Exactly Why Everyone Has to Have One!

 This year’s hottest gift — if “hottest” is defined by lack of availability — is Nintendo’s Wii game system.

Every day, shoppers inquire at retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City about Wii.

But, usually, they walk out saying “waa” because the popular game system simply isn’t available.

Purchasing it over the Internet through Web stores like Amazon.com and eBay more often than not means paying several hundred dollars more than the system’s current $250 retail price.

“When we get them from the manufacturer, they usually sell out in a couple hours,” said Jackie Foreman, a spokeswoman for the Richmond, Va.-based Circuit City electronics retailer.

Welcome to the frenzied world of Wii, with demand for the state-of-the-art video gaming system outstripping supplies during the busiest time of the year for retailers.

The shortages are creating huge amounts of hype — and demand — for Wii, while its seems that interest in the Nintendo system is zooming ahead of rivals like Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

Critics and gaming fans note that Wii doesn’t boast the rich graphics or superior processing of PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. What it does have, along with a cheaper sticker price, are motion-activated controllers that give the user the actual sense of using a golf club, baseball bat, tennis racket or bowling ball.

Also, the console has built-in Wi-Fi that allows for free delivery of online services and game play against other users.

“The Wii is pretty hot right now,” said Jory Long, owner of Game Source in Indian Harbour Beach, noting that the system seams to appeal to all age groups from teens to baby boomers to seniors.

The video game company is not only showing up at AARP conferences the way many marketers show up at college spring breaks, it also has donated Wii game consoles to retirement community recreation rooms across the country.

Nintendo’s theory is that if it gets potential customers to sample the player and its games, those people are significantly more likely to buy game consoles for their homes — to use themselves and, perhaps, to pull out when the grandchildren visit.

“The percentage of people in that (50-plus) category is going to increase dramatically,” said George Harrison, Nintendo senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications. “We had to find ways to appeal to this aging audience.”

The Wii’s intuitive and active design — the remote is wireless, motion-controlled and not button-heavy — makes it attractive to casual gamers, as well as novices of all ages, he said.

“Historically, game controllers had multiple buttons to push and were too intimidating,” Harrison said.

Long sold his last Wii system to Steve Poorbaugh in Indian Harbour Beach for $325. Poorbagh and his wife bought the system as a Christmas gift for their 12-year-old son.

“We called around to major retailers for weeks trying to find one,” Poorbaugh said. “One store even had a message that said: ‘If you’re calling about the Wii, we don’t have any stock.’ ”

The Wii has been a tremendous boost for Nintendo.

In the quarter ended Sept. 30, it more than doubled its sales to $6.1 billion from a year earlier, when the Wii had not yet launched. Nintendo has sold 5.5 million Wiis in the U.S. since the console went on sale.

Nintendo is playing a delicate game with consumers by not ramping up production of its Wii consoles, said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a New York-based branding and customer loyalty consulting firm.

It’s particularly dangerous this holiday season with Christmas sales expected to be lighter than in past years.

“People are spending less on Christmas, not more,” Passikoff said. “I don’t know whether the shortage is real or not, but if it’s not real it’s not a smart strategy this year. The demand is there. The need is there. If that need isn’t being met, then it’s likely consumers will try out another system.”

While Wii currently is a hot-selling item, Passikoff said, “it’s not the next Cabbage Patch doll.”

Nintendo should do everything to make sure there are consoles available through Christmas into early-2008.

“You risk making consumers angry and why get them angry,” Passikoff said. “Angry and frustrated consumers are not happy consumers.”

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