Talking Point: The Importance of the Wii U Press Event

Battle for the limelight

This Thursday’s Wii U press event is a big deal for Nintendo. Well, let’s assume it is, as a loose teaser for future reveals may cause too much fan anguish to control: we’re talking mass hysteria and riots on the streets. Joking aside, we’re 99% confident that Nintendo’s going to hit us with at least two big pieces of news — the launch date and recommended retail price for the U.S. There may be more, of course, such as details of what games are guaranteed on launch day, and if we’re lucky there’ll be a surprise or two. Beyond the actual event in New York, we also anticipate that there may be an E3-style bombardment of press releases from Nintendo of Europe, maybe even Nintendo Direct videos. It seems unlikely that the big N would leave millions of potential gamers looking in from the outside and feeling left out, not if it doesn't want to endure some backlash.

That’s the obvious stuff out of the way, but Nintendo does have a problem with scheduling. While many of us here on Nintendo Life are thinking about Thursday, technology enthusiasts are feverishly looking forward to Wednesday. Why? It’s an Apple press event, and the widespread assumption is that a new iPhone model will be confirmed, with further rumours of a mini-iPad due to be unleashed on the world. Even if Apple tech isn’t appealing to you, we suspect that you’re aware of the excitement, which borders on obsessive compulsive behaviour, of many consumers for anything new with an Apple logo on it. Let’s not forget, as well, that Apple is the biggest show in town, a technological behemoth and the most valuable company in the world.

From a PR perspective that’s a problem. Wii U's event will arrive after that Apple event, though it should still attract a fair share of press coverage if it provides the the expected details. It would be optimistic in the extreme to claim that Apple hogging the headlines the day before will have no impact, however, so that’s a circumstance that Nintendo will need to accept. That said, it shouldn’t be over-played, even if an iPad mini is unveiled at a Wii U-level price, and Nintendo still has the opportunity to grab headlines of its own. We'd expect the technology press to take a keen interest in the first new home console for over five years.

Beyond Apple, Nintendo faces challenges on Thursday that it should take on directly, such as lingering questions about the system that it can’t allow to drift around the public sphere for much longer. Speaking to gamesindustry.biz in an article on this very subject, Meelad Sadat, PR manager for thealistdaily.com, highlighted areas where he feels Wii U is weak.

As for impact, unfortunately Nintendo's introduced a piece of hardware that's only raised questions since it was announced. There are questions around the system's capabilities compared to this generation, GamePad issues and how it might slow down game performance, and of course price point. The latter comes down to what it costs to take the system home with two controllers, whether that's a GamePad and Wiimote, and a game. If that's climbing towards $400-$500, look out. If I'm a hardcore gamer, do I spend that money or wait to see what powerhouse next-gen console Sony and Microsoft are planning?

If we assume that GamePad performance isn’t going to be an issue, because we’d like to think that technical matters such as latency will be fully ironed out before launch, the price and marketing of Wii U is perhaps the biggest challenge ahead of Nintendo. One press conference won’t answer all questions or build excitement for the system on its own, of course, but it’s an opportunity to finally set a benchmark and show gamers just what kind of value is on offer. We’d suggest that value isn’t just down to how many pennies are needed to buy the system, but what comes in the box in terms of physical goods and built-in software. If Wii U arrives lacking exciting software and functionality on day one it could face the same problems as the undercooked launch day 3DS, which arrived with no eShop, amongst other things.

Nintendo ultimately needs to use this week’s event to kick-start momentum for Wii U, as news since E3 has been restricted to comments from developers and the usual range of speculation. This is a typical Nintendo tactic, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it now needs to deliver big news to attract both gamers and general consumers to the system, and in the process make it a must have item. Scott Steinberg, head of business consulting firm TechSavvy and also talking to gamesindustry.biz, has suggested that Nintendo leak some key details ahead of time to pre-empt Apple’s event, and emphasised that the company needs to hit us with important facts as well as exciting, unexpected reveals.

During the event, it's quite simple — stick to steak and potatoes, but serve up a special surprise for dessert. Which is to say it's time to talk turkey: to grab the most media attention, it's time to address consumer and media's key questions, showcase standout titles and reveal a major unforeseen announcement or two that the company's been keeping up its sleeve. Simply announcing new features, development partners and retail info alone won't be enough: This close to launch, it's time to see just what the machine has to offer and why we all can't afford not to be queueing up to buy it on day one.

Thursday will be fascinating because we’ll gain an understanding of how well Nintendo grasps the current market and its competition. Wii launched against expensive HD consoles and offered a comparatively inexpensive system with a revolutionary new control scheme. Now Wii U is arriving against the same HD competition that now retails at an affordable price, and the so-called ‘casual’ market is increasingly attracted to smartphones and tablets. If Apple unveils an iPad mini that, like the 7-inch Google Nexus tablet, is affordable, the message for Wii U has to be compelling and bang on the money. More so than ever before, and as stated by Scott Steinberg, Nintendo has to show both gamers and non-gamers alike why Wii U is different, why it’s good value and why we simply must have it when it hits stores.

It’s a big week for Nintendo, with some unfortunate competition for the headlines from the world’s most powerful technology company, but it can still seize the day. Let’s hope that Thursday’s revelations don’t disappoint.

What do you think? Are we over-playing the importance of this week’s Wii U press event, or do you agree that it’s time for Nintendo to show us all why it’s a must-have console? Let us know in the comments below.

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