NEW YORK - By 9 a.m., the line outside Manhattan’s Nintendo World store was snaking down the block.
More than 100 hopeful Wii owners came from as far as New Jersey — some as early as 6 a.m. with kids and grandparents in tow — to get their hands on the gaming console best known for its wireless, motion-sensitive controller.
It’s been more than seven months since Nintendo launched the Wii, but the consoles are selling so well that supply still hasn’t caught up with demand. You can get one, sure, but be prepared to call around and arrive promptly when the shipments do.
“I had to get permission from work,” said Regina Iannuzzi, 23, in line since 6:20 a.m. on a recent morning. She’d been looking for a Wii, a 25th birthday present for her brother, for two weeks. Every place was sold out.
Like sleeping in? Wiis are also available online, but at a hefty premium to the console’s $250 retail price. A slightly used one from an Amazon.com seller called “Hard-To-Find-Stuff” recently listed for $595 plus $3.99 shipping. Another cost $398 from a different seller.
“The PlayStation 1 was certainly a big introduction, but I don’t recall any game system more than six months after its launch still having this kind of demand,” said Chris Byrne, an independent toy analyst.
Back in April, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata acknowledged an “abnormal” Wii shortage. Since then, the company has increased production “substantially” to help meet worldwide demand, said spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan.
But Nintendo also has to manage its inventory, said Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets.
“Unfortunately you can’t ask a contract manufacturer to make a million a month, then 5 million,” he said.
Sony’s PS3, which launched within days of the Wii last fall, is readily available in stores and online, but sales have been lagging behind the Wii. Cost could be one reason for this: the PS3 retails for up to $600.
More than 2.8 million Wii consoles have sold in the U.S. since the November debut, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. That’s more than double the number of PlayStation 3 consoles sold. And Nintendo plans to sell 14 million worldwide in the current fiscal year, which ends next March.
“You see it and you want it. Kind of like the iPhone,” said Robert Marcus, waiting to buy a Wii with his wife and three young sons.
Nintendo’s selling point for the Wii has been that it’s for everyone: not just hardcore gamers or young men with impeccable hand-eye coordination. Its intuitive motion-sensitive wireless controller lets players mimic movements for bowling, tennis or sword-fighting instead of pushing complex combinations of buttons.
Twelve-year-old Gabriel Benitez, in town from Florida visiting his grandmother, stood in line outside Nintendo’s flagship New York store.
“We finally got enough money for it,” he said, glancing at his grandmother who was waiting with him. “The last two stores were sold out.”
Gabriel likes the Wii’s wireless controller and the miniworkout he gets while playing a game.
“I just hate what you have to do just to get one,” he said.
It’s not just kids who want it.
Rein Auh, 30, never owned a console, but he decided to buy a Wii so he and his wife could have some fun and get some exercise. He spent $350 at the Nintendo store on a Wii and some extras. Walking out of the store, he looked back at the crowd of people still waiting.
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “I mean, it’s been 7 months.”
For its part, Nintendo says demand for the consoles has absolutely exceeded expectations.
“We are trying to move them as fast as we can,” Kaplan said.
Demand for video games usually soars around the holidays and tapers off for the rest of the year. Not with the Wii.
“People are looking at it as something they really want to have in their home,” said Byrne, the toy analyst.
This means people aren’t just buying them as gifts, and the shopping frenzy usually reserved for the holiday season has stretched into the summer.
Toys “R” Us gets regular Wii shipments in all its stores around the country, but demand is so great they sell out immediately, said spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh. On the toy store chain’s Web site, the consoles have usually been “temporarily not available.”
On a Sunday morning in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, the Toys “R” Us opened an hour early for Wii buyers only. Though nothing like the bustle of Manhattan, a small line of teenagers, 20-somethings and families formed outside as a clerk handed out numbered slips of paper.
Inside the store, like two weeks earlier at the Best Buy across the shopping center’s parking lot, the systems didn’t even make it to the shelves before they sold out.