Let me take you back to a simpler time. The year is 2004. It’s my freshman year of college and I was living in an off-campus dorm with three friends (in two two-person bedrooms with a shared bathroom). I brought my original XBOX with me, just as any young gamer would. Since the whole building shared the same internet network it was a massive LAN party every night, and Halo: Combat Evolved was the game of choice.
My roommate and myself both used the hell out of my XBOX that year. I don’t remember which games we played other than Halo and Halo 2 (most likely Madden and some other sports games). Halo 2 was released about a month into my freshman year of college. That was a big night.
I went to GameStop with a group of XBOX owners from my building to pick up Halo 2 at the midnight release. We arrived early. We waited in line and took turns going to Publix next door for Pub Subs and snacks (no beers, we were freshmen at the time). This wasn’t my first time waiting for a game release at midnight, and it wouldn’t be the last time either.
When we arrived back at the dorm with our fresh copies of Halo 2, the non-XBOX owners were wandering the halls looking for somewhere to play. We instantly booted up the game and played late into the night. My roommate was dead asleep for the night (with his eyemask and earplugs) as four of us stood surrounding the TV whispering to each other experiencing Halo 2 for the first time together. I’m pretty sure many of us missed an early class or two the next morning.
Before the release of Halo 2, every night was already a giant LAN party within the building. Everyone with an XBOX was playing Halo, and anyone who didn’t own an XBOX would find a room to play in. This behavior continued for the entire year, now with the sequel. Because of these nightly LAN parties, I met people who lived all over the building and we only knew each other by our gamertags. We were lucky to have the luxury of enjoying a building-wide LAN party each night at a time when internet gaming on consoles wasn’t so stable. It was also a great way to make friends.
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The most wild midnight release I ever attended was back home one summer. The GameStop at the Mall was releasing the new Madden at midnight. Something went wrong and the delivery still hadn’t arrived by midnight. There was a line of 100s of us waiting. I brought my non-gamer friend along, because we had gone to the movies and I thought this won’t take very long. I was wrong. The mall security came after about an hour and said, “You all have to leave, we’re closing the mall.” but we weren’t ready to leave without our new copies of Madden.
After an intense standoff the delivery finally arrived, but they still made us leave the mall (it was almost 2AM). The GameStop employees told us to meet them at a nearby, standalone GameStop. We all left and I got in my car to drive over. Driving there I saw kids running across the 50 MPH, busy multi-lane road, Frogger-style, trying to reach their copy of Madden first. In the end we all got our games (and I think no one got hurt). By the time I got home with my new copy of Madden it was too late to play. I just went to bed.
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Years later, (still in college) I accompanied my roommate to a World of Warcraft expansion midnight release just because he didn’t want to go alone. I had never even played World of Warcraft. Maybe I just enjoyed waiting in line with a group of strangers for a brand new thing — even if that thing wasn’t for me. Maybe I just didn’t want to be home alone?
Sometimes I miss waiting in line for a midnight game releases. I miss going to see new movies at midnight too, although it’s great to be able to see a new movie at a normal time the day before it’s release (pre-pandemic). You’d meet all kinds of characters in those lines. People from different backgrounds with a common interest. You’d get free game swag. Pizza places would send their delivery drivers to sell pizza by the slice. It was always a fun, strange time.
Today, you can start playing new releases right at midnight with digital downloads. When I pre-order a physical game I end up checking the tracking info over and over until it finally arrives at my door. I’ve had games come a day or two early which is always great, but I’ve also had them come late which is the worst!