Monday, August 3, 2009

How I became Wii-tarded

The Nintendo Wii has recently reached a milestone, selling over 50 million units since its debut in 2006. Its typically-bundled companion, Wii Sports, has worldwide lifetime sales in excess of 47 million. A quick look through Wikipedia suggests that Wii Sports is the best-selling video game of all time, and thus quite likely the most-played video game of all time.

Of course, Wii Sports' sales figures benefited greatly from the game being bundled with the Wii console, but that just shows the genius of Nintendo back in 2006. The Wii, with its motion-sensing remote control and nunchuck attachment, was a system with a built-in barrier: would users really take to the novelty of playing games with physical gestures as input, unlike any system that came before? Selling the system for hundreds less than the competing XBox 360 and PlayStation 3, combined with the bundling of Wii Sports - a game that was instantly accessible, proved the capability of the new input controls, and turned out to be fun for the whole family - more than anything else made the Wii an instant hit and the must-buy item for Christmas in 2006.

It is in recognition of the Wii's success that I present a homage in the form of my own story - the true story of a father's crazy hope to get that must-buy Christmas item and how it ultimately worked out in the end.

How I became Wii-tarded
A Christmas tale
December 2006

Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the town,
Some parents were stirring, for Wii's to be found.
Their bodies in lines, too stubborn to quit,
Till out came... oh screw this rhyming shit!

There were several big-chain stores near my house, within a block or two of eachother that were carrying Wii's on Sunday the 17th. I knew this because I did my research! Surprisingly, this research wasn't as easy as one might think. Asking the question "do you know if you'll have Wii's in stock on Sunday?" would always result in a "no". But asking the question "So what is the process you will be using this Sunday when you sell your Wii's?" got me much more useful information.

My target was Target, close to home, which would be, according to the phone voice of a clerk in electronics, "using a ticket system" (that answer confirming that they in fact would have Wii's in stock). Okay! Get in line early enough, get a ticket, I'm in business. Some more web research revealed that all kinds of stores would be selling Wii's on Sunday; Target seemed my best bet.

My Target opened at 8:00 Sunday morning, so I figured getting there by 7:00 would be fine. It has been a month since this system launched, after all. The scalpers are probably done. I actually pulled up around ten til 7:00 and saw one guy walking up to the door and no line as of yet. Great! This will give me a little time to get some coffee! I'm set.

On the way to Starbucks a block away, I passed Toys'r'Us, which also opened at 8:00 but had a significant line, about 25 people or so (not huge, but significant). A manager was outside pointing and counting. I pulled up and called out my window, "Is it worth parking and getting in line?". The manager yelled back "Nope- there's more than enough here to cover my stock". Okay - no biggie. There was only one person at Target, and I know they'll have 'em in stock.

I pulled up to Starbucks and got my Venti Americano. Sure, you'd think a Grande would be more than sufficient, and on a typical Sunday morning it would be. But it was cold and windy out, and I needed to pack some heat. It's a hunt after all! Venti it is.

There's a Circuit City right next to the Starbucks, so I walk over and see a more modest line - only about 18 people or so. Guessing that Circuit City might have 20 or so in stock, I get on the line and am informed by the others (who are in a friendly - you might even say jolly - mood) that I'm #14... even better! There are couples in the line, and only one Wii going to a household. And this wasn't a line of eBay scalpers - these were parents and grandparents who wanted the system for their families. They were downright enjoyable. I struck up a conversation with one guy in an Iowa Hawkeyes jacket, informed him I was Hawkeye alumni myself, and it turned out just about everyone on the line (evenly split between males and females) were not only college football fans, but Big Ten fans specifically. We had a fun conversation for about fifteen minutes, and everyone was in a good mood.

Until the manager came out and said he only had 8 units in stock.

Okay. At least he came out and didn't make everyone wait in vain. It's still early (about 7:15 by now). The folks on line had said Best Buy had already had a line of about 50 or so people, so no good going there. Yup - I was smart in casing Target. Still my ace in the hole.

I pull around back to Target, and now there is a substantial line. Again, not a Harry-Potter-when-book-7-comes-out sized line, but several folks, making me wish I had stuck to the plan and ditched the coffee run. I park, get on line, and am told I'm #13... then someone on the line says "A lady came out about 10 minutes ago saying she thought they had 12 Wii's in stock." Gulp. Okay, I'm not so smart. The guy in front of me (again, the line was a very friendly group of mostly parents and grandparents) suggested I wait because she had said she was going back to make sure. Just one more... find just one more...

The guy at the very front of the line (the one I saw walking up earlier) sounded less confident though. There was a GameStop in the same mall area as this Target, and there were about six people lined up there waiting. "GameStop opens at 10:00 - and those folks were there when I got here... why wouldn't they be in line over here?" Ahh... they're not thinking that Target will have Wii's today. Ha ha on them! We in our line knew better. Our line could beat up your line!

But then something really interesting happened. After another ten minutes or so, a group of five boys, looking either like they're seniors in high school or maybe in their first year or two of college, walk up. They're in a group like a gang, showing some attitude, definitely not dressed for the cold (sporting all the teenage angst of hip-hop lowriding shorts in 28-degree weather), and they come up to the line which had added about five or six more behind me at this point. One of the boys then says, "hey, what are we doing in the back of the line?" And the group proceeds to strut around to the front by the store doors.

Now, it's useful for me to point out that I had already resolved in my head that this was probably a losing proposition for me. Even before 7:00 I was prepared to accept that my family wouldn't get their Wii this Christmas. What the hell, I had thought... I'd at least give it a try and see. Hearing that there were only 12 in stock at this Target had made me come to terms with not getting a Wii as a certainty. Frankly, I was starting to get irritated with myself to still be sitting on the line with such little hope. I could be driving back to Starbucks and enjoying my coffee in a warm room with a newspaper, after all. But...

The appearance of this gang of boys added a drama that was too juicy to leave. The "whoosh" sound I heard may have been a gust of wind, or the collective jaws of the people in front of me hitting the ground. The tiny moment of uncomfortable silence was just enough for my brain to play the main theme from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

One of the guys toward the front of the line - a man a few years older than me, burly and stocky, with a gruffness in his voice and stature that suggested he wouldn't take no crap from anyone even on a sunny day - stepped out to confront the gang. "So what do you think you're doing, boys? The line is back there." Now, if these boys had been a bit savvier, they may have realized what it looked like to all the grownups already on this line and responded differently than they did. As it was, one of them said, "We were here first." Clint Eastwood's hand is twitching over his holster!

I'm sure it was fortunate for everyone that there wasn't any real fighting that came of this, though a sick part of me wished I had a box of popcorn.

Parsing through the ensuing flurry of raising voices, the boys were contending that they had actually been standing in line at this Target since the night before. Gulp. The manager had come out at about 6:30 this morning and handed out 12 tickets to the first 12 people who had been in line overnight. Gulp gulp. Several of the grownups were very skeptical, but it was making sense to me. I knew this Target would be using a ticket system, and it would explain why the GameStop folks were where they were, if they knew Target's Wii's were already gone. Still, the skeptical grownups demanded proof, and one of the kids showed his "ticket"... hmmm... it hardly looks official - just a scrap of plain white paper with a number in magic marker and a scribble that might or might not be a signature? Okay, this could be a scam, and I decide to wait while the front-liners sort it out.

As the confrontation progresses (with no sign of a Target manager to confirm anything) it seems to me more and more that the boys are legit. They don't sound like a gang at all, they sound like normal kids to me. I start talking to one of them, and again have a conversation as enjoyable as I had had earlier at Circuit City. These are good kids - they're not scamming anyone. And sure enough, another group of three people - this time grownups - come up to the line and show their tickets. Now it is clear - everyone in the line since 7:00 have been waiting in vain, and some do leave. I'm now enjoying the conversation I'm having with the group of boys, and the newcomers (a young mother, a grandmother, and a man wearing a Michigan sweatshirt - it was Big Ten Sunday for me!) so I stay for a few more minutes.

The boys had had a lousy night. We had freezing rain that night in Vegas, with gusting cold winds. These boys definitely did not dress for the weather (one was noticeably shivering now). "It really wasn't so bad until around 1:00 in the morning... then the winds got really bad..." they told me. They were bright, had loads of energy - it was rejuvenating to be in that youthful company. They were all college-aged; two working full-time at this very Target, one getting an associates degree at community college. I remember standing in line for a Star Wars movie once when I was young ;-) This is a full month after the initial launch of this Wii system, and still there were people waiting in overnight cold lines to get one. Yea, they wanted it more than me, no hard feelings. Thanks for the great conversation! Happy Holidays guys, congratulations, have a blast with your new Wii's... and I started to walk away.

And then a woman pulled up in a VW bug (there was a whole new group in line behind me by this point, who had missed the initial information and weren't buying the ticket story). She called to the line, "is anyone willing to sell their spot?" Hmmmm... there's an idea.... and the lady doesn't even realize she's not offering to buy a spot in line, she's actually offering to buy a guaranteed ticket! Nobody responded, and the lady drove away. I looked at the kids and said, "Hey, any of you want to give me your ticket for fifty bucks?" I happened to have the cash on me (I normally don't) and to my amazement, one of these kids' eyes lit up. It turns out, he was perfectly happy playing his friend's Wii until he got his own next month, and was thrilled to get some extra cash for the holiday. I almost tried talking him out of it ("you waited all night you know... are you sure?") but by that point we had all gotten very friendly and he and I completed our transaction. I got ticket #6 for my troubles, and actually gave him $100, both because it was what I had on me, and because it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Another woman (a determined grandmother) saw our exchange and bought another ticket from one of the other four boys. We both thought it was money well spent.

At 8:22, I left my Target, with a Wii, a box of crayons, and some kids' underwear. Target does have some other stuff you know. I'm not a complete freak.


Post a Comment

Submit a comment?