Talking Point: Nintendo's Low-Key Approach to the 2DS and Wii U Price Cut Reveals Wasn't Surprising
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
When going Direct isn't the right call
Yesterday may have brought huge Nintendo news, giving the company coverage on any technology or gaming site that you'd care to mention, but how that news was disseminated was interesting. With major releases we've become accustomed to short-notice Nintendo Direct broadcasts, which build hype and then drop the bombs. To say that wasn't the approach this time is an understatement.
In truth, it'd been a fairly sleepy day in the world of Nintendo, and then a little before 5pm UK time / noon Eastern U.S. there was a press release from Nintendo of America and coinciding tweets and web pages from Nintendo of Europe. It was surreal, as this wasn't a press release advertising a bonus keyring with pre-orders on a game, but one confirming a formal Wii U price cut in North America from 20th September; Nintendo of Europe has confirmed the inevitable that there'll also be a Wii U price reduction in the region from 4th October. There was also a new 3DS handheld iteration; it wasn't any old variation on the 3DS either, it was the 2DS, a concept that prompted some of us in Nintendo Life HQ to rub our eyes, refresh our inboxes, and then rub our eyes again.
We're not suggesting the 2DS was a sneak attack — though we'll come to the Wii U price cut later — but simply a product with a particular message. Some advance hands-on time was given shortly before the reveal, and executives on both sides of the Atlantic duly queued up to talk about the target audience and relevance of the system, with their statements pretty much outlining why it was revealed in the way it was. This is an entry-level product for all, yes, but the specific target audience is children — or more specifically the parents of these children — under seven years old.
Mimicking a toy tablet form in some respects, it's a fun looking device that — minus a troublesome clamshell hinge — is relatively tough. It also takes autostereoscopic 3D out of the equation, side-stepping the uncomfortable health and safety warnings on 3DS boxes accentuating the negatives of the effect for children. For parents comfortable with the DS brand but unsure of this 3D malarkey, the 2DS is a safe and reassuring option; not to mention that having "2" in the name very directly suggests a successive device, which could be rather effective branding.
As the reaction here on Nintendo Life and around the web made clear, a lot of gamers reacted to the 2DS by exclaiming "WTF", as without context it's clearly an odd device — that's from a 3DS gamer's perspective. The wider picture, the target audience and Nintendo's objectives with this hardware present solid arguments to counter cynicism and bafflement, but it'll inevitably continue to face bemusement from the wider community. We'd also suggest, against the argument that this is some kind of abandonment of 3D or sign of weakness, that Nintendo's doing what any sensible technology company does: plugging gaps in the market. The 3D is never mandatory in a game — which some may feel is a negative of the system's concept — and the 2DS is a cheaper option for specific demographics that don't want the feature. It's all about choice, and there's nothing stopping many of us still playing every game with that slider all the way up — the 2DS is not a threat.
And yet, if we consider the reaction to the system, it's blindingly obvious why it wasn't given a Nintendo Direct reveal, as the 3DS XL received in 2012. Take the online reaction against the 2DS, or at least those examples carping about its very existence or design, and multiply by a factor of at least 100 if it had been hyped and broadcast "directly" to us. Social networks would have melted under the strain of "what's this" and "Nintendo's gone mad LOL" comments in the seconds after it appeared on screen.
As for the formal Wii U price cut in North America, that can probably be fairly described as a little sneakier in its execution. Its reveal this week points to a matter of circumstances overtaking preferences; the press release made a point of stating that the prices had been unveiled at the GameStop Managers Show in Las Vegas. Nintendo clearly needed to address retailer concerns and get them on board, but will have also known that the moment the price cut was announced at this event it would have been leaked. By releasing a press statement, and tying it in with confirmation of the attractive Wind Waker HD hardware bundle and a host of Holiday release dates, we'd speculate that NoA made the conscious choice to at least manage the message to some degree, as opposed to leaks and rumours flooding Twitter and message boards.
Mission accomplished, in that respect, but this price cut announcement feels like it's come a little earlier than would be considered ideal for Nintendo. The new Wind Waker-themed bundle and release dates seem like perfect Nintendo Direct fodder, but as an indication of some regions being caught relatively on the hop Nintendo of Europe's prepared announcements covered the hardware bundle and 2DS, but not solid release dates for the likes of Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Nintendo's European PR arms were undoubtedly co-ordinated and ready, but not all details were on hand to be given to the public.
And the key point is that the $50 price cut for North America wasn't exactly reinforced and clarified in Europe, either; despite the obvious and safe assumption it'd be the case, we had to ask for clarification beyond that given in the many press releases that followed the other announcements. Consider also that Nintendo of America was presenting at a retail event and also confirming that its Wind Waker HD bundle will arrive on 20th September, the same day the wider cut comes into effect — that advanced download release date isn't happening in Europe, and so the "price reduction initiative" in the region comes later, on 4th October. If NoA was telling retailers that its early Wind Waker HD bundle was going to be $299, the cat was out of the bag and the rest inevitably had to follow.
Even with the price cut coming to Europe, we haven't exactly had a song and dance about it. It's perhaps convenient for Nintendo, or planned if you prefer to take that perspective, that everyone's talking about the 2DS. Attention is distracted, and it seems that $50 off the Wii U price just isn't creating many big waves. This is in stark contrast to the 3DS price cut in 2011 — which was admittedly bigger against the original cost — when Nintendo made the announcement in a Nintendo Direct, formal apologies were issued to early adopters and the Ambassador programme gave 20 free NES and GBA games (10 of each) as a form of compensation. Will a similar goodwill gift happen this time? The current vibes — or silence, we should say — suggest not, though it can't be definitively ruled out. The price cut is a couple of months further into the system's lifespan and it's smaller; Nintendo also seems happy to not actually talk about it very much.
So the sudden reveals on 28th August have arguably worked a charm for Nintendo. It's avoided an even greater reaction of 2DS bafflement from dedicated gamers in a Nintendo Direct broadcast, as many of us are unlikely to be in the system's target demographics, while that surprising hardware revision has distracted attention away from the Wii U price cut. After months of denials and insistent statements that the existing Wii U price points represent good value, we've seen a backtrack, albeit not one as drastic as endured by the 3DS in its early months. The 2DS and Wind Waker bundle, with some release dates thrown in, were the perfect Trojan Horse with which to get a price cut through the gates.
The coming weeks and months will be interesting with both of these key announcements. We'll see how the 2DS fares when released — rather brilliantly — alongside Pokémon X & Y, while we'll eagerly wait and see what impact lower hardware prices and plenty of exclusives can have on the Wii U's big Holiday push. As we often say with Nintendo, it's rarely boring.