Nintendo Wii supply finally catches up to demand

Three years ago, Nintendo looked like it was on its last leg. But today, it's the king of video games. Who could have predicted this journey?

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read
Nintendo Wii
Sorry I underestimated you, Wii. Nintendo of America

GameStop, the leading boutique video game retailer in the United States, finally has enough supply of Nintendo Wii consoles on store shelves to satisfy consumers who want to simply walk in the store and pick one up.

In an interview with Gamastura, GameStop Senior Vice President of Merchandising Bob McKenzie told the publication that his company waited almost three years for this to happen.

"Three years later, we finally have enough inventory on the shelf, and we've got a couple of weeks in supply," he told Gamasutra.

Wow. No longer do potential buyers need to wait in line, call GameStop to find out if Wiis are available, or search elsewhere for a stray console. The Wii is just available.

Remember when the Wii was first announced? It was April 2006. Everyone was expecting Nintendo's secret new console to be called Revolution. And then, in what would become a joke for months, Nintendo announced that its new console would be called "Wii."

People snickered at its name, but Nintendo stayed true to it. It wanted us to know that Wii sounds like "we," meaning it's specifically designed for everyone to enjoy. And more importantly, it wanted us to know that from a branding perspective, Wii was perfect because it wasn't long and difficult for non-English speakers to pronounce like "Revolution," and anyone from any culture would immediately know what a person was talking about when he or she said "Wii."

Nintendo listened to the jokes about the name, and it probably expected them, but it kept pressing on until the console was shown to journalists and gamers--who became believers.

And that was the first step in Nintendo's dominance over this generation. By November 19, 2006, when the console was released, it had already captivated the public. People waited in line to get their hands on Nintendo's capable, fun, and affordable console.

That was a common theme going through 2006. Each week, consumers would call companies like GameStop, Wal-Mart Stores, and Target to find out if the Wii was available. Each time, the response was the same: "We don't know when the Wii will be in, but it's first come, first served."

Inventory trackers cropped up across the Web. Their servers got hammered by people wondering where a Wii was available. Once they found out that consoles would be made available at Target, they would stand in line for hours, hoping to hold a place in line that guaranteed them a Wii purchase. If they were too far back in line or didn't get there early enough (4 a.m. was usually the time to get in line), they'd be forced to go back home and try to find a Wii elsewhere.

The Wii wasn't available anywhere. Often, those looking for updates on Wii buying were told that Nintendo was doing everything it could to get as many Wii consoles onto store shelves but that shortages could last through the next year. At the time, such a state was unprecedented. A console unavailable a year after its release? Please. It's a fad that will die down, some of us said.

But as 2007 wore on, and the Wii outsold its competition, a Wii still couldn't stay on store shelves long enough to gather more than a speck of dust. By July of that year, Nintendo executives were warning consumers that the Wii would be scarce for the 2007 holiday season.

George Harrison, senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications for Nintendo, told CNN in an interview, "If you see one, buy it. Don't assume that you can come back later and find one."

And buy it they did. Through 2007, Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime told reporters that Nintendo was producing 1.8 million consoles each month, and it still couldn't keep up with demand. But, Fils-Aime reassured consumers, more supply would be available in January 2008.

The Wii "has been a sellout virtually everywhere in America," Fils-Aime said in an interview. "We understand the frustration of consumers...I can tell you that we expect no slowdown after the first of the year. We want to say that if you could possibly hold out just a little longer, there will be more product in January."

It didn't happen. Sure, production increased to about 2.4 million units each month, but consumers were buying them up just as soon as they hit store shelves. GameStop, Target, Wal-Mart, and others couldn't keep the Wii in stock. It was unprecedented.

As the 2008 holiday season emerged--the third since the Wii was released--retailers continued having trouble keeping Wii consoles on store shelves. As soon as they were made available, they were sold. It seemed that the Wii would always be in short supply.

But now, more than two years and 48 million units (almost twice as many as its closest competitor, the Xbox 360) after the release of the Wii, it's finally available to those who want to walk in the store and pick one up. What a run. A company, down on its luck and hoping to turn things around, becomes the most powerful hardware manufacturer in the gaming industry again? It sounds fantastical, at best.

But it's a reality. And with those shortages and skyrocketing sales, somewhere along the way, those who criticized Nintendo for naming its console Wii and going against conventional gameplay wisdom, learned a valuable lesson: Nintendo is back--in a big way.

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