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What's The Deal, Nintendo?

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As you might have guessed, we're pretty big into gaming over at my house -- our console set-up includes the both generations of the Xbox, not one but TWO PS2's (one for the living room, one for the bedroom), a Dell XPS with a wide-screen monitor (for PC gaming), a Nintendo Gamecube, a Nintendo 64, an SNES, and a Gameboy -- oh, and possibly a Sony PSP floating around somewhere. Our 50" big-screen is optimized for the best gaming experience, with surround-sound Bose speakers and wireless networking.

So...why did it take over a year for us to finally buy a Wii? And despite searching every local EB Games and Amazon.com listing, why can't I buy a Nintendo DS Lite anywhere anymore?

The Nintendo Wii shortage is now notorious. As much as the company has tried to increase production, it is still almost impossible to find a console sitting on a shelf at your local video game retailer. Some claim that the shortage is intentional, but it's starting to make less and less sense given the demand and the willingness of buyers to cough up extra cash for bundled versions and eBay auctions. This holiday season, Nintendo set up a rain-check system whereby anybody who wanted a Wii was given a raincheck with the guarantee of a Wii by the end of January -- which is how we finally got our hands on a machine (and the wait time was surprisingly short, a month earlier than the "end-of-January" date we were promised). So -- what's the deal, Nintendo?

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Contrast [the Wii] with the just-released PlayStation 3, which -- contrary to all our expectations -- is starting the New Year with far higher availability than in previous months. Online, consoles are readily available with and sometimes without bundles, and they're turning up in plentiful supply at the usual chain stores. In other words, it looks like the PS3 drought might be already over. But in spite of the higher profile consoles, the DS has been outselling absolutely everything else for months. Back in November -- the most recent month for which US sales figures are available -- almost a million DSs made their way home with eager purchasers, easily making it the biggest selling console that month. It does well back home in Japan, too: it shifted nearly half a million DSs in the week of December 18-24, more than three times the sales of its closest rival, Sony's PSP.

Although the hard-core gamers complain about the Wii's inferior graphics and limited game library, more open minded consumers (like myself) are enjoying the console's accessibility and many opportunities for a personalized online experience. Wii Play is a solid game that might even help you lose weight -- and hopes are high that Wii Fit will also deliver the goods for a more general audience (like women and older gamers).

The Nintendo DS is, frankly, pretty awesome -- portable, practical battery life, sleek design, and great games that appeal to a wide demographic. I'm pretty much obsessed with the Brain Age game, "My Spanish Coach" (they have a French version as well), and The New York Times Crosswords. And if you're a more traditional gamer, franchises like Final Fantasy and Zelda have been beautifully transferred to the hand-held. I got one for Christmas, and now I want to invest in another one for my boyfriend, so he won't keep stealing my BrainAge every morning. But the only place you can find them is EBay -- of course -- for a solid $50 mark-up. My local EB Games admitted straight up that they only have a few pink versions in stock (not the right choice for a dude), and they have no idea when the next shipment is due in. What's the serious gamer to do?

A very basic economic analysis shows that Nintendo is kind of getting screwed on this one -- they're not seeing any of the profits from online auctions, and the console shortage is beginning to irritate buyers more than it excites them. Clearly demand is there, so why is supply so shoddy? Nintendo could easily mark up the price on both the Wii and the DS, and yet both machines are still an extraordinary bargain compared to the other consoles on the market -- that is, if you can even find one.

I just put down a cool $200 for a Nintendo DS Lite on eBay. I know I'm getting screwed -- but so is Nintendo. What's a gamer to do?