- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

NEW YORK

By 9 a.m., the line outside Manhattan’s Nintendo World store was snaking down the block. More than 100 people hoping to become Wii owners came from as far as New Jersey, as early as 6 a.m., with children and grandparents in tow, to get their hands on the gaming console best known for its wireless, motion-sensitive controller.

It has been more than seven months since Nintendo introduced the Wii, but the consoles are selling so well that supply still hasn’t caught up with demand. You can get one, sure, but be prepared to call around and arrive promptly when the shipments do.

“I had to get permission from work,” said Regina Iannuzzi, 23, in line since 6:20 on a recent morning. She had been looking for a Wii, a present for her brother’s 25th birthday, for two weeks. Every retailer was sold out.

Like sleeping in? Wiis are also available online, but at a hefty markup over the console’s $250 retail price. A slightly used one from an Amazon.com seller called “Hard-To-Find-Stuff” recently listed for $595 plus $3.99 shipping. Another cost $398 from a different seller.

“The PlayStation 1 was certainly a big introduction, but I don’t recall any game system more than six months after its launch still having this kind of demand,” said Chris Byrne, an independent toy analyst.

Back in April, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata acknowledged an “abnormal” Wii shortage. Since then, the company has increased production “substantially” to help meet worldwide demand, said spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan.

But Nintendo also has to manage its inventory, said Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets.

“Unfortunately, you can’t ask a contract manufacturer to make a million a month, then 5 million,” he said.

Sony’s PlayStation 3, which debuted within days of the Wii last fall, is readily available in stores and online, but sales have been lagging behind the Wii. Cost could be one reason for this: The PS3 retails for up to $600.

More than 2.8 million Wii consoles have sold in the U.S. since their November debut, according to the NPD Group, a market research company.

That is more than double the number of PS3 consoles sold.

Nintendo plans to sell 14 million worldwide in the current fiscal year, which ends in March.

“You see it and you want it. Kind of like the IPhone,” said Robert Marcus, waiting to buy a Wii with his wife and three young sons.

Nintendo’s selling point for the Wii has been that it’s for everyone, not just hard-core gamers or young men with impeccable hand-eye coordination.

Its intuitive motion-sensitive wireless controller lets players mimic movements for bowling, tennis or sword-fighting instead of pushing complex combinations of buttons.

Gabriel Benitez, 12, in town from Florida visiting his grandmother, stood in line outside Nintendo’s flagship New York store.

“We finally got enough money for it,” he said, glancing at his grandmother who was waiting with him. “The last two stores were sold out.”

Gabriel likes the Wii’s wireless controller and the mini-workout he gets while playing a game.

“I just hate what you have to do just to get one,” he said.

It’s not just children who want it.

Rein Auh, 30, never owned a console, but he bought a Wii so he and his wife could have fun and get exercise.

He spent $350 at the Nintendo store on a Wii and some extras.

Walking out of the store, he looked back at the crowd of people still waiting.

“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “I mean, it’s been seven months.”

Nintendo says demand for the consoles has exceeded expectations.

“We are trying to move them as fast as we can,” Miss Kaplan said.

Demand for video games usually soars around the holidays and tapers off for the rest of the year. Not so with the Wii.

“People are looking at it as something they really want to have in their home,” Mr. Byrne said.

People aren’t just buying them as gifts because the shopping frenzy usually reserved for the holiday season has stretched into the summer.

Toys R Us gets regular Wii shipments in all its stores across the country, but demand is so great that they sell out immediately, said spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh. On the toy store chain’s Web site, the consoles are usually “temporarily not available.”

On a Sunday morning in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, the Toys R Us opened an hour early for Wii buyers only.

Though nothing like the bustle of Manhattan, a small line of teenagers, twentysomethings and families formed outside as a clerk handed out numbered slips of paper.

Inside the store, like two weeks earlier at the Best Buy across from the shopping center’s parking lot, the systems didn’t even make it to the shelves before they sold out.

At some point, of course, supply will catch up with demand. But some analysts don’t see this happening until next year.

“I don’t think by the holidays,” Mr. Sebastian said. “But maybe by the middle of next year, perhaps they can add another production line.”

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