Welcome to Xbox Station?

Warning: This article is Image Heavy. 56k users Beware. All images are sized down -- click the image to access the full size version. Sorry if some photos are blurry -- they were taken on my phone.

When I wandered into Gamestation Birmingham today, it certainly wasn't to find a story or a subject for an article on the site. However, I wound up finding one. I actually went in to buy "42 All Time Classics" (aka "ClubHouse Games") for the Nintendo DS but ended up far distracted by something else.

For an explanation to people not from the UK, Gamestation is one of the largest videogame specific retailers in the country, lagging only behind GAME (who is owned by the same parent company as EBGames.) Something was different about the store today. The first strange thing was the display in the front window. The left window had the usual: Preowned games and consoles, ranging from the NES right up to the original Xbox. The right hand window, however, was covered in Xbox 360s. There was a small poster to preorder the Wii in the window and some hanging advertisements for other games but the window was totally Xbox dominated.

A bit too much green?

Strange, I thought, but I continued on in. I look to the right. Even stranger, the stairs to the lower level are green. The stairs are also decorated by huge posters advertising the Xbox 360. I remark to fellow RPGSite writer, Sam Patrick, that there's a bit of Xbox bias going on and we laugh about it.

Before I look for Club House games, I head downstairs. The downstairs of Gamestation Birmingham is my favourite part. As the largest gaming store in the whole of the UK, the downstairs is entirely dedicated to retro gaming, and not only sells games but has gaming merchandise, figurines, comics and apparel to buy. As well of this, they usually have a few playable arcade machines.

Imagine my shock (but not horror -- in fact, I was quite pleased) when I walk downstairs and see this:

Xbox heaven. Green everywhere.

I was pretty stunned, as you can imagine. First instinct; journalist instinct -- this could be a good story. Find out more. Whose doing is this, how long has it been like this, and how much did it cost? My second instinct is to ask where my precious game figurines and soundtracks have gone -- thankfully, they've just been moved upstairs.

A helpful GameStation employee answered my questions. Microsoft gave the store the money for the great redecoration job downstairs and helped them do it as part of one huge marketing scheme -- the first of its kind in the UK. I don't know if this happens often in the US and other places, but it's definitely a first here. In answer to the second question, this is all quite new -- less than a week old. The third question he said he wasn't allowed to answer, sadly.

A sea of green -- and people playing demo units.

I took out a notepad and jotted down some stats. Sixteen Xbox units were playable around the floor (twelve on the lower floor, four on the upper) There were also two huge HDTVs showing trailers for 360 games. Interestingly, as the GameStation employee informed me, the entire floor was networked -- it was possible to have network play across the Xbox consoles, and of the sixteen four were actually connected to Xbox Live for online play, and to allow store staff to update the console with new demos and content for people to play with on the fly. Games for Windows even holds a place of prominence, with its own little corner of the store.

Games for Windows isn't forgotten on the Xbox floor.

As I looked over the life size Master Chief (originally given to stores to promote Halo 2), I wonder about this interesting marketing move. My first thought is the Wii launch -- RPGSite will be there at GameStation Birmingham, the biggest UK Game Retailer on Midnight as the Wii launches to interview the public as they take away their consoles, or, in some unlucky cases, go away empty handed. It'll be interesting to see how many of these people choose to go and have a blast on the Xbox 360s around the store.

The Halo hero guards over the Xbox store. Check out the cool graffiti behind him -- there's a proper photo of this later on.

It'll be even more interesting to see if these units and this marketing has increased interest in the Xbox 360 overall. The UK is still very much Playstation-land, with the average "casual" gamer of the opinion that the Playstation is "just better," and so the existence of these demo units could persuade them otherwise.

It all looks very promising, anyway -- we returned to the store four times in as many hours, and found that each time we visited the demo units were packed with people enjoying network play on Perfect Dark Zero and Project Gotham Racing, some playing co-op Lego Star Wars, and others enjoying Table Tennis and Ninety Nine Nights. Certainly the floor did a very good job of representing the Xbox 360's increasingly stellar games line-up, and caught the interest of everyone who wandered down there, including many a casual gamer. Bear in mind all this at 12pm on a Monday - I can't even begin to imagine what it's like at weekends.

Could this store provide Microsoft a few Sony converts?

I'll be returning there -- one of the store assistants informed me they will be holding tournaments where people can bring along their gamertags on Memory Units and kick some ass to win prizes. If you're in the Birmingham Area and attend, keep an eye out for APZonerunner -- that's me!

A perfect setup for gaming tournaments, all paid for by Microsoft.

Definitely, this little scheme and idea by Microsoft has excited me. I do hope we'll see it in a few more videogame stores, as it's the next best thing to having an actual Xbox, Nintendo or Playstation store in my local town. It'd also be fantastic if we saw similar versions from the guys at Sony and Nintendo -- listen and learn, guys -- this is a great idea. Score one for Microsoft's Advertising team. As I said, I'll definitely be returning there for tournaments and recommending other gamers head there.

In a rather funny turn of events, the only Playstation 2 Demo Unit in the store is totally broken. Never a good sign.

Oh dear.

What are your thoughts on this? Good idea? Bad idea? Unfair to the other companies who are also sold in the store? Personally, I'd like to see more schemes like this.

I've attached more pictures of the store on the end of this story. Alternatively, just view the special Media Vault we have created for the shop to see all the screens thumbnailed where you can click to enlarge. I especially recommend checking out the photos of the awesome Xbox 360 Graffiti that occupies the far wall.

We'll be back at GameStation Birmingham for the Wii Launch -- we'll also be finding out if this has affected interest in and sales of the Xbox 360 at the store then!

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A better view of the adverts on those stairs.

Xbox, Xbox, everywhere, but not a drop to... how about a 360 Drink, MS?

Pure awesome.

Players 1-4... the till setup.

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