Feature: Nintendo's Wii U Hype Machine
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
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Today marks the start of a major countdown for Wii U, as it's set to arrive in North American stores in just seven days; it's a major event for Nintendo, as new home consoles aren't an overly frequent occurrence. It's been six years since Wii arrived and revolutionised gaming with its focus on motion controls, and now the company will be aiming to have a similar impact with its new console. The big change this time is the introduction of the GamePad and its built-in screen, of course, though Wii U should also be the system that brings Nintendo into the modern era of online and social gaming, through Nintendo Network and Miiverse.
If there's one message that's come through loud and clear, it's that Nintendo seems keen to portray its new system as an evolution, rather than a revolution. The Wii U name is a strong indicator, while the vital role of Wii Remotes, Nunchuks and other peripherals such the Wii Balance Board show that this is an upgrade, not an entirely new era. The emphasis from Nintendo has been a mix of showing its Wii audience that this is an exciting improvement on their ageing console, while telling other gamers that this is a system that delivers online services and the hardcore, HD games that they crave.
Nintendo's marketing will no doubt go into over-drive in the approach to the Holidays and beyond, but below are some examples of the advertising and awareness-building from the company so far, and whether we think it's spread the right message.
Nintendo, perhaps influenced in part by the late-life struggles of Wii, unveiled Wii U relatively early at E3 2011. The announcement, and the concept trailer that followed, may make perfect sense to us now that we know so much about the system, but at the time caused some confusion amongst journalists and gamers. It was clear to plenty that this was a new system with a tablet-style controller, but the message in the presentation wasn't obvious enough to a number of others. Some wondered whether it was simply a Wii HD with a separate handheld also being released that would integrate with the console, and Nintendo had to spend far too long after its big reveal explaining that the controller came with the system and that, no, it's not simply Wii HD.
Nintendo took a minimal approach to providing Wii U details for practically a full year, reserving many details for E3 2012. The main presentation had some highlights, such as Shigeru Miyamoto and that Pikmin toy, and Reggie Fils-Aime being rather peculiar in the ZombiU presentation. There were some question marks around balancing, however, with Just Dance 4's Wii U demo showing identical gameplay to that already well-known from the Wii titles. Many high-profile third-party efforts were relegated to a brief sizzle reel, while the Nintendo Land demonstration rather ponderously dwelled on the Luigi's Ghost Mansion mini-game, to the point that a few members of the watching Nintendo Life team admitted to "switching off" as it went on. Then there was the big finale — some rather bland CG fireworks — which highlighted the occasional cultural rift within Nintendo; that ending would seem appropriate and fitting to a Japanese audience, but seemed peculiar to the Western audience tuning into E3.
The main presentation was a modest success, without necessarily blowing away expectations. Arguably more memorable was the pre-E3 broadcast that introduced other elements of the system, including the infamous Miiverse skit with Non-Specific Action Figure. The two videos below are evidence that, occasionally, Nintendo can find a certain charm that can make all but the most cynical crack a smile.
Wii U Launch Broadcasts
As per its normal routine, Nintendo left plenty of details under wraps until late in the day. The Wii U launch broadcasts were saved until mid-September, with videos and presentations from Japan, Europe and North America to confirm launch dates and more. The North American event had a great deal of focus on TVii, as well as a range of launch titles, while the European broadcast focused on games due to lack of an equivalent TV service. Some big announcements did whet the appetite for 2013, with exclusives Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate — including 3DS cross-play — and Bayonetta 2 contributing to a decent buzz amongst Nintendo gamers. Those who love details could look at the bits and bobs included in the boxes of the Basic or Deluxe bundles, while ongoing download discounts as part of the latter option were a welcome announcement.
These broadcasts finally told us what SKUs were coming, and brought good news for those that had consistently demanded a black console to be available at launch. For the first time the launch felt imminent, and Nintendo did a reasonable job of showcasing a variety of retail and download software — both ports and exclusives — to show that the system could have plenty to offer.
Although Wii U pre-orders are practically sold-out around the world, Nintendo is still drumming up interest in the most conventional way: through TV commercials.
This first US commercial focused, aside from one brief moment with TVii, on multiplayer fun. Much of the footage showed children and parents playing titles such as New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land, with some attractive young adults getting rather enthusiastic about SiNG Party. It's pretty clear who Nintendo of America was targeting with this advert, and it's certainly wasn't the Call of Duty crowd.
The UK debut was narrated by comedian Adam Buxton, and made an effort to show various notable features within a short space of time. It shows the Wii U GamePad's various use of gyroscope sensors and the touchscreen in titles such as ZombiU, while also demonstrating the ability to switch play to the controller while others use the TV. Unlike the US advert, this clearly targeted an older demographic.
This Japanese commercial attracted attention this week due to its opening, where it describes Wii U as "Super Wii". It's probably more appropriate than the "Wii on steroids" moniker that some of the Nintendo Life team have rather jokingly used, but an interesting approach nevertheless. This commercial shows Pikmin 3, intriguingly, and the emphasis is strictly on the GamePad and its various uses. And, as we said, Super Wii.
We haven't touched on all of the efforts from Nintendo to spread the word about Wii U, as we haven't mentioned the various tours, demo kiosks, expo appearances and this week's Miiverse Nintendo Direct from Japan. As would be expected of any sustained campaign to introduce a new console, it's had a share of positives and negatives, while details about the eShop platform and the extent of the system's online multiplayer capabilities are either little known, or limited to info pages in Japanese. There may be another Nintendo Direct on the way, but with just seven days until its arrival, we don't have long to wait before we can see for ourselves.
What have you thought about these various broadcasts and adverts? Has Nintendo got the message right with Wii U, or could it do better? Let us know in the comments below.