Image: People stand in line to buy a Wii
Stephen Chernin  /  Getty Images file
A man who is seemingly asleep on his feet holds his son while waiting in line outside the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Center on December 19, 2007. Did the Wii shortage benefit any of its competitors this Christmas?
By Games editor
msnbc.com
updated 1/23/2008 9:32:09 AM ET 2008-01-23T14:32:09

If you went looking for a Wii over Christmas, you probably saw a lot of empty shelves.

Since its launch, the legend of the elusive Wii has only grown. News stories chronicled long lines snaking from electronics stores. As the holiday season approached, those stories included copious quotes from frustrated consumers sick of chasing delivery trucks.

Analysts theorized that the Wii shortage could only benefit Microsoft and Sony and their competing Xbox 360 and PlayStation consoles. Surely consumers would give up Wii-dogging to get something under the tree. Right?

Well … maybe.

While the Xbox 360 and the Wii sold roughly the same amount of units in December, in terms of growth, the Wii was the clear loser. Nintendo’s red-hot game system saw a 38 percent increase from November to December, versus 64 percent for the Xbox 360 and 71 percent for the PlayStation 3.

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That doesn’t mean that the PlayStation 3 outsold the Wii. Hardly. Despite a $100 price cut in October, the PS3 missed the million-unit mark in December, selling just under 800,000 systems. By contrast, the Wii sold 1.35 million during the same amount of time — and likely would have sold many more, according to Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets.

“I think the stores just ran out (of Wiis) in the middle of December,” he says. “I think they would have sold another million units.”

Did all consoles benefit from the Wii?
According to the NPD Group’s December sales numbers , all consoles — PlayStation 2, the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and Nintendo’s DS saw much higher sales in December than they did in November. That’s a no-brainer, though. Holiday sales are always higher. And this year was the first where all three of the newest consoles had decent software libraries.

Sebastian thinks that all platforms likely benefitted from the Wii — shortage or no shortage. And that’s because intense Wii curiosity likely lured non-gamers to stores like GameStop and Best Buy.

“Maybe there’s a halo effect to the Wii, if you will, that benefits the entire ecosystem,” he says.

Microsoft said it had inventory problems of its own over the holidays. In an e-mail, a company spokesperson wrote that the Xbox 360 base model and its Elite version were particularly scarce. Microsoft sold nearly 1.3 million units of the Xbox 360 in December.

Brett Schrecongost, of Pittsburgh, gave up on his Wii quest after Christmas and picked up an Xbox 360 Elite — and he almost didn’t get his hands on one of those, either.  “I got the last one when I bought mine,” he says.

Schrecongost, 27, has spent more than a year trying to track down the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Nintendo Wii. He used the Wii Tracker on BensBargains.net and kept haunting stores in his local area, to no avail.

“I waited outside the Best Buy one morning, before Christmas, and the person in front of me got the last one,” he says. “I was really upset.”

He believes, despite all of Nintendo’s protests to the contrary, that the company is trying to inflate demand with its shortage.

“I believe they have them all set up in a garage somewhere, piled high,” says Schrecongost.

Real winner could be PS2
If any console picked up the Wii slack, says NPD’s Anita Frazier, it was likely the PlayStation 2. Sony’s console came in fourth to the Xbox 360, selling 1.1 million units in December. Not bad for a now eight-year-old game system.

“Since hardware sales are most influenced by the kinds of games a consumer wants to play, and it would appear that the PS2 was a more likely ‘substitute choice’ in that scenario,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Sebastian agrees, saying stores like GameStop are seeing a broader audience of people coming in to purchase games.

“If they can’t find a Wii, the PS2 has more familiar mass-market titles.”

As for Schrecongost, he’s plenty happy with his Xbox 360. But he says he won’t stop his hunt for a Nintendo Wii — even though he’s usually laughed at when he asks for one at a store.

“It looks like so much fun, like it would be worth the wait,” he says. “Even my girlfriend, who doesn’t play video games at all, she wants to get one.”

Did you manage to score a Wii for the holidays? Or did you give up and buy something else? Drop me a line and let me know. Selected responses may be published.

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