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Breaking a sweat just to find Wii Fit

Nintendo's careful approach makes the fitness video game tough to track down.

May 31, 2008|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer
  • Maritza Soto, foreground, attends a demonstration in New York's Central Park of Nintendo's Wii Fit game, which offers users exercise in more than 40 activities, including yoga, aerobics, strength training and balance.
Maritza Soto, foreground, attends a demonstration in New York's… (Diane Bondareff / Nintendo )

For some Wii fans, the exercise in Wii Fit has been in running around trying to find one.

That was the case for Dhruv Thukral, a 25-year-old from Santa Monica who raced from store to store the day Nintendo Co.'s fitness game came out May 19.

"It's sold out everywhere," the USC computer science graduate student said.

Wii Fit is the latest title for Nintendo's Wii game console. Shortages have become a chronic condition for Nintendo, beginning with the Wii, which is still in short supply a year-and-a-half after the $250 console was introduced.

The new game, which retails for $90, offers more than 40 activities that challenge players in areas such as yoga, aerobics, strength training and balance. It comes with a motion sensor platform that resembles a large bathroom scale, which users stand on, and requires a Wii console to play.

At GameStop, a chain that specializes in video games, the first shipment sold out days before it arrived as shoppers plunked down cash to pre-order the game.

On Friday, Circuit City's website had the game in stock at 8:50 a.m., but was sold out 10 minutes later, according to NowInStock.net, a website that tracks online stores for hard-to-find items.

On EBay, Wii Fit has been auctioned for as much as $150, a 66% markup.

Some who managed to find Wii Fit had to go to considerable lengths.

Chris Pereira, a 19-year-old video-game journalist from Rocky Hill, Conn., tried to pre-order a copy before the game was released but was told that all units of the game had already been reserved.

Pereira, an editor for Ziff Davis Media Inc., hit up Best Buy and GameStop without success. At the local Circuit City, a salesperson said the game was available, but when she turned around to grab a box, she came up empty-handed.

"They had apparently sold out minutes before," he said.

He then scoured several stores before finding a copy at a GameStop store.

"The consumer response to Wii Fit was exceptional," said Denise Kaigler, a Nintendo spokeswoman. "We are working as hard as we can to replenish the stock."

She declined, however, to divulge how many copies of the game the company has sold. Nintendo had said Wii Fit already sold 2 million units in Japan, where it launched in December.

Analysts say part of the problem stems from Nintendo's conservative approach in making hardware. Stung by the failure of its last console, the GameCube, the Japanese company resists building up too much factory resources for its products.

It also is shrewdly maximizing its profit by sending four times as many units to Europe, reaping the benefits of the strong euro, said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities.

Pachter estimated that Nintendo shipped just 500,000 copies of the game in North America but as many as 2 million units to Europe.

"The shortage demonstrates one consequence of the weak dollar. We're seeing companies ignore their largest market simply because they can make a greater profit elsewhere," Pachter said.

"They know that Americans will be just as fat a few months from now" when Nintendo will have more units available, he said.

But the Wii's runaway success could backfire if Nintendo is unable to manage consumer expectations, said Billy Pidgeon, an analyst with research firm IDC.

"That's a tough line to tread," Pidgeon said. "When does the consumer get frustrated and move on?

"So far, the Wii still has cachet," he said. "But the fact that consumers can't find a Wii or a Wii Fit is definitely a missed opportunity."

--

alex.pham@latimes.com

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