Gaming fans line up for Nintendo Wii launch

STRATEGY: Nintendo plans to win a bigger share of the market by changing the way games are played instead of competing with Sony's detailed graphics


Mon, Nov 20, 2006 - Page 10

More than a thousand fans lined up in Times Square for yesterday's launch of Nintendo's entry into the holiday season's field of competing video game consoles, the cheap but innovative Wii.

Despite the throngs, the midnight launch event went smoothly. That contrasted with the launch of Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 console just two days earlier, which forced police to disperse crowds at some stores around the country.

The first buyer, Isaiah Triforce Johnson, had been waiting in line outside the store for more than a week. He wore a Nintendo Power Glove, a wearable controller that came out in 1989, while shaking hands with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime after buying the first Wii.

Johnson said he had legally changed his middle name to a reference in Nintendo's Zelda series of games.

Launching right after the much-vaunted and technically sophisticated PlayStation 3 is a brave move for Nintendo, which is playing catch-up after losing dominance of the home console market to Sony in the mid-1990s.

The Wii itself is a daring design. It eschews the high-definition graphics that are the main selling points of the PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360, which came out a year ago. Instead, Nintendo hopes to attract a new generation of fans by changing the way games are played.

The console includes a motion-sensitive controller that acts as a tennis racket, baseball bat, steering wheel, gun or sword depending on the game.

Fils-Aime said the company made "some very tough choices" in designing the Wii.

"Tough choices about not including a DVD player at the start, tough choices about not including high-definition capability at the start. That's because we wanted a mass-market price, and we believe the market will validate those decisions come launch day on this Sunday [today]," he said.

The Wii costs US$250 and includes one game. The two Play-Station 3 models cost US$500 and US$600, with no game included. The two Xbox 360 models cost US$300 and US$400, with no game.

Online, the prices are steeper: PlayStation 3s were selling for around US$2,500 on eBay on Saturday, while Wiis (listed by sellers who had pre-ordered from retailers and expected to get the units yesterday) were listed at around US$500.

Sony had about 400,000 Play-Station 3s in North American stores on Friday. Nintendo has said it would have "five to 10" times as many Wiis available at launch, and will have shipped 4 million units by the end of the year. It still expects consoles to sell out in stores.

The relative abundance of units, and a smaller fan base, were expected to make yesterday a calmer shopping day than on Friday. On Saturday evening, people were lining up at stores more to show their devotion to Nintendo and celebrate the occasion than because they were afraid of not getting a Wii.

At the Nintendo World store in Rockefeller Center, 86 people were lined up for the morning opening. Anthony Eaton, dressed in green as the character Link from the Zelda series, looked chagrined when passing girls called him "Peter Pan."

Eaton, 18, didn't really need to be in line, since his friend had pre-ordered a Wii for him that would be available for pickup the next day.