Wii shortage continues, but why?

[26 March 2008]

By Victor Godinez

The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

Still can’t find a Wii?

The good news is you’re not alone.

The bad news is that locating one of the consoles won’t get any easier for at least several more months. Video game retailer GameStop acknowledged the ongoing shortage during a conference call last week to discuss its annual sales results ($7.1 billion, up 33 percent from 2006, so yeah, they did all right).

During the call, executives from the company said that while most of the current batch of consoles and handhelds are in decent supply, the Wii could be scarce for as long as the next six months.

It’s bizarre to think that a console released at the end of 2006 remains so elusive.

Nintendo has had plenty of time now to react to the unexpectedly high demand and bring other manufacturing facilities on line. Granted, the Wii outsells the PS3 and Xbox 360 every single month now, so Nintendo is already making more systems than either Sony or Microsoft. But still, the Wii, as was once infamously observed by a quickly-chastised Electronic Arts game developer, is merely two GameCubes duct-taped together.

While there was more than a bit of hyperbole in that declaration, the Wii certainly doesn’t incorporate any cutting-edge technology (which is why it’s the cheapest of the new consoles), and that should make it easier to build.

For example, Nokia sold 133 million cell phones in the fourth quarter of 2007 alone, proof that it is possible to churn out moderately sophisticated gadgets by the ton.

I’m not sure why Nintendo is having such a hard time. The best guess is that the company is deliberately throttling back its manufacturing capabilities, a conspiracy theory once proposed by GameStop’s own chief operating officer.

Why do that?

Even Nintendo was caught off guard by the popularity of the Wii, and there may be some lingering concern at the company that the allure will begin to wear off just when Nintendo starts an expensive manufacturing increase.

And if Wii supply is expected to catch up to demand in six months, then there’s no point in launching new production lines now.

Of course, every day that someone can’t find a Wii on the shelf represents a potential lost sale, as that shopper opts to get an Xbox 360, PS3 or nothing at all.

There used to be some talk that Nintendo was deliberately holding back production to create artificial hype around the Wii as the exclusive toy of the Christmas season. Of course, that was Christmas season 2006 (and then Christmas 2007).

Even if that theory were true, I think Nintendo is smart enough to recognize that you can only tease gamers so long before they get fed up and go play with something else.

We’ll see what happens in six months.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/wii-shortage-continues-but-why/