Nintendo and GameStop to guarantee Wiis after holiday

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nintendo Co Ltd said on Friday it will offer a “rain check” program to deliver the Wii in January to shoppers who can’t buy the game console during the holiday season due to inventory shortages.

Customers wait in line to purchase the Wii game console outside the Nintendo store in midtown Manhattan, New York, November 21, 2007. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told a telephone news conference that shoppers who pay the full price of about $249 for an out-of-stock Wii on December 20 and 21 at retailer GameStop Corp will get a certificate promising a Wii “sometime in January.”

The program is exclusive to GameStop. The executive declined to say how many units would be available, but noted that the video game specialty retailer had “many tens of thousands” of rain checks.

“We expect this to be a very strong program and ... a great way for consumers who desperately want a Wii to be able to have something to put under the tree -- a certificate that guarantees their family will be able to get a system in January,” he said.

Fils-Aime also said several national U.S. retailers, including Best Buy Co Inc, Sears Holdings Corp and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, will have Wiis available this weekend and in the coming week.

The Wii has been in hot demand due largely to its unique motion-sensing controller and simpler games that have drawn customers outside the traditional base of young males. Nintendo remained on top of the U.S. game hardware in November, selling 981,000 Wiis, according to market research firm NPD.

While sales of rival consoles -- Microsoft Corp’s Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 by Sony Corp -- have been strong, consumers across the United States have scrambled to find a Wii, often lining up before dawn at shops, or paying significantly marked-up prices.

Fils-Aime said that because of strong demand for the Wii, which has sold 6 million units since it launched in the U.S. about one year ago, Nintendo has not been able to manufacture the systems fast enough to satisfy consumers’ appetites.

“There was no ability for us to stockpile systems over the summer to meet the holiday rush,” he said. “The appeal ... to nongamers has taken away some of the seasonality of sales we have come to expect in the past.”

Fils-Aime, who called the shortages “unfortunate,” added that Nintendo has raised production twice in the past year to about 1.8 million units a month from an initial run of 1 million a month.

“We will continue producing at that level for quite a while,” he said. “This shortfall benefits no one. Enough systems would make everyone, including me, much happier.”

Editing by Brian Moss/Jeffrey Benkoe