The waiting-in-line Wii report: Wii draws launch frenzy as well

Posted by Mark Raby

Columbus (OH) - Planted in the shadows of what was perhaps the wildest and craziest console launch ever, with the PS3's debut on Friday, combined with the fact that Nintendo seemed to meet production demands needed for its next-generation console, many deemed the Wii launch at a low threshold of hype. However, after spending nine hours in line at Best Buy to get mine, it seems Nintendo may have carried over some of the insanity felt from the PS3 aftershock.

See the Nintendo Wii slide show here ...

Saturday evening, I arrived back in the Eastern time zone after covering, among other things, the PS3 debut out in Los Angeles. After spending hours with people in and around the PS3 line at Circuit City, and over 12 hours in airplanes and airports, the last place I expected to find myself was in another line for over nine hours. Nonetheless, that's where I ended up spending a good chunk of my weekend time.

Months before the PS3 was officially released in the US, we knew there was going to be a hysteria-inducing shortage of consoles due to production problems for Sony. That's why I decided not to try to get one. I wasn't in the mood to get robbed, mugged, or be the target of a poor, jealous sniper. So instead, I set my sights on the Wii, thinking, like almost everyone else, that I'd have no problem picking one up on launch day.

Late Saturday evening, however, I found out that reality was far from this perception. I headed out at about 11:15 pm to get a PS3 from Meijer, a 24-hour store that advertised midnight sales of the Wii. When I arrived, at 11:30, there was already a line of over 20 people, most of which got there hours earlier. I was then informed that the store only received about 15 consoles. So it was off to the Wal-Mart across the street, which, unsurprisingly at this point, had the same story. It seems the Wii had more pre-release hype than what had been expected.

My plan then changed to picking one up Sunday morning when Best Buy opened. Fortunately, I live right down the street from one of the biggest shopping areas in the city, so I was able to check Best Buy on my way home. I was surprised to see about 40 people already in line outside, including several with tents, considering it was just after midnight and the store wasn't opening until 9:00. Even though Nintendo had significantly higher shipment amounts for the Wii than Sony did with the PS3, at this rate, I knew I wouldn't be able to get a Wii without biting the bullet and joining the Best Buy line.

After running home to pick up a folding chair and a blanket, I became part of the crowd waiting hours before the store opened to get the new console, which was a new experience for me. For those who watched our coverage of the people waiting four or more days in line for a PS3, the glory of being part of video game history probably seemed exciting. Nothing could be further from the truth. After just a couple hours of sitting outside in a pathetic little chair and cycling through the handful of songs I actually like on my iPod, I knew it was going to be a long night. Factor in the wind chill of less than 25 degrees, and it's an uncomfortable situation all around. There was also no glory in it, since the Wii launch had been considered to have almost no significant pre-release frenzy, or at least nowhere near that of the PS3, and was therefore largely overlooked.

In the past, there has been no such level of absolute anticipation with Nintendo's new platforms. The Nintendo DS, the Gamecube, and virtually all preceding systems were stocked and on the general sales floor of stores like Best Buy for hours, even days after store openings. I can only imagine that the bombardment of pictures and accounts of PS3 mobs, unmatched media coverage, and monstrous turnaround sales affected the interest in the Wii for general consumers who weren't aware of the difference in production levels, causing lines to form much earlier than was otherwise reasonable for a system with at least four times the amount of PS3s that Sony offered.

Those people, along with the extremely devoted Nintendo followers, made up the majority of the line at Best Buy. Only a few of the early Wii crowd had also taken part in the PS3 insanity. One of the guys right in front of me in line had taken the next-gen console buzz and turned it into a part-time job. He was there more than 24 hours before the PS3 launch and turned the $600 console over to a less patient shopper immediately after the store opened Friday for a $1500 cash payment. Unfortunately, he didn't realize the console would go for as much as five digits on Ebay that same day. Regardless, he planned to do the same for the Wii, at a lower profit margin, but for only nine or ten hours of "work".

In this area, Wii consoles were sold out everywhere almost immediately after store openings, just like the PS3 launch, but with significantly more units in play. Wii accessories are also now a scarce resource. Wii remotes, classic controllers, and additional nunchuck attachments are currently nowhere to be found. In a nearby mall, where three EB Games/Gamestop stores are located within less than a mile of each other, each store sold out of their entire set of controllers within minutes, according to employees at each location.

Because the process of sales was very orderly and largely without problems throughout the country, the Wii launch is still overshadowed by the huge level of drama that unfolded for the PS3, but make no mistake - the Wii has come out full force as well, and a lot of consumers with whom I spoke actually wanted to own one to be able to play the games, versus the PS3, where the main motivator appeared to be instant Ebay wealth.

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