Nintendo's Wii console launches, but can it take on the PlayStation juggernaut?


Saturday, November 18th 2006, 2:16 pm
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) Nintendo's quirky new video game console, the Wii, goes on sale Sunday, just two days after the launch of the rival PlayStation 3 from Sony turned violent at some stores. The release of the Wii is expected to be less dramatic, mainly because Nintendo has made sure to have a lot more units available than Sony could muster.

Launching right after the much-hyped PlayStation 3 is a brave move for Nintendo Co., which is playing catch-up after losing dominance of the home console market to Sony Corp. in the mid-90s.

The console itself is a daring design: it eschews the high-definition graphics that are the main selling points of the PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, which came out a year ago. Instead, Nintendo hopes to attract a new generation of fans by changing the way games are played. The console comes with a motion-sensitive controller that acts as a tennis racket, baseball bat, steering wheel, gun or sword depending on the game.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said the company made ``some very tough choices'' in designing the Wii.

``Tough choices about not including a DVD player at the start, tough choices about not including high-definition capability at the start. That's because we wanted a mass-market price, and we believe the market will validate those decisions come launch day on this Sunday,'' Fils-Aime said.

The Wii costs $250 and includes one game. The two PlayStation 3 models cost $500 and $600, with no included game. The two Xbox 360 models cost $300 and $400, with no game. Online, the prices are steeper: PlayStation 3s were selling for around $2,500 on eBay Saturday, while Wiis were listed at around $500, or double the store price.

Sony had about 400,000 PlayStation 3s in North American stores on Friday. Nintendo has said it would have ``five to ten'' times as many Wiis available at launch, and will have shipped 4 million units by the end of the year. It still expects consoles to sell out in stores.

The relative abundance of units, and a smaller fan base, should make Sunday a calmer shopping day than Friday. PlayStation fans and entrepreneurs planning to sell their units at a profit had camped out all week in front of some stores, and some crowds turned rowdy.

In one example, police fired pepper pellets Friday morning to subdue a crowd of about 200 people outside a Circuit City store in McLean, Va. Afterward, one person was taken to a hospital complaining of shortness of breath, authorities said. Connecticut authorities said two men tried to rob a line of people outside a Wal-Mart and shot a man who refused to give up his money.

In a somewhat unusual move for a Japanese company, the Wii was scheduled to go on sale in Japan two weeks after the U.S. launch, the opposite of Sony's launch order. Nintendo said it made the decision to get in on U.S. holiday shopping, which starts earlier than shopping in Japan.

Others, like analyst John Broady at gaming Web site GameSpot.com, see the timing as David taunting Goliath.

``They obviously are confident that they can go head-to-head with Sony,'' Broady said. ``It was a very, very gutsy move.''

Broady said that judging by the gaming enthusiasts who visit GameSpot, the Wii has as much buzz behind it as the PlayStation 3. It's been well reviewed, and it's helped by interest in one of its games, ``The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess,'' a fresh installment in a long-running and beloved series.

``The big question is, when you get past this set of people who are really into games, how deep does this buzz go in the general population?'' Broady asked. ``I think everybody in America yesterday knew that the PlayStation 3 was launching and knew what it was. In most homes around the country, I think most people wouldn't know what a Nintendo Wii was at this particular moment.''

Nintendo's stated goal is to hook people with the lure of the wireless controllers, low price, and a small, cute main unit that will fit easily in most entertainment centers.

Explaining to a mass audience the appeal of the controllers and what makes the console different is a challenge for the company, but one that will get easier, Broady predicted.

``I think as the Wii gets out in the marketplace, and people start seeing it, I think it will make a huge difference,'' Broady said.