LOS ANGELES -- The unveiling of Nintendo's long-awaited 64-bit game system generated lots of excitement among retailers at last month's Electronic Entertainment Exposition here. But product availability for rental will be severely constrained in the fourth quarter when the company supports the launch with a huge promotional blitz. "It's a big improvement over what we have now," Clifford Feiock, video coordinator at Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis, told SN during the show. "The big question is whether they will release it so that we can all have something to rent." Nintendo 64 will arrive in stores Sept. 30, said Howard Lincoln, chairman of Nintendo of America, Redmond, Wash., during a press conference prior to the E3 show, May 16 to 18. The hardware unit will be priced at $249.95, with no software included. There will be eight software titles available at launch, including "Super Mario 64," which impressed many attending E3 with its 3D effects. The good news is that the quality of the graphics and game play of the new system is a significant advance over existing game platforms, noted industry observers. The bad news for supermarkets hoping to rent the games is that hardware and software will be in short supply for at least the first six months of distribution.
All the hype preceding the Nintendo system introduction left supermarket racker Gregg Wright, president of Video III, Orem, Utah, somewhat disappointed with the end product. "I was expecting a little bit more. But as far as speed of access and movement, and being
able to change perspective, they have done an excellent job," he said. It appears that the only video rental retailer guaranteed Nintendo 64 products at this point is Blockbuster Entertainment, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Blockbuster is a cross-promotional partner for the product launch campaign along with Kellogg USA, Battle Creek, Mich. No decisions have been made yet on allocation of products, said George Harrison, Nintendo's vice president of marketing. "We want to make sure we get it out broadly enough. We are not going to limit it to a few accounts," he said. "But rental will play an important role." Blockbuster will rent game hardware and software, and participate in a contest involving the Nickelodeon cable network, he said. Blockbuster and Nickelodeon are both divisions of Viacom, New York. The Kellogg promotion "will involve their top brands and use Nintendo 64 units as the lead prizes" in a sweepstakes, said Harrison. Total spending on the Nintendo 64 launch will be $50 million, with Nintendo spending $20 million in advertising, said Peter Main, executive vice president of sales and marketing. Kellogg will spend $7 million to $10 million on its tie-in promotion, said Harrison. Nintendo will put about one million hardware units and three million software units into the U.S. market by the end of its fiscal year March 30, he said. About half will be available for sale before Christmas, he said.