Waiting Game: Consumers Clamor for Wii

Nintendo Promises to Up Production, but Shortage Hasn't Damaged Brand

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Video-Game Publishers Ride Wii Wave
It's becoming a Sunday-morning tradition in parking lots and malls across America: Line up at Target, Wal-Mart or Best Buy for Nintendo Wii the same day the ads appear in the weekly circular, and cross your fingers. It's how Tom Mory finally got his console Jan. 21 at 7:50 a.m. after waiting in the cold outside his local Allentown, Pa., Target.

Even more than three months later, it doesn't look as if the ritual will disappear anytime soon. While Nintendo's president, Satoru Iwata, last week admitted there has been an "abnormal lack of stock" and promised production boosts that will result in more units delivered this month, it's expected there still will be more buyers than units.
We want Wii: Customers camp out to get their hands on the hot console
We want Wii: Customers camp out to get their hands on the hot console Credit: Bob Riha Jr.

"In supply and demand, demand is the part of the equation you can't control," said IDC analyst Billy Pidgeon. "There will be more available soon, but I still don't see it staying on the shelves for long." He predicts Wii demand will remain robust through 2009.

The shortage has forced retailers and consumers to get creative about securing Wiis for themselves or customers.

Good Wii hunting
There are Wii locators, tracking sites and forums online to help customers find -- or simply complain about -- the Wii. WiiTracker.com, along with a handful of other sites, send instant messages to consumers when stores offer Wiis for sale. Wiis are still being sold on eBay at 25% to 50% premiums over the retail price of $249 and sometimes much higher: A charity-auctioned Wii signed by Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime went for $1,085 in January.

So though demand still is strong, the question remains whether potential customers will finally give up; that is, will the Wii drought eventually damage the brand?

So far, it hasn't, and industry insiders say it probably won't. David Riley, NPD Group analyst, said that while product shortages create a risk of losing momentum, the video-game industry always seems to buck that trend, thanks to an almost-constant flow of new titles.

"So just when a consumer thinks they can live without it, a title is released that rekindles their desire to secure a system of their own," Mr. Riley wrote in an e-mail.

Matt Story, associate director at Denuo Play, said: "It's just going to continue to fuel the interest level. And the fact that it's in its own price range in terms of next-generation games, people will wait. ... It's one of those things: It's a hot commodity, it's electronic and people kind of understand there's a waiting game to get it."

Nintendo said it has sold almost 6 million Wiis worldwide since November and plans to sell another 14 million by next March. NPD Group said 2.1 million Wiis had been sold in the U.S. alone through March.

For the gaming industry, the Wii's popularity may also be worth waiting for. It's the first video-game-console system that's at least beginning to attract a wider demographic of players while also offering a new way to play. "The cross-generational usage, as well as appealing to women and girls, is just amazing. Hard to call the Wii anything but a success at this point," JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg wrote on his blog.

Even the competition is excited about the Wii phenomenon.

"They've demonstrated a lot of people want to play games and get off the couch and interact. And I'm terribly excited about that going forward," said Jeff Bell, corporate VP-global marketing of Microsoft's entertainment division and an ex-DaimlerChrysler executive. "Coming from an industry like the auto industry, you don't curse your competition; in many ways, you praise them. If they've done something to succeed, it usually raises the bar for everyone."

He even hinted Xbox might be adding its own twists to Wii's well-received gaming innovation. "We've had motion sensitivity in the past, but I'd hate to see us just go back to that. We know we have to take that and do something better technologically in that space. ... I'm not making an announcement, but I'd say stay tuned."
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