- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

SEATTLE

Jaana Baker is no klutz — note her second-degree black belt in tae kwon do. She also is an avid video gamer who puts out a Web-based comic called Level 99 in her spare time.

So how did Miss Baker end up launching the controller of her new Nintendo Wii right into her 37-inch television? Like some other owners of the new game console and its motion-sensitive wireless remote, Miss Baker took the freedom to move too literally.

It was a particularly spirited round of Wii bowling that caused her to lose her bearings before unleashing what she had hoped would be a perfect strike.

“It was like a loud crack,” she said, recalling the moment the “Wiimote” glanced off her coffee table, snapped its wrist strap and hurtled into her flat-screen television. “It was kind of surreal, actually. I thought I was dreaming at first.”

It appears that Miss Baker is not alone. In recent weeks, the Web has been alight with reports of excited gamers losing their grip on the Wii’s controller or smacking their arms into nearby objects.

After issuing a general “calm down” to its customers a week ago, Nintendo Co. has responded by quietly beefing up the controller’s fabric wrist strap, spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn said.

Although most executives would cringe if their flagship product suddenly became associated with shattered electronics and the occasional flesh wound, some observers say the lighthearted buzz could deliver a perfect shot of viral marketing.

“What it says is, this thing is so fun that people get carried away,” said Adrian Ho of the advertising agency Fallon Worldwide. “A progressive brand manager would look at that and say, ‘You know what? Actually, that’s pretty good.’ ”

The offbeat stories certainly haven’t hurt sales. The market research company NPD Group estimates that U.S. consumers bought 476,000 Wiis in the two weeks after its Nov. 17 launch. That beat Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3 console, which sold almost 200,000 units in roughly the same period during widespread shortages.

Nintendo has focused on capturing customers outside the traditional niche of quick-fingered young males by playing up the Wii’s ability to get people swinging their wireless controllers.

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