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A Nintendo struggle: Wee hours ... Wii problem

A CNN columnist joins the holiday scramble for Nintendo's Wii game console.

NEW YORK ( -- I swore I'd never do it. I'd never be one of those people scrambling at Christmas time trying to get the "hot" toy for my kids. I'd never let commercialism command my life. And my kids' happiness would never depend on just the right piece of molded plastic. Yet there I was ... 5:30 in the morning in the Toys 'R' Us parking lot. Thirty-four degrees.

I hate you, Nintendo.

The elusive Wii

Yes, like many other parents this year, I was stalking a Wii. It wasn't even on the Christmas list three weeks ago. My wife and I have purposely resisted video game consoles, fearing their zombie-like effect on kids. But my family went to a Christmas party hosted by's game columnist. And the girls played with the Wii. They loved it. And it didn't turn them into zombies. "Dad! I hit one out of the park!" panted my eldest, her face flush with the exercise.

Okay, the Wii is on the list. But where to get one?

Nintendo World at Rockefeller Center in New York City got a big shipment early in the week.... "All sold out," said the man in the "Wii" shirt, when I arrived about an hour after it opened.

Best Buy? ... Target? ... Various phone calls produced a range of "Nope," "Sold out," and "You gotta be kidding."

Connections through the games columnist? No dice. (Now I hate him too).

Then the word came down. The last Wii shipments were going to hit over the weekend. Major chains would have them on sale Sunday morning. And Toys'R'US "always" gets the big shipments, according to various shopping mavens and the games columnist. (Okay, I don't hate him that much).

How early to go? The store I targeted opened at 8 a.m. A little more than two hours early should do the trick.

"I'm going to feel like an idiot showing up at an empty parking lot," I thought as I drove down deserted streets. But then came the store ... and the lot was practically full. A line of roughly 100 people stretched from the door. Those closest were wrapped in sleeping bags, sitting for the most part in fold-out chairs. A police car idled watchfully near by.

"I've got a girl friend over at the Best Buy," said the woman in front of me, motioning with her cell phone. "She says the line there is around the store."

"My friend went to the Target," said the woman next to her. "But they said they only have 15."

How many are here at this Toys'R'Us?

The word passed down. 75.

"At least that's what the guys at the front of the line are saying," said the first woman, who wandered up the line from time to time for info while we saved her space. "But you know," she shrugged, "line gossip."

My rough count, the line widened and wiggled as people made trips to their cars, put me at 130. Please let the line gossip be wrong.

The line grew. Time passed. My toes numbed. Shouldn't have worn sneakers. Should have come earlier.

"Are they going to hand out tickets?" said the guy behind me. "They really should hand out tickets."

Finally the manager came out.

"Folks, we only have 70 Wiis," he yelled. Hmmm, five put aside for the store staff, I wondered. "We're going to limit one to a family," he continued. "If you want T.M.X. Elmo, you need to come back tomorrow."

People way behind me started to leave. I stayed, hoping a severe flu outbreak would take down some of the people in front. But that didn't happen. The manager went down the line with a clip board. He stopped about 40 people away from me.

"It ends here," he yelled, motioning at the cut off point.

At least 150 disappointed people, each willing to drop about $500 or more for Wii paraphernalia at that store, walked away. Business lost. Lots of business, since this scene was probably repeated across the country. Something for investors to consider when calculating how long the Wii will ride for Nintendo (Charts) and which retailers ... Toys'R'US (Charts), Best Buy (Charts), Target (Charts), Wal-Mart (Charts), Circuit City (Charts) and the rest ... will benefit the most from it. But for old consumer me, defeat.

I hate you, Nintendo.

Wii success ... another story.


Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of and appears on CNN's "In the Money." He can be emailed at Top of page