It's not uncommon to hear about robberies taking place during much-hyped console launches – Nintendo famously re-jigged the arrival of the Super Famicom in Japan to avoid the unwanted attention of the yakuza – but the release of PlayStation 3 in 2006 was underscored by some particularly hostile behaviour.
Demand for the system was massive, thanks partly to the fact that Sony simply couldn't produce enough PS3 systems. 400,000 consoles were available for the North American launch, with a worldwide total of around two million – half what the company had previously projected.
This led to frenzied demand and the potential to resell consoles at a high price. Not only were there reports of gunmen stealing consoles from video game stores and muggings taking place soon after buyers had picked up their machines, one man was actually shot while waiting in line in the early hours of Friday, November 17th, 2006.
The man was 21-year-old Massachusetts resident Michael Penkala, who was standing in line at Wal-Mart waiting for the system to launch along with three friends. He had on his person $2,600 in cash, and was shot when he refused to hand the money over.
Speaking to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette shortly after the incident, Penkala said: "I knew what was going on — two kids with bandanas over their faces with guns. So I dialled 911 on my cellphone and dropped it into my pocket. They approached two kids first, and they got 75 cents out of them, and I was the third person they came to. And I wasn’t giving it up for anything. So they hit me with the butt of the gun in the face, kind of got me to the ground a little bit, continued to hit me and struggled for my wallet. And I just held on to that pocket and wallet for dear life."
The $2,600 included $900 given to Penkala by his grandmother, and he was understandably keen to hold onto the money. "They wanted me to hand over whatever I had in my pockets and empty that out to the ground and into a bag," he told the paper. "I wasn’t going to have any part of that."
Penkala's glasses were broken during the scuffle, and he suffered a black eye, a gash above and underneath his left eye (which needed stitches) and impaired hearing in his left ear, which lasted for several days after the attack. This wasn't the end of his ordeal, however.
When they let us in the lobby there at Wal-Mart, I was on the floor coughing up blood and telling the workers to take the wallet out of my pocket and give it to my friends so they could continue waiting in line and purchase the PS3s
"I started yelling at them, ‘…Get the hell out of here. I called 911!’" Penkala adds. "And they both ran and, after a couple steps, one of them turned around and fired a sawed-off shotgun at me and then just continued to run off into the woods."
Penkala was struck by the shotgun blast in the chest and shoulder and was carried into the store's lobby by Wal-Mart employees. "After I heard the noise and felt the pressure, I slapped my chest and I was like, ‘Oh my God, these (expletives) actually shot me,'" he told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. "And I collapsed, and I got back up, and we all ran to the front of the door and knocked on the glass door to get the attention of third-shift workers to let us in."
He told staff to take his wallet and give it to his friends still waiting in line, so they could pick up the consoles on his behalf. "When they let us in the lobby there at Wal-Mart, I was on the floor coughing up blood and telling the workers to take the wallet out of my pocket and give it to my friends so they could continue waiting in line and purchase the PS3s," Penkala continues. "For some reason I wasn’t thinking about my wound, I was all about those PlayStations."
Speaking of the attack, he told the paper he acted instinctively. "I can’t say that I regret it, because you don’t think in these situations. You just act. You do what you’re gonna do, and you don’t really think about it. I would recommend to people just to give it. Is money really worth your life? Not really … Once again, in those situations, you’re not thinking. You don’t think about it.”
Was Penkala so fixated on getting those machines he couldn't wait to play Ridge Racer 7? Not quite. In fact, he told the paper that he didn't really know anything about Sony's new console; he was there because he was an "unemployed eBay profiteer" who was looking to pick up multiple consoles and flip them on eBay for a tidy profit. The friends in question had been enlisted by Penkala to get around the store's 'one console per customer' policy.
The Worcester Telegram & Gazette later revealed that Penkala "saw a business opportunity" in the console's release and his only means of income at the time was "selling T-shirts, Beanie Babies and New England Patriots plush toys on his front lawn."
Penkala recovered enough to collect his PS3s from the store the following Saturday, with Wal-Mart even going as far as to give him one for free. He sold them all on eBay, telling the paper that, despite the fact that PS3 only retailed in the $500-$600 range, he hoped to pocket around $1,000-plus per system. Penkala said that some of his friends had told him to mention in the listings that these were consoles "he was shot for," and that he should autograph them. He declined, calling the idea "sick." However, he said he would consider doing the same thing in the future, but would be sure not to have so much money on him.
Despite this terrifying quest for profit, Penkala was out of pocket following the experience. He told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that he didn't have any health insurance, and the bills for his subsequent treatment would likely outweigh the profit made from selling the PS3 consoles. A "Michael Penkala Fund" was been established to help pay for his medical treatment.
As for the gunmen, William J. Robertson (20) and Andrew Patnaude, (17) were arrested shortly after the shooting.