Talking Point: Deconstructing Nintendo's Retail Releases of Wii U eShop Titles

Sensible cash-in or lack of focus?

The recent announcement of a NES Remix physical disc compilation coming to North America was the latest in a minor trend for Nintendo, as it is showing an increased willingness to convert download titles into retail releases. It was also surprising, as NES Remix Pack will combine two $15 titles, so presumably will have a recommended price of around $30, half the premium for a top-tier first-party Wii U release. These budget disc versions of eShop content clearly have some business reasoning behind them, yet they also suggest a continuing collision between moving suitable content to the download store while still trying to cater to the conventional market. The question is whether these disc editions are a positive promotion for the eShop, or just the opposite.

In terms of the Wii U this began with New Super Luigi U, though before that 2012 also brought us a telling example on the 3DS with Freakyforms Deluxe: Your Creations, Alive!, a retail follow up to a download-only original from late 2011. In that case the additional value of the pricier Deluxe option was questionable — though both were good games — and the cheaper option was actually replaced on the eShop. It was an interesting move, and an early example of Nintendo looking to take a new IP from its download store onto the high street.

New Super Luigi U was, it should also be said, an entirely sensible candidate for a limited physical release; its status as sizeable DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U meant it was a recognisable sub-brand on shelves, and had enough volume of content to justify a below-standard retail price. Its neat green case also had appeal for those with collector's instincts.

Wii Sports Club has been a more peculiar example, as it arrived on the Wii U eShop in separate parts, spread out over a number of months with a relatively ambitious pricing model. In one of just a few Wii U games that has attempted the approach, these downloads can be limited-time licenses or a permanent download at a higher price, attempting to cater to devotees and those that may just fancy a bit of motion-controlled gaming over a weekend. It's not clear, as is always the case with Nintendo's download content, how well or otherwise these downloads have sold, but we'd suggest the piece-by-piece approach hasn't been ideal. The point can be argued that releasing all five sports together on the eShop, alongside the retail disc, would have been preferable.

We then have — mentioned at the start — NES Remix Pack, still only confirmed for North America and Japan — no Europe as yet — which combines both download titles onto a disc. From Nintendo's perspective this has undoubtedly required little to no effort, save for an adjusted home screen and minor tweaks, and we'd go so far as to suggest that the Japanese release makes a lot of sense. The eShop in Nintendo's homeland, on Wii U at least, is perhaps a little less prominent in the conciousness of fans than in the West; it's a peculiar development in North America however. It'll presumably have to retail at $30 to match its eShop prices, or have a mark-up to accommodate distribution — would it be worth more than $30? We'd suggest the answer to that is no.

There's also the example of Wii Fit U, which had a rather peculiar release. With the incredible sales of its predecessors undoubtedly in mind, Nintendo initially attempted to give incentive to Wii owners to upgrade by launching an offer of a free trial of the download version; it was release before the physical retail edition. Also, buying a relatively inexpensive Wii Fit Meter made that trial permanent, which was a great deal for those following matters closely. Unfortunately stock of the meter accessory was evidently poor in multiple regions and the message for the promotion struggled to get out. On top of that, the standard retail options (disc-only and bundle with a balance board) arrived with little fanfare, could be hard to find and was delayed until after the Holiday season in North America. It was a stumbling, messy launch of both the eShop and retail versions, giving the game little chance of success either within the existing Wii U userbase, or as a vehicle to drive hardware sales.

There's a sense, with some of these releases that have arrived on both the eShop and in stores, that one or the other can feel like an afterthought. Discounting Wii Fit U and perhaps New Super Luigi U, the other titles that have transitioned to stores feel slightly tacked on; in addition, the nature of eShop titles is that they don't get a great deal of conventional marketing, and so far that seems to carry across to the retail iterations. New Super Luigi U did have a marketing push, but Wii Sports Club on disc appears to have arrived with little promotion; it's failed to break into the top 40 in the UK, for example, and has little presence in stores. There's a nagging sense, too, that as download games they're out of place on a store shelf, and struggle to stack up alongside full games.

The NES Remix compilation in the Holiday season for North America is also a case of peculiar timing. If that period is particularly busy in terms of the titles Nintendo is trying to sell for Wii U, so much so that Nintendo of Europe has suggested the region's delay of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is strategic, then throwing this compilation in alongside titles such as Treasure Tracker in NA seems like a flawed idea; will those with limited funds choose that title above higher-profile alternatives?

Perhaps the strategy is sound, in terms of promoting these titles and — even in a subtle way — directing some attention to the eShop. That's an argument that can be made, though the gradual expansion of eShop game cards in stores (as is the case in Europe and Japan, in particular) should counteract that. The real motivation is likely to be simplicity, content with relatively little additional effort required; if it boosts awareness of the eShop a little, all the better. In a few cases, though, its debatable whether notable sales have been achieved; we're sure collectors are happy, though.

That's arguably a problem though. By making some download titles available at retail, it confuses the message a little, and those that would rather pay more for New Super Luigi U on a disc may hold off on first-party downloads, in particular. With the company so keen on talking up the eShop as an important platform, perhaps it needs to stick to its guns and promote its biggest releases on the store more aggressively, in the process supporting other developers by bringing extra eyes to the platform. As it stands, the eShop's marketing is minimal outside of social networks, and the occasional disc version arrives and, arguably, serves a particularly limited purpose.

The examples of Wii Sports Club and the upcoming NES Remix Pack ultimately pose the question — are they a worthwhile release and a good use of Nintendo's resources? Should Nintendo simply go to greater lengths to promote the download originals? We'd suggest yes to the latter, and disc versions don't help that cause.

Let us know what you think of these eShop game retail releases, particularly the most recent examples. Are they a good idea, or an example of muddled thinking? Let us know in the comments below.

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