Xbox debut is hijacked by upstarts breaking embargo

REDMOND, WA: The long-awaited launch of the Xbox game console attracted predictable widespread coverage - although its creator, Microsoft, was not the only beneficiary.

REDMOND, WA: The long-awaited launch of the Xbox game console attracted predictable widespread coverage - although its creator, Microsoft, was not the only beneficiary.

REDMOND, WA: The long-awaited launch of the Xbox game console attracted predictable widespread coverage - although its creator, Microsoft, was not the only beneficiary.

Microsoft made quite a splash at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, garnering press hits galore with a sneak peek at a mockup of the Xbox and the unveiling of Ultimate TV, an interactive TV device.

'The world has been waiting to see Xbox,' said David Hufford, Xbox PR group manager. 'It's the last console of this generation to show off its hardware.'

Microsoft founder Bill Gates shared a stage at the show with the World Wrestling Federation's The Rock, who will be starring in an Xbox title.

For the online gaming community, however, it was a series of upstart gaming Web sites that stole the show by displaying embargoed pictures of the Xbox console days before its official debut.

The pictures did not come from Microsoft, but instead were scanned from an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, a magazine that had not yet hit the newsstands. An unidentified source who had access to the title posted the pictures to VoodooExtreme.com. From there, they were picked up by PlanetGeForce.com.

In the online world of hardcore gamers, news travels fast. Dozens of smaller sites mirrored the shots, swamping the Web sites of VoodooExtreme.com and PlanetGeForce. com. To top it off, ZDNet and MSNBC ran stories on the leak, tipping off still more gawkers.

'I think traffic approached about 300,000 in a single day,' said Christopher Gordon, senior editor at Planet GeForce, who estimates that the site averages 10,000 hits on a normal day.

Gordon posted the pictures early on the morning of Wednesday, January 3. By that afternoon, Ziff-Davis, the publisher of Electronic Gaming Monthly, had notified him that if the pictures were not dropped, it would sue.

'By that time, the site was being hit to a point that I could not access it myself,' said Gordon. The pictures came down later that evening.

Gordon didn't hear from Microsoft until Friday, when a staffer from Arbuthnot Communications, which has handled some of Xbox's PR, caught up with him in a chatroom and asked, belatedly, about the pictures.

'The Microsoft spokesperson was rather nice, actually,' said Gordon.

'She told me that she would prefer that I move the pictures, but that she couldn't force me to take them down.'



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