Beeping and squawking like an arcade, knee-high robotic forklifts rolled in marked lanes at Nintendo’s North Bend distribution center, calling to mind the turtles from the company’s iconic Super Mario Brothers video game. The massive facility bustles with activity – human and robot – as the company prepares for the Nov. 19 unveiling of its new video game system, Wii (pronounced “wee”), and the upcoming Christmas shopping season.
The console is the largest game console launch in at least a decade, with approximately 4 million Wii systems expected to be shipped globally during the six weeks between the Nov. 19 American launch and the end of 2006.
Instead of relying on highly realistic graphics like its competitors – Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 – the Wii innovates with it’s intuitive remote controller. It also sells for less than half the cost of the other systems and more than twice as many will be ready by launch date.
The facility in North Bend is the distribution hub for all North American stores.
“It’s pretty much everything that happens here in North America,” said Amber McCollom, Nintendo spokes-person.
The Wii consoles, controllers and games are manufactured in Japan, the company’s home country, and are shipped around the world. The Nov. 19 launch in the Americas is followed by a Dec. 2 Japanese launch and Dec. 8 European launch. The pre-packaged consoles arrive at the North Bend facility on large pallets in semi after semi.
The boxes are unloaded and stacked in seemingly endless aisles by employees wielding electric pallet jacks and forklifts for later distribution to major retailers across the continent.
Other workers sort the consoles for distribution to midsize retailers using automated roller tracks, or by hand for smaller shops.
Meanwhile, other employees package game controllers, while machines package the new video games. Within five weeks of the launch, Nintendo will have 62 new and classic games available. Among them are new installments of the company’s franchise series: Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda and others.
“Zelda’s a huge franchise for us,” McCollom said as a series of robotic arms quickly boxed and wrapped a moving line of the fantasy game.
Not only are the new systems and games being handled at the North Bend distribution center, but the company’s existing Nintendo DS, Game Boy and GameCube systems and games are also expected to be hot holiday sellers, according to company information.
To handle the volume, the company has hired 300 temporary contract employees who work side by side with the 140 regular employees at the North Bend facility.