SEATTLE — Jaana Baker is no klutz — note her second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She’s also an avid video gamer who puts out a Web-based comic called “Level 99” in her spare time.
So how did Baker end up launching the controller of her new Nintendo Wii right into her 37-inch TV? Like some other owners of the new game console and its motion-sensitive wireless remote, Baker took the freedom to move a little too literally.
It was a particularly spirited round of Wii bowling caused her to lose her bearings before unleashing what she had hoped would be a perfect strike.
“It was like a loud crack,” she said, recalling the moment the “Wiimote” glanced off her coffee table, snapped its wrist strap and hurtled into her flat-screen TV. “It was kind of surreal, actually. I thought I was dreaming at first.”
It appears that Baker is not alone. In recent weeks, the Web has been alight with reports of excited gamers losing their grip on the Wii’s controller or smacking their arms into nearby objects.
After issuing a general “calm down” to its customers a week ago, Nintendo Co. has responded by quietly beefing up the controller’s fabric wrist strap, spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn said.
And while most executives would cringe if their flagship product suddenly became associated with shattered electronics and the occasional flesh wound, some observers say the lighthearted buzz could deliver a perfect shot of viral marketing.
“What it says is, this thing is so fun that people get carried away,” said Adrian Ho of the advertising agency Fallon Worldwide. “A progressive brand manager would look at that and say, ‘You know what? Actually, that’s pretty good.”’
The offbeat stories certainly haven’t hurt sales. The market research company NPD Group estimates that U.S. consumers bought 476,000 Wiis in the two weeks following its Nov. 17 launch. That beat Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3 console, which sold just under 200,000 units in roughly the same period amid widespread shortages.
Some analysts, like P.J. McNealy at American Technology Research, say the Wii isn’t exactly a direct competitor with the PS3 because Nintendo purposely avoided getting into a war over which system has the hottest graphics.
Instead, Nintendo has focused on capturing customers outside the traditional niche of quick-fingered young males by playing up the Wii’s ability to get people swinging their wireless controllers like swords, baseballs or golf clubs.
That’s why the missiles began flying. The Wii’s popular sports games, included with the console, appear to be the main source of gamers losing their grip on the devices that look like TV remotes, Nintendo of America’s Llewelyn said.
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