Games supported at 16:9, 720p and 1080i, anti-aliasing
Streams media from portable music devices, digital cameras and Windows XP PCs
Supports up to four wireless controllers
The Xbox 360 will get its official midnight launch at video game retailer Game's flagship store in London's Oxford Street.
A Game spokesperson said some 200 fans were expected to queue up in advance, though only those who placed pre-orders would be allowed in.
The retail chain which includes Currys, Dixons and PC World has said it will have a limited number of the basic Xbox 360 package in stores.
Tesco has also said it will have limited supply of the consoles on sale in 130 of its largest stores from midnight.
"I think I'm gonna try just lurking around in Tesco from about 11pm and see if that works," said a gamer in a posting to a forum on the Xbox Scene site.
"As Tesco aren't doing pre-orders, this may be the best solution."
Queues have been forming at Tesco and Asda stores which are getting a number of 360s, though not enough to meet predicted demand.
"Well guys, wish me luck, I'm off to my local Asda tomorrow, for a 12-hour wait to try and get a 360," wrote a gamer on the Xbox Scene forum.
"They have some for sale @ midnight first come first served. I've got the playing cards, MP3 player, mobile phone, flask of coffee, and a GameBoy SP ready to go."
This is the first time that a console maker has launched a product almost simultaneously across the world and the ambitious plan has led to supply problems for Microsoft.
Some 300,000 Xbox 360s are likely to be available for Friday's European launch, though demand is far expected to exceed this.
"There are enough fans of the initial console and hardcore gamers who always buy new consoles to guarantee the initial launch will sell all the available units," said Forrester Research analyst Paul Jackson.
Microsoft has two factories working 24 hours a day making the console
Microsoft has been forced to defend itself against it has failed to provide enough consoles ahead of Christmas.
"We are working 24 hours a day with the factories and chartering every plane and ship we can," said UK Xbox boss Neil Thompson.
"But demand is exceptionally strong and there are times when people won't get it when they want it."
When Sony's PSP went on sale in the UK in September, it sold more than 185,000 units in four days. Since then, Sony has also had trouble meeting demand for the handheld.
Next gen battle
Some Xbox fans who pre-ordered the console as far back as August are angry after being told they may not receive the machine before Christmas.
"You might have thought that Microsoft, if they are determined to topple Sony from the console marketplace, might have learnt from the stock shortages that plagued the PSP," said one gamer in an e-mail to the BBC News website.
"You can't be a market leader if you have no products to sell to customers!"
The Xbox 360 costs £209.99 or £279.99 including a package of accessories, though many retailers are bundling the console with games, pushing up the price.
Sony and Nintendo are planning to release their next gen consoles during 2006, giving Microsoft an edge over its rivals by launching the 360 now.
The software giant is virtually tied with Nintendo for second place, way behind Sony, in a games market worth $25bn globally.