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Nintendo to replace 3.2M Wii straps

Nintendo said Friday it will replace 3.2 million straps for its popular Wii computer game controllers after receiving a rash of reports that the device flew out of the hands of players.
A model plays tennis with Nintendo Co.'s new family video-game console Wii by swinging it's controller as a tennis racket during a press conference in Tokyo. The Japanese gamemaker on Friday announced the recall of 3.2 million straps for its popular Wii computer game controllers.Shizuo Kambayashi / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The reception of Nintendo's Wii video game console has been enthusiastic — too enthusiastic, apparently, for the straps that are supposed to keep the game controllers in the hands of players.

After widespread reports of controllers flying out of the hands of overly energetic players to cause a Wii bit of damage to TV sets, walls and bystanders, Nintendo is recalling 3.2 million straps to replace them with tougher stuff.

The console's motion-sensitive remote controller can be swung like a tennis racket, golf club or sword, depending on the game. But soon after the Wii went on sale last month, the excesses of overzealous players became apparent.

Nintendo will now allow customers to exchange the old straps, which have a 0.024 inch diameter, for a beefed up strap that has a diameter of 0.04 inch, company spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa said.

"People tended to get a bit excited ... and in some cases the control would come loose from their hands," Minagawa said. "The new strap will be almost twice as thick."

The wand-like controller is one of the unique features of the Wii, which Nintendo introduced as its counterchallenge in a fierce competition with Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360.

Nintendo is hoping the easy-to-control wand will appeal to a wider crowd of players — not just young men.

Customers can exchange the straps through their local Nintendo service centers, Minagawa said. The worldwide exchange is expected to cost the company several million dollars.

Billy Pidgeon, an industry analyst at IDC in New York, said the replacement program could have an overall upside for Nintendo — the company is being proactive, and problems with the wrist straps appear relatively minor.

Some older versions of Microsoft's video game console had more serious problems when electrical adapters had to be replaced because of fire dangers, he noted.

"It helps to spread Nintendo's message on the unique interface of the Wii," Pidgeon said. "As long as it doesn't land you in the emergency room."

In any case, the strap problems probably won't affect demand for the Wii. "At the launch of a console, it basically has to be fatal to hurt sales," Pidgeon said.

The market research company NPD Group estimated that U.S. consumers bought 476,000 Wiis in the two weeks following its Nov. 17 launch. That beat Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 console, which sold just under 200,000 units amid widespread shortages.

Nintendo has delivered more machines so far to consumers than Sony has, partly because of Sony's production problems.

Nintendo has shipped about 400,000 Wii machines in Japan and more than 600,000 in North America. Sony readied just 100,000 PS3 machines for the Japanese launch and 400,000 consoles for its U.S. debut.

Sony has promised 2 million PS3s worldwide by year's end, while Nintendo is targeting 4 million Wii units in the same period.

Selling machines in high volumes is crucial in the gaming business because hot-selling formats attract software companies to make more games, which in turn boost console sales.

Separately Friday, Nintendo also said it would replace 200,000 AC adapters for its DS and DS Lite consoles in Japan. Nintendo said the move would not affect adapters overseas, and officials expected only a small impact on earnings.