We know what, where, and when, but did Nintendo really address the concerns and answer the questions they needed to?
Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock for the past 27 years (29 if you reside in the swanky, get-every-awesome-piece-of-electronics-first Asian market), you will be fully aware that an impending Nintendo console generation launch is a big nerdy deal.
Well, it’s big nerdy deal time again. Nintendo will be launching its questionably-named Wii U Console in North America on Sunday, November 18th. This news comes as a result of a well-publicized meet-and-greet thrown by NOA earlier this week in New York, and broadcast via Nintendo’s increasingly impressively effective website, www.nintendo.com
Nintendo also shed a little light on the heretofore hazy launch package details: the Wii U will launch in two different retail bundles: a $299 price-point 8GB HDD package in Wii white as its base model, and a $349 32GB HDD model in ‘Dress Black’ (sigh) with pack-in copy of Nintendo Land, as well as a stand for the tablet, cradle-charger for same, and a vertical stand for the console itself. Upon even a brief inspection it seems odd for Nintendo to bother with both packages, given that Nintendo Land is their priority launch title and the immense inertia of the industry in the digital distribution direction. Had the 8GB model been announced with a significant price reduction the logic might have been more easily grasped, but I for one would pay the difference just to avoid the annoyance of another big, fat, shiny, blindingly-white albatross of a console sitting next to everyone else’s slim, sleek, sexy and dignified black and chrome offerings.
Nintendo also did their best to trumpet their list of launch titles, and for a wonder, there are in all actuality a really impressive list of third-party developed and published titles. For a Nintendo launch. The list reads like a Now-That’s-What-I-Call-Gaming 27 (29 if you’re from the opposite of the Occident), but almost anything at all could be considered vital forward progress from a company that dropped their last major platform release with pinch hitters like Bust-A-Move Universe (did I miss the galaxy edition?) and Asphalt 3D.
Nintendo currently projects that the console will launch with roughly 35 titles in the launch window (one of my favorite vagaries, that), among them Activision’s heaviest-of-hitters Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Bioware’s much-maligned but much-more-profitable Mass Effect 3, Rocksteady’s fan-favorite Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, Traveler’s Tales remarkably ambitious Lego City Undercover, and Ubisoft’s ubiquitous attempt at the zombie cash-in, ZombiU. So, the third-party support is definitely there, on paper. The question remains as to whether or not it will persist, and perhaps more importantly, whether or not these projected launch window titles will launch in the projected launch window.
Reggie Fils-Aime is famously infamous for his remarkably clear bullet-point delivery, a fact that has stood him in good stead with Nintendo’s corporate structure, and somewhat less stable territory with the gamer market; stable third-party support is one of Nintendo’s real, important, and clearly-stated goals with Wii U, as is evidenced by both Nintendo’s E3 2012 and their more recent Wii U launch announcement. They seem to have done a lot of groundwork in the direction of solidifying this goal, and that is laudable. What remains to be seen is whether we as consumers will see a redux of the Wii launch experience. The Wii console had a tremendous amount of potential and appeal, unequivocally displayed by its sales numbers and the pre-launch excitement, but it can hardly be argued that it was a success in any category except financially. I don’t want to start a firefight here, but I think it can be relatively fairly stated that third-party support did about as much for the Wii as the average Death Valley afternoon does for one’s own hydration.
So, Nintendo does what any intelligently-run company does, they target the weakness and do all they can to address it. The real concern here is whether or not these third-party studios, and in particular the incredibly high-profile studios from the big, big publishing houses with the even bigger sales quota pressures have a sufficient incentive to spend precious man-hours on developing for a feature that is very specific to one of at least three, or god-forbid more different platforms. I’ll break that down for the lucky souls that haven’t had business-ese forced down their throat: if Treyarch is making Call of Duty: Black Ops II for every current system, the hours they spend on developing interesting uses for the Wii U’s exotically-specific touch-screen could be spent, and arguably would be better spent, on stability fixes for match-finding for their multiplayer – a feature present in all platforms, not specific to one.
The final concern that this unprecedentedly-late console announcement brings to the fore is what very much seems to be the evolution of a frighteningly effective trend in the consumer electronics industry: overly and unnecessarily manipulative marketing strategies geared towards artificially stimulating a demand far and away above and beyond what the product itself creates with its own intrinsic merits. I miss the days where I could genuinely feel safe getting excited about a product because it was actually awesome. We live in a frighteningly hyperbolic time, where a product is either INCREDIBLY MIND-BLOWINGLY-GUT-WRENCHINGLY-AWESOMELY-PERFECT or the WORST.THING.EVER., and the middle ground is hanging out somewhere in the early-90′s (remember back when it was cool to not care? when did THAT 180 happen? I postulate that we were too busy not caring to notice) not too-terribly-concerned about us all having forgotten about it. Well, the entire marketing industry certainly has, and we are reaping the sweet, sweetly rotten fruit of that labor now.
The interactive entertainment industry has a history of dirty marketing habits and tricks, among them retailer-exclusives, pre-order bonuses, and my personal least-favorite, artificially limiting supply to increase demand. Just to be clear, I am certainly not accusing Nintendo, or the industry as a whole of inventing this – I am fully aware this is a very, very old tactic, but it’s certainly one they’ve adopted, and one that even given its unquestionable results is abhorrent to me. I just cannot imagine that ATI refused to create enough GPU’s t0 supply Nintendo’s demand for the proper launch allocation for their first generation Wii console.
Yet, there were fist-fights in malls and stampedes in stores because of the miserly launch allocation of the Wii. If that was a situation you took issue with the first time around, it is only fair to warn you that history is about to totally and unnecessarily repeat itself.
A unidentified source from a large industry retailer that we cannot directly name has provided information that orders for the $349.99 Deluxe bundle may be cut off as soon as this evening, despite the fact that the bundles were announced, dated, and priced less than one week ago. We must stress that this information is somewhat intangible, but given Nintendo’s history, it isn’t a tip we’re disinclined to entertain.
Nintendo’s Wii U Releases November the 18th, 2012.