Snapping Wii Straps Force Major Recall, but Sales Bustling


Dec. 15, 2006 — -- In what some might call a testament to the interactive nature of Nintendo's new Wii video game console, the company has announced that it will recall 3.2 million straps found on the system's motion sensitive controllers.

The controllers or "Wiimotes" are high-tech TV, remote control-shaped "wands" that players simply move to interact with games.

Fancy a game of tennis? Swing away and create about 100 different shot variations all based on how you move. Twist your wrist to add spin; gently tap the ball to force your enemy to play at the net; or swing through as hard as you can to rifle the ball past your opponent.

The straps attach the controller to players' wrists to keep the devices from flying across rooms when gamers get a little overzealous about their play. Unfortunately, the straps were made a bit too thin. To see that the results of a snapped strap can be devastating, just search the Internet to find images of smashed windows, destroyed TVs, and even a black eye or two.

"People tended to get a bit excited, especially while playing Wii sports, and in some cases the control would come loose from their hands," company spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa told The Associated Press. "The new strap will be almost twice as thick."

You can check out some pictures of Wii devastation by clicking here.

Despite a few bumps, bruises and broken TVs, the Wii has been very well received by critics, gamers and even nongamers. Just try to track down a Wii. You can ask around at your local video game or electronics store, but you're likely to get laughed out of the building -- maybe all the way to the parking lot.

Nintendo's risky new system has been selling out almost before it hits store shelves. Some experts have suggested that retailers may even be holding on to units to lure holiday shoppers into their stores with promises of finding the elusive machines on busy weekends.

"We've been seeing this coming for a while now," said Anita Frazier, industry analyst for the NPD Group. "I think this is very typical every time there's a console launch. If they've done a good job of marketing and advertising, there are never enough to meet demand."

Though it was hardly unforeseeable, the inability to find the little buggers has driven some to just give up and others to claim that there have been intentional supply shortages to generate demand.

"Why would we do that?" asked Beth Llewellyn, senior director of public relations for Nintendo. "We can sell everything we ship."

Llewellyn may have a point. With Nintendo selling 476,000 Wiis in the roughly two weeks after its Nov. 17 release, the systems were available.

Because of the worldwide success of the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, most experts expected Sony's follow-up, the PlayStation 3, to be a smash hit.

Add in some manufacturing problems earlier in the year that caused delays in its release, and it wasn't hard to predict that the highly anticipated PS3 would be hard to find.

Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Hirai told that even his teenage son was going to have to wait to get a PS3. There's no special treatment for the boss' kid.

But the Nintendo Wii has been a bit of a surprise. Everyone knew it would be a success, but it's surpassed many expectations, selling almost half-a-million units in the United States alone in about two weeks. Of course, none of those skeptical about the Wii's success work at Nintendo.

"There's always that voice in the back of your head asking, 'Are other people going to get it,'" Llewelyn said. "But we believed in it, and it was very rewarding to know that the public picked it up and got it."

And they keep picking it up.

From The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, technology reviewers have been going gaga over the Wii, fueling demand and scarcity.

The key to the Wii's success and what makes it different from other video game consoles is the controller. Nintendo set out to broaden the video game market by turning the controller into something that anyone could pick up and use.

The ultimate goal, Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime told an audience of thousands at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May, is to make playing video games as common as watching a movie or a TV show.

Recent sales figures and an overwhelmingly positive response from both fans and the media alike may show that it's on the road to fulfilling that dream.

Despite the furor over the Wii, some experts wonder how successful the console would be if Sony had been able to ship more PlayStation 3 units. It's a question that kind of blows away the conspiracy theory that console makers intentionally hold back production of their machines to generate buzz.

"The fact that the iPod has been readily accessible hasn't made it less of a hot item to have," Frazier said. "They could have had three or four times as much inventory as they had and sold every one. Their job is to get their install base up so they can sell software. Making something rare doesn't necessarily fuel its attractiveness."

The real money in the video game industry doesn't come from console sales but from the games people play on them. It's been widely reported that Sony is actually losing about $300 per PlayStation 3, so a supply shortage does little to help promote the PS3 for Sony, which just wants to start selling games.

Llewellyn dismisses those critics who suggest the Wii's success is due to Sony's failure.

"I truly believe people were looking for something different," she said. "We really tapped into families that had no interest in the PS3. We came out with an interesting innovative system, with a mass market price that's easy to use."

If the Wii's success continues -- which many expect will happen -- Nintendo could find itself back on top of a market it arguably created. Because of Nintendo's effort to attract nongamers to the hobby, the video game industry could end up a much broader market for both Nintendo and its competitors.

"Video games have been somewhat intimidating for nongamers," Frazier said. "Most games are hard to pick up if you haven't been doing it for a while. Now, though, we're at that point where gaming is going to become more mainstream."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events