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Desperately seeking a Wii

Wii-weary CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman drives 62 miles in search of the impossible-to-find holiday gift.

Finding a Wii in the remaining few days before Christmas may be nearly impossible. You could always just go play on one at a retailer. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Ever wanted to know what it's like to get laughed at for a whole day? Try finding a Wii this week.

That was my task Tuesday: to comb the San Francisco Bay Area for one of Nintendo's elusive video game consoles. And let me tell you, the results were not pretty.

All told, during a long day of driving through Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties, I hit 10 different retailers in person and called 2 others, all in hopes that I might be one of the lucky few who stumbled onto the opportunity to fork over $250. And how many Wiis did I find? Read on.

I began my morning driving through a raging downpour to the Best Buy in Marin City, a few miles north of San Francisco. I actually remember thinking that getting to the store early and in the middle of a near flood might mean I'd be alone in my quest.

But this is the week before Christmas, and the Wii is the hottest could-be gift around. So when I walked over to the video game department, a woman was already asking a salesman if the store was out of Wiis.

"Oh, yeah," he said.

As she left, I wandered over to make sure I'd heard properly, and indeed, the salesman confirmed that the store had sold out its most recent shipment of 40 Wiis in 30 minutes on Sunday.

"I don't think we're getting any more before the holiday," he said.

Although you probably won't find any Wiis for sale before Christmas, there are plenty of games and accessories available. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

With that, I hopped back into my car and headed out to Lake 101--I mean Highway 101--and drove north, to San Rafael, where I knew there was another Best Buy and a Toys "R" Us.

At the Best Buy, I passed a stack of several dozen Sony PlayStation 3s for sale, a $399 bundle that included a Blu-ray copy of Spider Man 3.

Still hopeful about Wiis, I nonetheless asked a salesman if they were out of the Nintendo devices.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "We had a shipment on Sunday, but that's the last one we're getting."

Fine, I thought. But he must have some idea how to get one, right?

"The only thing I heard was that GameStop (stores) on (December) 21 are taking preorders and that they're guaranteeing delivery before the end of January."

Ooh, I thought. How great would it be to get a coupon for a future Wii on Christmas Day? Let's spend the whole day playing a coupon!

Well, fair enough. But as I started to leave, it occurred to me that maybe some people who had come to this Best Buy to get a Wii might feel pressured to grab some form of video game system to ward off the anger of disappointed kids on Christmas Day.

So I asked if anyone was buying PlayStation 3s since plenty of those are available.

"Not a lot," the salesman said. "But I'm sure some are, definitely."

It looks like Sony has some thanking of Nintendo to do.

Back to the car I go and a quick jaunt down the frontage road to the San Rafael Toys "R" Us.

There, it's more of the same. No Wiis: there was a shipment last Sunday, and it sold out immediately.

Once more I asked for advice on how to get a Wii in these dwindling pre-Christmas days.

"Call everywhere in the world every single day of your life," the salesman, who looked exasperated at being asked again about Wiis, told me. "If you really want one, that's the only thing I can say."

OK, I thought. Enough of this Marin nonsense. I'm headed into the City.

The first stop in San Francisco was a GameStop store in the Mission District.

I walked in and asked the clerk at the counter if they had any Wiis.

Hopes lifted, dashed
He paused for a moment, as if pondering the question. My heart leaped. My hopes rose. Half a second went by. Then another.

And then the body blow: "No. I don't even know why I had to think about it."

Argh! What was this guy trying to do, give me a heart attack?

So, what did he suggest, I asked?

He told me about GameStop's preorder campaign, but he had a warning.

"You're going to have to line up early for it," he said, "because it's been all over the news."

At this, I was dumbfounded. I've been to plenty of midnight madness-type events where rabid fans of things like iPods, Xboxes, and yes, even Wiis, line up for hours for the chance to be among the first to buy something. But I've never heard of having to stand in line to preorder. I think this, finally, may be the proof we've been waiting for that civilization has officially lost its mind.

The next place to give me a brief moment of hope was another GameStop, out near the ocean in San Francisco. There, a harried salesclerk told me the store didn't have any Wiis, but that it's worth checking in every day, because UPS deliveries arrive at noon.

Not a chance, dude!
I asked her if that meant there might really be more Wiis this week. But she had no sentiment for my plight: "I don't know. There's really no way to know."

In other words: not a chance, dude!

After a quick stop at another GameStop--sorry, no Wiis--I hit a Target in Daly City, Calif.

If you can't buy a Wii in a store, maybe you could win one through a Circuit City promotion. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The verdict there? A clerk told me the store had gotten a shipment of 185 Wiis on Sunday. And guess what? They were gone in an hour.

By now, it had become abundantly clear that last Sunday was the last, best chance to get a Wii anywhere in the civilized world. Of course, you hear stories about finding impossible-to-find products tucked away on a back shelf in a five-and-dime in some backwater town. But I didn't see this happening here, especially after a quick call to Nintendo revealed that it appears only huge retailers like Best Buy, Target, GameStop, Sears, Circuit City, Toys "R" Us, and Kmart were getting the machines.

But I was committed to this project and there were still at least two more stops on my journey.

First up, a Circuit City in Daly City, 11 miles south of San Francisco.

There, the Wii section of the store looked like it had been ransacked by crazed holiday shoppers, what with scattered accessories and games and a general sense of having had all the meat picked off the bones.

It was clear there weren't any Wiis, but when I asked a salesman, he told me he thinks they'll be getting more on Sunday. Maybe call ahead to be sure, he suggested half-heartedly.

Holy cow. Could this be the place? Should I get in line now and wait?

But something didn't seem right. Why would this one Circuit City be getting more when every single other place I'd visited had told me they probably wouldn't be?

I asked another salesman.

"No, I don't think we'll be getting any more until January," the second clerk told me. "Sorry about that."

I thought so.

Twist the knife, why don't you?
I decided to make one last stop, at another Target, in Colma, Calif. As I walked in, on the sales brochure in the entrance way, a little tease, surely intended just to twist the knife a little more: Wiis for sale, just $249.99.

But of course, not a Wii to be found in the store. Guess what? They sold out on Sunday and wouldn't be getting any more before Christmas.

I bet you're as surprised as I was.

You may not be able to find a Wii anywhere, but there are no shortages of Sony's PlayStation 3. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

With this, I hopped in the car and pointed wearily toward home. My last chance, I thought, was to call a couple of Sears. Maybe, just maybe, they'd have a Wii available, and if they did, I'd make my way there, no matter how far I had to go. But, alas, not a Wii to be found at two different Sears.

So, after 62 miles of driving and nine store visits, I came to one final conclusion: there's simply no chance. If your kid is demanding a Wii for Christmas and you haven't procured it anywhere, you could actually go on eBay, where there are some to be had for a premium. Whether you'll get it in time is another matter. Or, you could take the kids to a retailer and let them play on one of the demo units.

The other option? There are plenty of PS3s available. Let me give you directions to a store where you can find one.