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Nintendo DS fever in Japan March 30, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, technology.

The Nintendo DS went on sale back in Dec 2004 if memory serves, and was slow off the blocks.

However, good luck if you want to buy one now.

Since the end of last year, the portable game device has been hard to find anywhere.

On March 2nd, Nintendo released a "lite" version (in white only, due to a manufacturing problem with the other 2 colours), with a smaller form factor (and a slightly higher price).

There were queues of hundreds of people in front of major electronics retailers such as Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera, some people camping out for the night. Many stores only had a few dozen units to sell.

The second release was on March 11th, a saturday, and even bigger queues were seen.

Plenty of people were left disappointed.

There were reports that whole families (including babies) were lining up and picking one up, one each. I don't think babies can play these games yet and most grannies aren't so interested in games, so I guess plenty of these units found their way onto on-line auction sites. (There are rumours that some people tried to claim their pets were people, and demanded an allocation for their pet too. It is even more incredible for a chihuahua or dachshund to play games on the DS than a months old baby…. Some people have no shame, clearly)

DS fever struck close to home for me, too. My better half "M" decided back before X'mas that she wanted a DS. The store shelves were of course already empty, and most stores whilst accepting reservations, were quoting months for delivery. There was the option of buying one at a hugely inflated price on-line, but that was ruled out, and when news of the "Lite" came out, she was determined to get one. But not too determined, as we shall see.

She ventured out on the 2nd, timing her arrival at the local electronics superstore for opening time. LOL

No queues, of course. The store opened early to get rid of the queuing customers for whom there were not enough units to go around…. So, came back empty handed. Saw the news that day about the big queues elsewhere, and decided that trying again on the 11th was not a good idea as it was a weekend and that meant even more people with too much time on their hands willing to queue up for this toy.

Then, last week, she got a call from a friend saying that a major retail chain (Itoyokado, sort of similar to WalMart) was going to sell a limited number of units on sunday, and this time it was not going to be first come first served, rather, the were going to give out tickets to everyone who was at the store by a certain time, and then draw lots. So, she ventured out on sunday to the local Itoyokado, arriving a little before 9am (on a sunday morning!).

There was already a decent queue in front of the main entrance.

The tickets were to be distributed to everyone who had arrived in the store before 9:15. The store opened at 9:00. The actual tickets were being handed out on the 3rd floor, and people were running to get a ticket, even though they knew it wasn't first come, first served.

"M" followed the crowd in, and looked around to see people flooding in from other entrances as well. Apparently there were queues at the multiple entrances…. The crowd surged forward, and "M" found herself running up the escalators following the person in front of her.

Getting to the area where the tickets were being handed out, she saw a huge crowd of people gathering behind. She got a ticket numbered in the 200's.
There were about 80 units available. 3 different colour models were on offer, and ticket holders had to apply for one particular colour model. There were different numbers of units available in the various colours, so she decided to go for the "Ice Blue" model, of which there were 30 or so units.

Looking at the size of the crowd, she decided to do some grocery shopping rather than wait there agonisingly for the lottery result.

Half an hour later, after finishing her shopping, she headed back up to the 3rd floor, where there was a list of the lucky tickets who had won the right to buy a DS Lite.

Lo and behold, there was her number. She quietly went to the counter, paid her money, and went home with her prize. Around, there were apparently scenes of parents trying to console their distraught kids and the like.Whilst feeling sorry for the people who weren't so lucky, she wasn't about to offer her prize to anyone….

I was out playing futsal with my futsal/football buddies that day, and she sent me an email from her phone with the news. I called her, and she said that the biggest number listed on the winners' list was twelve hundred and something, so that meant that more than 1200 people had come to that store alone. This scene was apparently repeated at other Itoyokado stores elsewhere. Her friend's family had ventured out to various stores elsewhere, and the family came back empty handed. Not one DS Lite between them to show for getting up early on a sunday morning.

Since sunday, she seems to have become attached to her DS Lite, the other day she actually brought that thing into bed….

The surge in popularity of the DS seems to have been triggered by games which have become a hit with the wider audience beyond the hard core gamers. "M" has two games, one a game testing English skills, another testing mental dexterity. These games have proved a hit with the wider audience, and it is becoming a rather distrubingly common sight to see not only geeky otaku gamers but seemingly normal people playing games on their handheld devices on the trains.

I saw a couple on the train yesterday, sitting side by side, each with a DS in hand, each seemingly oblivious to the presence of the other. Maybe they were playing a 2 player game (does the DS have that functionality? the PSP does, I know).

Personally I am rather drawn to a PSP, as a portable internet device (lashing up a Location Free box on my home network would allow me to watch live and recorded TV from outside on my PSP) with the added bonus of games. Maybe I'll head out one of these days and get me a PSP, together with some games (IQ, Xi[sai], and maybe Lemmings…. and Minna de Golf, of course).



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