Sony claimed to have had 400,000 systems available to North America at launch. That number is highly suspicious based on the numbers allocated to various large retailers. GameCrazy's 800 stores received a total of 800 consoles. One per store? Really?!? Yes, really. My local GameCrazy only receive one. Fred Meyer, a large NW department/grocery store has 85 stores. They received a total of 412 PS3s for their stores. Locally, each Fredy Meyer had 4 consoles (they were supposed to receive 12). At EBs and Gamestops, we know allocations were halved, if not cut to a third. I was #6 out of 12 pre-orders at Babbages (EB Games) and I didn't make the cut. My best guess is that Sony had about 190,000 consoles at launch.
Compare that with Nintendo...
Nintendo claimed that they would have 1 million Wiis ready for North America at launch. They delivered! The Wii was available in large quantities. The same Fred Meyer that received only 4 PS3s received 75 Wiis. At EB Games, the manager stated that they had "a ton" of systems for launch, sold out, and will be getting "a lot" more in on Friday, which he expects to sell out in an hour. Judging from various lunabeanies checking in from around the country, Targets, Best Buys, etc. had between 40 - 100 Wiis at launch and expect more weekly. Judging from the quantities, I would guess that Nintendo actually had more around the neighborhood of 1.5 million Wiis ready at launch and kept to the 1 million number just to make sure people would go out and buy it on the first day.
Due to the limited quanities of the PS3, the launch of the console did not go smoothly. How many news reports did you hear this weekend of fights, shootings, riots, police intervention, and disapointed gamers? Could have the hardcore, violent gamer, social outcast gamer stereotype fallen into a more obvious trap. The media loved it and reported bb guns as "shootings". I'm not defending anybody's actions, however, as we know, the majority of PS3 launch went fine. However, the perception is that PS3 gamers are a bunch of raving mad lunatics. More great press for Sony.
Nintendo's launch, surprise, was quite the opposite. Because there were signifcant quantities many stores did a midnight launch (they actually had consoles to sell and it was worth their time to keep the store open). The convivial atmosphere of of these launches, with people dressed as Link, Zelda, and Mario, only helps to promulgate the "family-friendly" image that Nintendo has fashioned so deftly. The mass quantity, and low price (relatively), of the consoles helps with the "accessible to everyone" strategy.
Well played Nintendo. Well played. Sony, off to your room with no dinner!