TOKYO - Nintendo said Friday it will replace 3.2 million straps for its popular Wii computer game controllers after receiving a rash of reports that the device flew out of the hands of players.
The voluntary exchange program is a bittersweet development for Nintendo - a costly hitch in its three-way battle with Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, but also confirmation of its enthusiastic reception worldwide.
The Wii's signature wand-like remote controller is used to mimic the motions of a tennis racket, golf club or sword, depending on the game. But soon after the Wii went on sale last month, people started reporting cases of the controller's strap breaking as they waved it about vigorously.
Nintendo will allow customers to exchange the old straps, which have a 0.024 inch diameter, for a beefed up strap that has a diameter of 0.04 inch, company spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa said. The worldwide exchange is expected to cost the company several million dollars.
"People tended to get a bit excited, especially while playing Wii sports, and in some cases the control would come loose from their hands," Minagawa said. "The new strap will be almost twice as thick."
The control wand is one of the unique features of the Wii, which Nintendo introduced as its counterchallenge in a fierce competition with Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360.
Nintendo is hoping the easy-to-control wand will appeal to a wider crowd of players - not just young men.
Customers can exchange the straps through their local Nintendo service centers, Minagawa said.
Wii's debuts were soon followed by reports of smashed glass and damaged television sets, while another fan apparently sprained and cut a finger on her right hand while trying to rally for a comeback victory in Wii baseball.
But the offbeat stories of Wii controllers going ballistic haven't hurt sales.
The market research company NPD Group estimated 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 amid widespread shortages.
Nintendo has delivered more machines so far to consumers than Sony has, partly because of Sony's production problems.
Nintendo has shipped about 400,000 Wii machines in Japan and more than 600,000 in North America. Sony readied just 100,000 PS3 machines for the Japanese launch and 400,000 consoles for its U.S. debut.
Sony has promised 2 million PS3s worldwide by year's end, while Nintendo is targeting 4 million Wii units in the same period.
Selling machines in high volumes is crucial in the gaming business because hot-selling formats attract software companies to make more games, which in turn boost console sales.
Separately Friday, Nintendo also said it would replace 200,000 AC adapters for its DS and DS Lite consoles in Japan. Nintendo said the move would not affect adapters overseas, and officials expected only a small impact on earnings.