LOS ANGELES -- At the end of the Xbox One media briefing, a Microsoft executive stood onstage and announced to thousands of journalists that the price of the new Xbox would be $499.
"Blrghblghrhbrbgrghgblrghgrhgr" went the journalists.
They posted updates to their blogs.
"Blrghblghrhbrbgrghgblrghgrhgr" went their readers.
Their readers told their parents and roommates and lab partners and husbands.
"Blrghblghrhbrbgrghgblrghgrhgr" went the world.
Yes, when the Microsoft rep pronounced the $499 ultimatum, a familiar murmur -- "blrghblghrhbrbgrghgblrghgrhgr"-- ran through the crowd of gaming and tech journalists. If you've ever sat in a cineplex during a gripping though divisive film trailer, you know that concerned, divided sound, of relatives and friends turning to each other and quietly debating the merits of the previewed movie.
And so, after a 90-minute preview of the Xbox One's new games -- Halo, Forza, Killer Instinct, et al. -- "Blrghblghrhbrbgrghgblrghgrhgr" was the reigning mood at the sporting-arena-turned-tech-keynote-domain, given the $499 ticket price. If the reaction of the crowd at the Galen Center -- not to mention the spirited commenters in our Yahoo News live chat -- is a sign, Microsoft will test the loyalty and savings accounts of hardcore and casual gamers alike this holiday season, when it releases the Xbox One in November.
$499 is not a bargain, but nor does it strike me as exorbitant. It's the cost of a new iPad; it can also get you a cheap laptop computer, or a PlayStation 4 and a couple of games. Gamers hoping for a price somewhere in the $200s or $300s probably weren't being realistic about what the Xbox One represents to Microsoft: its first new console in almost a decade, and probably its last new console for another near-decade.
In other words: Microsoft was going to price this thing to be disposable. It wants you to cherish it, to feel its value. At $500 (in this economy!), you better believe early buyers are going to hang onto the Xbox One and try to squeeze every penny of value out of it.
That's a different tack than we've been primed for from other tech companies. Amazon wows us with their low prices ($199 for a tablet?), while Apple consistently delivers the price we've come to expect. With Microsoft, we were left in the dark, with "WHAT IS THE GOSH-DANG PRICE?!?!" being one of the more loudly repeated questions we've heard shouted over and over in forums over the last several weeks.
At the risk of Thomas Friedman, on the cab ride over to the Galen Center my taxi driver asked me what event I was attending. I told him it concerned the new Xbox.
"Oh, how much will it cost?" was his first question. "Because my son, he is bothering me for one. And in Europe, I hear it could be $600."
That might still be true, as Microsoft prices its consoles differently in different markets. Here in America, however, you'll need $499 to purchase the Xbox One. How many will pass up the PS4 to do so?
And who will be muttering "blrghghghrlghg" to themselves come this December: Microsoft, for pricing the Xbox One too high, or the financial advisers of gamers the country over?