This Friday sees the European launch of the first flight into “Next Gen” gaming, with Nintendo’s Wii U hitting our stores; In my opinion, the console hasn’t been particularly well marketed over here, but, if the US sales figures of 40,000 units in it’s first 10 days are anything to go by, The Wii U is on par with the Wii’s 2006 launch, in terms of sales figures at least.
Obviously, as a huge fan of gaming, game culture, and everything that surrounds it, I spend a massive amount of time dissecting the gaming media – and yet I’m confused by the Wii U. That’s not a good sign.
A large proportion of people outside of the gaming bubble don’t know the Wii U exists, and those who do, are, like myself, confused by it. Once we get past the “is it a new console, or is it an add-on tablet controller thingy?” there’s still one-hundred-and-one questions to be answered.
Who is the Wii U for?
One minute I hear it’s a branch away from the Wii’s family friendly approach, the next I see a TV spot featuring four player Mario games and giggling schoolchildren.
So, it’s gaming for everybody? Is the Wii U supposed to appeal to everyone, core & casual?
Targeted that way or not, I don’t think the Wii U is for me. I have very little personal interest in the idea of so-called “proper” games on Nintendo’s unit, I have my PlayStation for that; I have my Wii for the Mario and Dance games I can’t get elsewhere. Thing is, I’m not writing this to talk about my personal concerns, or buying choices this Christmas – neither of those are particularly interesting. What is, however, is the confusion that will hit retail in the next few weeks, and my genuine concern as to how this will affect (primarily young) gamers, rather than Nintendo.
The Wii is a still a behemoth of casual gaming, and no doubt will be dusted off for multitudes of Just Dance With Gran tournaments this time next month. It still has a very prominent face at retail, taking up more shelf space in my local GAME than PC, the DS and Sony’s PlayStation Vita combined. This Friday, when the Wii U Launches, Nintendo’s presence at retail will double, and parents with mince-pie smeared wish-lists in hand will have the overwhelming prospect of twice as many games, bundles, and price points to confront.
To make matters worse, suppose you’re leaving your Christmas shopping another week, and head into town on the 7th of December: according to various sources – although unconfirmed by Nintendo as yet – this date sees yet another hardware revision release in The Wii Mini.
So that’s the Wii, Wii Mini & Wii U – Three different machines, two differing generations, multiple SKUs, but only one name, and at a casual glance, one product design.
A console redesign at the later end of it’s life isn’t unusual. Both Sony and Microsoft have recently put out new iterations of their machines, and the Mini isn’t he Wii’s first relaunch. A slightly smaller Wii without GameCube compatibility quietly started appearing on shelves just over a year ago, presumably in a bid to combat the piracy which ran rife with the original model.
I’m making a few assumptions here, but Nintendo surely must be planning to advertise the Wii Mini, and shelf real-estate for the original Wii will still be significant. These advertisements will of course need to be run alongside the existing Wii U marketing campaign – with that itself being rather mediocre and lackluster in content, it begs the question – In the run up to Christmas, alongside their new console, is a redesign of the original Wii really the best choice?
Like the Wii before it, the Wii U is, pre-launch, pretty much a sell out. Many places have stock to fulfill pre-orders, but no more. If you’re hoping to walk into GAME or Toys R Us and pick one up, you’re going to be disappointed.
Furthermore, one of the biggest games franchises at the moment, and sure to have phenomenal Christmas sales is Skylanders. The recently released sequel to Spyro’s Adventure, Skylanders Giants, will not be available at the Wii U’s launch. Of course, the console’s backwards compatibility mean the U will play Wii software – but when it comes to retail, surely a cheaper – and more importantly, readily available – Wii or potential Wii Mini console will pick up some of the sales the Wii U can’t. If little Jimmy wants Skylanders, Santa has to deliver.
The Wii’s stock troubles were widely reported as being a clever marketing scheme. In basic business terms, shortages make any product more desirable. To those unaware of figures, a sold out sign creates the illusion of popular demand and if Nintendo can trickle out the console whilst maintaining interest, the Wii U will secure pre-orders for shipment-after-shipment of units, well into the new year. This crucially spreads the flow of hardware further into Nintendo’s launch window, which brings the promise of a much wider array of games, whilst also allowing developers a little more time to iron out any teething troubles, based upon feedback from the often critical early adopters.
Wii U itself is still a confusing prospect to me, but Nintendo sure do have some shrewd folks behind their marketing.
Are Nintendo hoping to cash in by selling Mini’s as a cheap and cheerful stop-gap until more U’s are available in 4-6 months? I suspect so, and fair play to them, but this does lead us to less a case of “We wish you a Merry Christmas…” and more “Wii wish you a confused Christmas, and an unhappy new year”.