TOKYO – Nintendo's Wii video game system hit Japanese stores Saturday with long lineups and shortages, following its sellout U.S. launch last month.
More than 3,000 people braved frosty weather to line up at downtown Tokyo electronics retailer Bic Camera, hoping to get their hands on the console, said store spokeswoman Naoko Ito.
The store started turning people away at 5:40 a.m. local time — more than an hour before doors opened — and Wiis were sold out "for the foreseeable future," Ito said.
Earlier, crowd-control staff at the store, trying to avoid a stampede, used megaphones to urge shoppers to stop pushing.
Short supplies were reported elsewhere in the capital.
With the Wii, Kyoto-based Nintendo Co. — which brought the world the mustachioed plumber Super Mario, as well as Game Boy hand-held game machines — hopes to challenge the dominance of Sony Corp. (SNE) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) in the game console market.
Unlike its rivals' high-powered consoles, Nintendo's Wii puts simplicity above fancy graphics and computing horsepower.
The Wii's remote-control wand can be swung like a tennis racket, fishing pole, or orchestra baton in easy-to-play games the company hopes will appeal to a wider audience than the traditional young male demographic.
That will be especially crucial in Japan, where a graying population has made the game industry's growth sluggish in recent years.
The Wii has a price advantage at $250 — about half of Sony's PlayStation 3 at roughly $500 or $600, depending on the model.
Microsoft's Xbox 360, which launched last year, sells for $300 to $400.
Nintendo also has more machines for sale. Nearly 400,000 Wiis were available for the Japan launch date. U.S. shoppers snapped up more than 600,000 of its Wii video game systems in the week after its launch there on Nov. 19.
Sony had just 100,000 PS3s in Japan and 400,000 consoles in the U.S. when they debuted last month.
Production problems have pushed PlayStation's European launch back to March.
Analysts expect Wii to mount a serious challenge to Sony's 70 percent market share, which it built with previous PlayStation consoles.
Sony has sold more than 200 million PlayStation series machines over the years.
Nomura Securities Co. analyst Yuta Sakurai said last month he expected Nintendo to sell 40 million machines, compared with 70 million PlayStation 3 consoles in the next five years.
More critically, the profit is also likely to be better for Nintendo, while Sony is losing money for every PS3 console it sells until it gets a return on its huge investments.
Sony is expecting to rack up 200 billion yen ($1.7 billion) in red ink in its game unit for the fiscal year ending March 2007, much of it in startup costs for PlayStation 3. By contrast, Nintendo is forecasting profit of 100 billion yen ($845 million) for the fiscal year, as Wii buoys earnings in the second half.