So the Wii U system is now well and truly out in the wild, with Japan being the last major territory to join in. It may seem peculiar that Nintendo should satisfy its home country last, but judging from the area's consistently daunting sales of 3DS it's not likely to be a tough market to crack. North America and Europe — as well as the other PAL regions — are entirely different beasts, and Nintendo is no doubt already letting its focus drift beyond the Holiday spending splurge, and towards what comes next.
There's general agreement that Wii U will perform well in its launch window. Whether it hits its targets and consistently sells out stock is to be seen, but the gaming company will be able to point to millions of sales and say "look, consumers want Wii U", and those with business or emotional interest in the company will breath relatively easily. The goal of this article isn't to broadly speculate on Wii U's credentials for success — particularly as new rival systems are likely to arrive in the next 12-18 months — but to consider two key selling points, both present and in all likelihood part of the future, that will sell the Wii U concept beyond the initial frenzy of launch window hype.
As you may have picked up from our launch day live-text features, some of the Nintendo Life team went along to midnight launches and took the opportunity to quiz fellow early-adopters and retail staff. In terms of early adopters, it seemed to be a mix of eager Nintendo gamers and parents anxious to ensure that their Christmas present was safely purchased and hidden in the closet at home. The main focus and selling point of the system appeared to be the GamePad, not surprisingly, while the Wii brand was undoubtedly playing a role. While it may be a fact that annoys some self-appointed hardcore gamers, the Nintendo Wii brand is still seen by a number of parents as a wholesome, fun, trust-worthy and accessible video game system.
One parent we spoke to was immediately querying whether the GamePad — being used for a Nintendo Land demo in the store — would be easy for his five year old son to grasp and understand. Nintendo's "what is Wii U" adverts in the UK have been excellent, from that perspective, in showing what the controller is all about, and the father in question seemed fairly confident that his purchase would be worthwhile, until the unit's controller started to lose its connection due to a rather iffy and rushed setup. In many senses the GamePad could be considered a controller that's lacking the intuition of the Wii Remote, which is partially accurate, yet if you hand a young child a tablet or smartphone device nowadays you're likely to see them swiping and tapping like an expert in no time. The upcoming generation of gamers are even more tech savvy now, we'd suggest, than they were in 2006.
Moving onto a retail perspective, we spoke to management staff in a relatively small GAME store while waiting for midnight, and the conversation turned to download games. Rather than talk of download games being the potential death knell of bricks and mortar retailers, it was highlighted that some of the store's biggest sellers were download code cards. Two products that have been major success stories have been download codes for Minecraft on Xbox Live, a phenomenon on PC and also a major success on Microsoft's console, and also FIFA Ultimate Team currency cards. Both products can be bought directly on their respective systems of course, but it was explained that parents often like to buy them in-store, or younger gamers buy the cards with pocket money — which is handy if giving your child access to a credit card isn't considered a good idea.
While some may not exactly like the idea of the real money DLC obsession that is FIFA's Ultimate Team model, there can surely be no real objection to download game cards in retail stores. In fact, the Xbox 360 and PS3 areas of a typical game specialist store have racks of these download cards for individual games, representing the highest profile and most popular of these online store offerings. We'd suggest that those of us frequenting Nintendo Life aren't the target for these physical manifestations of download games, but there's a significant market from the retailer's perspective.
As it stands, the Nintendo section of a store has little to entice this target audience — parents and children — to download offerings. There are eShop fund cards, and some cursory references to games that are available, but its not on the same scale as on PS3 and Xbox 360. The store manager that we spoke to shared his belief that Nintendo is keen to resolve that shortcoming in the near future, expecting a greater shift in emphasis now that Wii U is on the scene. That's not a formal guarantee that it'll happen, of course, but if there's retailer optimism that Nintendo's going to push for a greater share of the download card pie, that's good for the company and can only be a positive for high street stores, too. This turnaround to produce racks of enticing download card products won't happen overnight, but we'd certainly hope that by mid-2013 retail stores will have a greater eShop presence, which will hopefully also include some love for the 3DS store.
It's illuminating to talk to retailers and parents about Wii U, as it's easy to get lost in the industry's debates about CPU speeds, third-party support and various issues that matter a lot to many enthusiastic gamers. It can be overlooked that a significant proportion of Nintendo's customers aren't fiercely loyal to the big N's products, nor are they experienced gamers who'd willingly devote 40 hours to completing a title in The Legend of Zelda series. A lot of consumers like video games, enjoy having fun with them, and see them as one of many sources of entertainment for their families. It's with these consumers that Nintendo's branding — including the continuation of the Wii name — makes such sense, and the GamePad controller's visual hints at being a tablet do it little harm. It's not a tablet in the typical sense, and we know that, but that's what we heard at least one parent call it at a midnight launch.
So, much is being done right in these early stages by Nintendo, and its new console has a chance, at least, of attracting gamers of various levels to its concept. There are big improvements surely on the way, however, as the high street environment is still so relevant to parents and younger gamers. It's not just about discs in DVD-style cases, but having simple cards that are little more than codes to download content from online. The eShop library — Wii U and 3DS — can truly flourish if it moves from the cloud and onto store shelves, and whether we like it or not DLC and real-money obsessive modes in big franchises will also have a role to play. There are a lot of people ready to buy these products, and we suspect that Nintendo is anxious to join in.