Sometime late last night, I had the opportunity to report on Nintendo’s Japan-facing conference regarding the Wii U’s price and availability in that region. An announcement like that is usually the last piece of major PR a company can send out prior to a console’s launch. Instead, I went to sleep. Hours after the American version of the conference had ended, I woke up, read the facts, and then dove back into bed. So now, even more hours later, I’m finally writing this and am struggling to come to a conclusion about Nintendo’s newest console: a long-in-coming reaction to falling Wii sales.
If you’re reading this, you probably know all the details, but I’ll brush over them quickly. The console will launch in two flavors: a $299.99 white console with 8GB internal storage, a single GamePad controller, and HDMI cable as well as a $349.99 “deluxe kit” that includes a black console with 32GB internal storage, all that previous stuff, stands for the controller and console, and Nintendo Land, a game that just about put us to sleep at their E3 conference. The console will be made available in the US first on November 18th ahead of a European launch on November 30th and a December 8th launch in Japan. I’m just going to make a list of observations.
Nintendo’s Launching Alone. It’s been sixteen years since they’ve last done this, namely with the Nintendo 64. But at that time they had a powerful villain in Sony’s new PlayStation, launched a year and a half earlier in Japan, that now sucked up Nintendo’s once-formidable SNES crowd. They just couldn’t compete. In 2001, they launched in America three days after the original Xbox and worldwide, only fell behind the Xbox by that slim a margin. In 2006, they launched two days after the PlayStation 3 and remained sold out for nearly three years, primarily because their console, a disruptor, was tackling new ground. But now the Wii U is launching alone and they have the entire stage to themselves and our mostly-undivided attention. But will they use this to their advantage, because…
Will Wii U Xbox 360 Or Will It Dreamcast? The Wii U is launching at least a year before its competition with the remarkable distinction that it is the first major hardware of the “eighth” generation of consoles. History has generally favored the console that’s launched first. The NES dominated, the Sega Genesis would’ve dominated had they not shifted to expensive add-ons that scared their audience, but then we begin to see where history was not so kind. The Dreamcast had a launch advantage over the PlayStation 2, but they were already stretched too thin financially to maintain the console, even if it had succeeded. When the PlayStation 2 arrived after Sega’s last console, it mopped the floor with it. The Wii enjoyed similar success years later, but it wasn’t really competing for the same dollar as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were in 2006.
But here’s the issue: Nintendo is launching a $300 console with an unusually strong lineup a year before the competition. And why is the Wii U’s launch lineup strong? Because they’re getting many of the current generation’s best games. Assassin’s Creed 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Mass Effect 3, and Darksiders II are some of the console’s hard-hitting launch title for core gamers, a crowd they’ve ignored for years, but core gamers are already going to own those games and the consoles they’re going to buy them on. What core gamer is going to spend $500+ on a Wii U setup, games and accessories included, when they know that true next-generation hardware is only a year away? Even if Nintendo makes some dollars off this setup, undoubtedly fewer than what they made on the original Wii.
The Wii U Isn’t A Disruptor Anymore. Nintendo can’t imitate the Wii’s success because the Wii operated on a different set of rules than the others. Even with a year advantage, what’s going to happen when the competition does arrive with far more features, far flashier games, and hardware better equipped for future growth? Nintendo’s playing it safer than they have since the GameCube and I believe that history won’t be in their favor. I generally shrug off the advise of Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, whose advise leans between broadly obvious and completely wrong, but today he tweeted that the Wii U would probably see a price drop in 2013. I have to say I agree with him. With new hardware probably going to cost the same and current hardware already costing the same with better support and thousands more games, the Wii U is in a tough spot.
Still, we’ll snap one up when we can and provide the appropriate coverage. Just, y’know, we gotta take a nap first.