In a bid to ensure that Wii-hungry consumers won't go without a Nintendo console — or at least the promise of it — under the tree this year, video game retailer GameStop will allow shoppers to prepay for the hardware, guaranteeing to get it into their hands by January's end.
Nintendo announced the rain-check program today amid constant reports of nationwide shortages of the popular console.
"[The Wii] has been a sellout virtually everywhere in America," Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said today. "We understand the frustration of consumers. … I can tell you that we expect no slowdown after the first of the year. We want to say that if you could possibly hold out just a little longer, there will be more product in January."
The rain-check program will allow customers to prepay for the Wii at GameStop stores until Dec. 21. The customers will then be guaranteed a console by Jan. 29. Only a limited number of the rain checks — Fils-Aime estimated tens of thousands — will be available.
Nintendo has faced criticism for its shortages of the Wii this holiday season. Some critics have even accused the company of creating a false shortage to increase hype for the brand.
"This shortfall benefits no one," Fils-Aime said. "Enough systems would make everyone, including me, happy."
Nintendo has upped the manufacturing and distribution ante, according to Fils-Aime, but to no avail.
"At launch we were producing a million systems a month. Since April, we upped worldwide production twice. … The current production run is 1.8 million systems a month. We'll keep producing that level for quite a while," he said. "We've tripled our work force in distribution."
Nintendo has no plans to manufacture the consoles, which are made in Japan, in the United States, despite supply shortages, he said.
The company is "disappointed" in retailers who are jacking up the price of the console, which retails for $249.99, because of the shortage.
"We do not have a program … that would fix prices on the upside [in stores]," he said. "Having said that we are always very disappointed if we see retailers that are pricing our products above the MSRP price. The only way to combat that activity is by not rewarding those retailers with excess supply of product."
Nintendo's competition is hoping to take advantage of the Wii shortage.
Sony CEO Howard Stringer has been counting on impatient consumers who won't be able to wait for their gaming fix. His recent $100 cut in the price of Sony's PlayStation3 console has made it more competitive, Stringer told The Associated Press last month.
But Silicon Valley technology analyst Rob Enderle said that he still believes the shortage could hurt Nintendo, with or without a rain check.
"Kids want to open something for Christmas. Parents want to see the smile," Enderle said. "A rain check, a piece of paper, isn't going to cut it. It's better than nothing, but probably not a whole lot better than nothing."