West Coast launch: Gone with the Wii

Midnight launch at LA theme park features music, acrobats, Nintendo brass, and loads of dedicated fans. Must-see video of one fan's devotion included.

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Hundreds at Universal Studios waited for the Wii, just before midnight.
Hundreds at Universal Studios waited for the Wii, just before midnight.

UNIVERSAL CITY, California--At the stroke of midnight on the West Coast, the launch of the next console generation came and went, as the Nintendo Wii debuted to a crowd of eager fans, many of whom had begun to line up on Friday morning in anticipation. The first Wii sale came as the conclusion of a day-long celebration held at the EB Games retail store in the Universal Studios theme park, just outside of Los Angeles.

Along the way, gamers and passersby were treated to live music from a deejay, acrobatic performances, loads of Wii-branded schwag and, of course, Wii and Nintendo DS game demos galore. One of the more interesting demos on hand was specially modified Segway scooters outfitted with high-definition monitors, periodically winding their way through the crowd and literally bringing the games to the people.

The Wii on wheels.
The Wii on wheels.

As the final hours ticked off, the line, which only hours earlier had featured only a few hundred people, had grown dramatically, roughly doubling in size and curling up and over a walkway on the opposite side of the Citywalk shopping area. Late in the day, store employees handed out wristbands to those in line, guaranteeing a Wii for everyone with a wristband. Even after the bands ran out, however, folks were still taking their chances and lining up, hoping to get lucky and snag a console.

On hand for the festivities at the launch was Nintendo of America senior vice president of marketing George Harrison, who briefly stepped behind the counter at the EB Games store to help sell the first Wii console. When asked about how production has gone for the first batch of Wii consoles, Harrison was upbeat, saying the company is still on target to have 4 million units available worldwide by the end of the year. "It's the first time we've actually launched in all territories at the same time. [In the past] Europe was usually a few months later, but Europe is also launching, as well." Harrison went on to say that he expects Nintendo to have shipped 2 million units in the United States alone by the end of December or early January.

Stacks of Wii consoles tempt gamers, inside the EB Games store.
Stacks of Wii consoles tempt gamers, inside the EB Games store.

One of the Nintendo fans in the very back of the line was Cynthia Hocker of La Crescenta, California, who also happened to be the very last person to receive a wristband, guaranteeing a Wii for her 15-year-old son, who will likely be more excited than most to receive it. "It was a Christmas present," said Hocker, "but he's going to have heart surgery in three weeks, and I'm going to give it to him after the heart surgery so he can play it while he's lying down."

Jonathan Mann, prize in hand; Nintendo exec George Harrison is standing at the register, at right.
Jonathan Mann, prize in hand; Nintendo exec George Harrison is standing at the register, at right.

Back in the front of the line, the Mario-hat-and-red-suspender-clad Jonathan Mann, in front of a throng of camera-toting journalists and Nintendo staffers, proudly walked to the counter just after midnight to purchase the first Wii of the night. Holding the console above his head for all the media to see, Mann was enthusiastic about his purchase, no matter how long it took him to finally get it. "I'm really excited. You have no idea how excited I am. Seriously. I've been waiting for this since 1991."

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