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Feature: The Magic of Console Launches

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

It’s all about day one

In the coming weeks, as we build up to the excitement and madness of E3 2012, we’re going to reflect on some major Nintendo console launches from the past. We won’t necessarily cover them all in this series, but we’ll be looking at some notable console arrivals and thinking about why these system launches were exciting, disappointing or somewhere in-between. One thing is obvious: there’s arguably nothing quite as exciting for a gamer as a brand new console being booted up for the first time. It’s new, it’s better, and it’s full of potential.

With more details of Wii U on the way, and hopefully news on what launch titles are definitely going to be available on day one, we’re hoping that it will be a console launch to remember. Let’s break down a few key areas that contribute to the best console launches, though we should say that Nintendo hasn’t always successfully delivered on all of these: we’re looking at you, 3DS.

At least one ‘killer app’ that everyone wants

This is easier said than done, it must be said, but having a must-have launch title is one of, if not the most important part of a new console making an impact. It can be a title with a familiar mascot or even an interesting new IP, with enough innovation and improvement over its predecessors to show off the capabilities of the system. It’s rare that a launch title achieves both of these targets, simply because early releases on a new console have often had a limited development time and possibly haven’t had the opportunity to make full use of the device’s capabilities. Video game development is a complex business, and it’s a tough demand to make the most of a system before its potential has been fully realised.

Often, a launch day smash hit is a compromise of innovation, working within limitations and finding a definitive hook to grab attention. Super Mario Bros. is one example, though some may argue that its U.S. release date is a mystery, but assuming it was a launch title in some form it did meet all three criteria. It represented, arguably, a leap forward in the side-scrolling platforming genre, grabbed attention with stellar gameplay, but also ultimately didn’t make the most of the hardware, with relatively modest graphics and an inability to move left. The NES was technically capable of so much more, yet Super Mario Bros. did enough to convince consumers of that potential.

Two other examples of killer launch titles are Super Mario 64 and Wii Sports. Both titles were revolutionary for their time: Super Mario 64 – though its console suffered from issues such as high retail prices on games — brought an unprecedented 3D experience into the home, setting the bar high for a transition from 2D sprites to 3D polygons. Wii Sports, in comparison, was remarkably low-tech in terms of presentation, but delivered a gaming experience that introduced the concept of motion controls to the mainstream. With all of these titles there was a wow factor due to exceptional game design, a revolution in graphics and game engine, or a new age of gaming controls and interaction.

Of course, it’s not always possible to make such an effective day one impression, with gamers sometimes having to settle for titles that are excellent in their own right but not necessarily memorable enough to capture the imagination. That is surely one of the greatest challenges facing Wii U.

Getting the price right

The price-point of a new console is always important, as it’s vital for Nintendo to do well financially, but equally crucial that consumers are willing to pay the necessary amount. It’s a tough balance to find, as early life-cycle manufacturing costs make a high retail price likely, but flat sales mean that, ultimately, a console is in danger of failing.

Nintendo’s two most recent consoles provide the perfect examples of the importance of value and pricing. The Wii was modest technologically, but utilised its strengths to grab attention while being priced lower than its powerful HD rivals. On paper it couldn’t compete with Xbox 360 or PS3, but its concept won through, while consumers were no doubt attracted by the lower burden on their wallets. For Nintendo fans keen to wield – or waggle – a sword in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, they could do so at a reasonable price. For the large group of less experienced gamers intrigued by Wii Sports, meanwhile, it was a low entry-cost into a gaming hobby. Whatever gaming demographic you were in it was cheaper and, arguably, more interesting and exciting to invest in Wii when it launched.

Whatever gaming demographic you were in it was cheaper and, arguably, more interesting and exciting to invest in Wii when it launched.

As for 3DS, most are now familiar with the woes of its launch. A strong start quickly tailed off to an appalling return of 750,000 worldwide sales in a three month period. There were a number of issues, including the lack of a ‘killer app’, but the biggest problem was, in all likelihood, the price. Outside of loyal and enthusiastic day one buyers, the common consumer seemed to look at the 3DS and question whether it offered sufficient value at $250; perhaps a sign of changing times as Wii had launched at that same price. Much has been done to reverse its fortunes, but the most headline grabbing action was a drastic price cut. On day one it was expensive, under-cooked in terms of features and lacking must-have games: it was poor value. That’s now changed with improvements in all areas, but with these lessons and the current global economy Nintendo may be wise to price the Wii U competitively, to draw attention from rivals and convince gamers that it’s offering a price worth paying.

Showing what the system can do

The final area we’d like to highlight as vital to a console launch is also the one that we, as gamers, possibly enjoy the most: hype. As gaming enthusiasts here at Nintendo Life we will happily watch trailers and read details of upcoming releases all day long. Not only do these tidbits of information raise excitement for what’s on the way, but they're also an important way to show the public why they should be paying attention.

E3 plays a big part in this due to its role as a pivotal annual event in the gaming industry. Nintendo has often used its own conference to unveil consoles, big-name titles and future plans, all designed to excite fans and interest onlookers. The major challenge is not only showing off and making the upcoming console and its games look good, but also clearly communicating what it is that makes it special. The Wii U unveiling at E3 2011 seemed to provoke a mixed response, for example, with some briefly confused about whether the tablet controller itself was the console. It's not all about E3, of course, and Nintendo can utilise various outlets in the media to spread the message and make sure that its next big launch is on people's minds.

We’ll touch on the marketing and build-up to other consoles in the features over the coming weeks, but in the case of Wii U it’s important that Nintendo uses the next few months to give gamers of all kinds a clear view of why they should want the console. Trailers, press releases and advertisements should all make it clear what the system is capable of doing, why it’s different from its competitors and why we should care.

Console launches come along every five to six years, depending on whether you count the various DS iterations or not, but when they do arrive they have a unique power to hype up millions of gamers all at once. Time will tell whether the launch of Wii U will be accompanied by frenzied media coverage and midnight queues, but we look forward to being there when it happens.

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User Comments (48)

NImH

#3

NImH said:

I only hope for an appropriate number of consoles released at a variety of outlets. I really had to hustle and work backdoor deals to get my Wii, since I couldn't camp outside of the store.
I guess I'd "settle" for a Christmas day arrival if it came to that.
"Nintendo Sixty-Foooooooouuuuuuuurrrrrrrr!!!!"

rjejr

#4

rjejr said:

What made Wii Sports (and hence the Wii) so must have was including Wii Sports in the box. We played that for a year before we bought anything else. I know this is also the downfall of the system for the hardcore audience but if N wants 95 million soccer moms to upgrade their system they need to put something in the box that makes use of the pad. Hopefully something better than that montage from last year of star throwing and hide and seek. Though hide and seek online w/ voice and video chat might work.

Emaan

#6

Emaan said:

Really wish I could get the Wii U at launch this year, there's just so much hype! E3 will definitely make the hype even more crazy :p

TrueWiiMaster

#7

TrueWiiMaster said:

"It’s all about day one"
So true. The Wii was the first system I ever got on launch day, and I waited in line for hours to get a pre-order for it, and every minute was enjoyable. Between the anticipation for Nintendo's new system and the simple joy of hanging out with like-minded consumers, it was just a fun experience. Even when I got my Wii with no games due to low funding, the "magic" of buying at launch made it all worth it. Of course, soon after that I discovered my Wii had the internet bug that affected some launch models, but I'd do it all the same given another chance. Hopefully I'll be able to get a Wii U at launch too, maybe with a couple awesome Nintendo games (Pikmin 3 please).

Alienfish

#8

Alienfish said:

I tell you one thing, I'm going to be wearing a diaper during the E3 Nintendo conference. I might need a doctor on standby as well.

CanisWolfred

#10

CanisWolfred said:

Good article, hit all the main points. For me, it's always about that One game I really want to play...which for me, usually doesn't come out until at least a year into its lifecycle, and sometimes much more. I already know that one game I really want to play on the Wii U, and I know I'm not alone. I do hope Nintendo's smart enough to make it.

Kirk

#13

Kirk said:

Wii U Perfect Launch imo:

Release the console in both black and white colors (matte but smooth finish, not shiny), with one amazing true next-gen Mario platform game (2.5D but done right and a true sequel/successor to Super Mario World and/or Yoshi's Island) and one mini-game compilation type thing to show of all the Wii U's capabilities in a way that casuals will like (Maybe even a Wario Ware game or something like that). Also secure few high quality third party games should be available at launch too, from known and popular franchises.

A launch price of sub £200 in the UK. If it's going to cost more then also have some kind of alternative subscription model; maybe where you get the console for free, as well as free access to all the digital download software, for a £10-£20 a month contract. Something like a modern phone contract or similar to what OnLive is offering.

Make sure all the online services, like the eShop and Internet Browser etc, are all fully setup and ready for launch.

Don't have anything about the system that's obviously gimped or lacking, such as missing obvious hardware/software features or services, that's going to cause disappointment among consumers and especially core gamers and early adopters.

Have a creative, fun and exciting ad campaign that really sells the system, the whole Nintendo ethos and just makes everyone want to play it.

Ultimately, if they follow this simple business mantra and they're sorted:

"Satisfy the customer, at a profit." - Kirk 1994

Pretty much that.

HaNks

#15

HaNks said:

UK price likely to be closer to £300 than £200 methinks. £250 would be just about right, any more and it's gonna run a lot including games and extra accessories etc...too much for most.

bring on e3!

hydeks

#16

hydeks said:

ya but they said that they wouldn't announce the price and launch date at E3 but I too want one.

drumsandperc92

#17

drumsandperc92 said:

For me its all about the launch titles. I didn't buy any of the current gen systems at launch due to lack of titles that grabbed my interest.
I got a 360 and Wii a year after they each came out, once some good games that I wanted to play were available.
The issue I foresee with Wii U is the rumour surrounding the Mario title they are planning to launch the system with. If it's another entry into NSMB, only a few months after NSMB 2 comes out on 3ds, I'm not so sure that I'd be so eager to get the system right away.
If it launches with that, Pikmin 3, and perhaps either a new IP or something else, ok, than I'd want to probably get one at launch.
But another NSMB isn't going to do it for me.
I'd end up holding out a while until the games I want are there.
It isn't even so much a matter of price. I paid $350 for my pretty crappy X360 with a 20gb hdd and the original chip/drive set up that makes it overheat & get the RRoD. But hey it still lets me play all the games I want.
and i got the Wii at full price too, before it had any cuts.
If Wii U cost $400 i'd still buy it day one if it had the right titles alongside of it.
I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

Dashtag

#18

Dashtag said:

i'll wait for Christmas for my Wii U... if I get it day one I won't have any money. It'lll be a hard battle between my sanity and buying it or not.

sinalefa

#20

sinalefa said:

I am eager to see the launch titles. Not really interested in another NSMB and Pikmin 3 is not a system seller for me. I am actually more excited for being able to play Xenoblade Chronicles, as my Wii is unable to read it.

My experience with the N64 showed me that a single game, no matter how awesome it is, will not be enough. I played Mario 64 four times and I got bored of the system after that.

I see the Wii U having a bunch of demos, apps and minigames in the box, like the 3DS, but not a proper game included.

ChosenOne25

#23

ChosenOne25 said:

Really looking forward to this one. It's Nintendo's 1st step into the HD era. Pricing and features have to be spot on to compete with competitors. I doubt casuals will buy the system, therefore sales will most likely be much less. Nintendo this time around will heavily target the core gamer market, so it really needs to make unique selling points. The controller looks great, now we only need to have a solid launch line-up and proper e-shop to boot. If price is right and I at least want 1 game, I will buy!

hendie001

#24

hendie001 said:

when i get my wii u will i be able to plug my sd card s from my wii into it and play all the games i have downloaded for wii ? i recently tried my sd card in a different wii i bought as a spare and found out the games don t work . wtf i payed a lot of money on these games and now im stuck using the wii i bought on day one launch @#$#@ . what if my wii stops working . am i stuck with a 800 dollar sd card that does not work . : <

Minny

#25

Minny said:

I am not too worried about sales of Nintendo's first HD system coming out this fall. In 2006, the amount of HD TVs in households was relatively small. Today, that is all they sell in stores, and most people have a HD TV in their home.

The key really comes down to Nintendo addressing the issues it has had in the past. Namely, on-line gaming, which is much more important outside of Japan due to the popularity of a genre like FPS. While the price will most likely not be released June 5, they need to be specific about the power under the hood, as many 3rd parties have offered differing views so far.

theblackdragonAdmin

#27

theblackdragon said:

@hendie001: They came up with a system for transferring your licenses from a DSi to your 3DS that works pretty well, IMO — i'd imagine they'll do the same for the Wii U. we can hope, anyway :3

lanabanana

#28

lanabanana said:

Lol, I was watching E3's 2011 presentation earlier today. It's funny how before cool games come out (like, when they're first announced) people make such a big deal out of them and act like they're from another planet or something like that .XD And then when they come out , they're the most normal thing ever. XD

Nin-freak

#29

Nin-freak said:

$329.99 for the Wii U console, and $59.99 for a second Wii U tablet. If they do this, I think I'll die!

Ren

#30

Ren said:

I hope they can re-capture the magic of the Wii launch. The 3DS was pretty lackluster.
The Wii really broke new ground with the accessible controller that diid what it was advertised to do (sure we all complained later that it wasn't good enough, but it was sure amazing at first to add motion control to gaming that was really responsive for a first attempt)
The tablet thing is obviously going into everything right now, so there needs to be some heavily advertised innovative new stuff, and for now it seems like it's just another tablet thing. The pack-in game may make or break this launch like it always does.

I'm going to get it anyway, as a superfan, but everyone else and their mother? I don't see it happening yet. Zelda HD, Metroid HD, Starfox HD, Mario HD, even Wii sports HD, . That might knock people over if a couple of those are ready at launch and one is a pack-in. (NEW games, that is, not remakes)

Ren

#31

Ren said:

Seems like the boldest thing they could do right now is launch a brand new IP as a pack in that uses the tablet in a cool way. Something really weird and original from Miyamoto worthy of many sequels. All the hardware stuff has been done; surprise us!

Ducutzu

#33

Ducutzu said:

The problem with Nintendo launches is that each successive iteration of its hardware is designed to appeal to a slightly wider audience than that of the previous console. This includes the GameCube, with its big green "A" button.

However, the gaming press and those who are going to buy the console at launch is made almost exclusively by enthusiastic gamers which prefer long games with plenty of content and hair-pulling difficulty. They will invariably claim that "Nintendo lost it".

This happened with the GameCube, the DS, the Wii and the 3DS. The number one hater against Nintendo at launch will be web sites like this one, and all the disappointed self-professed "biggest Nintendo fans".

Yet, if Nintendo launches the console with games that cater to this hardcore audience, they will fail to appeal to their intended audience. So Nintendo has to launch the console with quirky, strange games that use the particularities of the hardware... while appealing to a larger audience... while not spending three years to develop the game (which means short games).

Just wait, and you'll see how Nintendo Life gives a 6 to most Wii U launch games, complaining about their lack of contents, bla bla bla.

Mercury9

#34

Mercury9 said:

Nah. That won't be happening and exactly what's the problem appealing to a wider audience? Sony and MS have done exactly that in recent years just to try and keep up with Nintendo by means of motion control and (ugh...:P) their stale take on casual games.

With the eShop/Shop channel, Virtual Console, WiiWare, hundreds of Wii games right from the start going hand in hand with Wii U games, if Nintendo get enough 3rd party support I could see this really damaging one of the other wonderboxes if it takes (hopefully!).

You wanna play Nintendo, you buy Nintendo. For everything else you must jump ship but with fingers crossed....let's hope this will be the end of that.

(IMO Goodbye Playstation)

arrmixer

#35

arrmixer said:

great article, also enjoyed all the comments as well...

as long as my financials are correct.. I plan to get one this year... just the thought of playing xenoblade on my tablet at any time I feel like is awesome!!

DerpSandwich

#36

DerpSandwich said:

It doesn't matter how much money it costs, or how long I have to wait in line for one...

If Pikmin 3 is a launch title, it's happening. Even if I have to sell a kidney, it's happening.

SaSoBe

#37

SaSoBe said:

I was so sad I missed the launch of 3DS. I had one booked at my local GAME, but then it turned out I was in Brussels on the launch day, and the day after. Had to call them to put mine away for a few days.

Onett

#38

Onett said:

I'm still waiting for my 3D Pokemon game that builds on Colosseum and Gale of Darkness. I'll be camping outside of my local GameStop for the Wii U with my fingers crossed until the day it finally happens.

Mercury9

#39

Mercury9 said:

I'm not so fussed with Pokemon as I once was but I would love to see eShop receive the old titles.Give me Pokemon Yellow for download and I'll require nappies! As for new Pokemon the very least Poke Comp and Gamefreak could give us is that Pokemon B&W 2 despite being on DS :P be in widescreen when played on 3DS and not displayed as is standard for DS.

It's a real irritant of mine that new DS releases don't have a widescreen option to be better displayed on a 3DS and I don't mean any stretched nonsense. I mean, come on for Ganon's sake! I'd also like to see a similar set up when playing Wii games on Wii U with upscaling to near Wii U standards being possible. Maybe even re-release Wii classics in HD? I'm looking at you Galaxy, even though your are already gorgeous.

But whatever the console there is something magical about finally seeing this object for real that you have been reading and dreaming about for so long. Just like a freshly made bed, the moment you open that crisp, robot packaged box can never be replicated!

That moment when you've finished glaring at the box, power up the system, ignore the instruction booklets and pull an all nighter are collectively the best part for me when a console crash lands under my TV.

The excitement for me is cranked up even more because of that controller. I simply can't wait to see what it can do and finally, I'll get to see all my cherished childhood heroes displayed in glorious HD and deservedly so.

It lasts a mere moment but that first glimpse of the machine you have lusted after is a moment that is truly something magical. :)

Lalivero

#40

Lalivero said:

@Onett You got that right, been waiting years now for another entry into the XD/Colosseum series. Would be nice to have an even more expansive story and better Battle mode, WiiU should be more than capable of pulling off such a thing.

Can't wait to see some potential overall pulled off.

Gamer83

#41

Gamer83 said:

Aside from the N64, Dreamcast, Wii, 3DS and PS Vita, I haven't really gotten too excited over system launches. Eventhough I gamed a lot on NES I was only 8 when the SNES launched and even younger when Genesis came out so I didn't really get amped up over those launches, though had I been older, I'm sure those would've been systems I tried to get day one.

I'm looking forward to E3 and any other conference afterwards to get news on Wii U but I can't say yet I'm as interested in the machine as I was the Wii. Of course, I'll still get one because there is no way I'm passing up Super Mario, Metroid, Mario Kart, Smash Bros. and Zelda in HD, I just hope one of those is there right from launch day. The $250 price point and Zelda: Twilight Princess was what made me go with the Wii at launch over PS3, I'm interested to see what games will be available from the start this time. 3DS was slow out of the gate and I think the lack of a Mario game was the biggest reason.

kyuubikid213

#42

kyuubikid213 said:

I don't care what games come out for launch because Nintendo will make some incredible and perfect games down the line. Also, Nintendo puts a decent game with the system.

I want the SYSTEM to be perfect. I got the Wii without any games (besides Wii Sports) and I enjoyed that and Mii Maker for the first 6 months. I got the 3DS without games and enjoyed Face Raiders. The Wii was (in my opinion) perfect at launch. The 3DS, not so much, but it was better than I thought it would be (I went straight from DS Lite to 3DS).

SteveW

#43

SteveW said:

memories of the Wii launch wasn't as fun for me... Walmart made us wait outside for the launch and I waited for 13 hours and it was freezing, I would have brought a better coat but never thought they would do that... and I got my Wii shortly after midnight but barely got to play it because the system update on the first night took hours...

Whopper744

#44

Whopper744 said:

The Wii Launch (along with all the past great systems) are pretty good memories for me.
For the Wii, playing Twilight Princess (which is still a great game in my opinion), and Wii Sports like crazy.

NintyMan

#45

NintyMan said:

Hopefully Nintendo will have a good line-up of games all set and ready to release alongside the console, but it wouldn't matter one way or the other because I should get this for Christmas. I think E3 will shed a lot of light and get the hype started. We know so little about the console after all.

BulbasaurusRex

#46

BulbasaurusRex said:

The only two times I've gotten a system within the launch window, I've been disappointed with the launch lineup. The Wii only had Wii Sports, DBZ: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, and Super Mario Bros. (on the VC) that I found interesting. Of course, the 3DS was even worse with just SSF4:3D as the only game I cared about. At least they both had backwards compatability to help out.

kdognumba1

#47

kdognumba1 said:

I'm really looking forward to E3. I have a feeling all 3 companies are going to come out the gate swinging. Really want to see the direction both Sony and Microsoft will be taking their next consoles and I can't wait to hear more on Nintendo Network and how they're going to change up the online experience for the Wii U and possibly the 3DS.

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