Thursday, October 27, 2011

How can Nintendo prevent the Wii U's launch from resembling the 3DS's launch?

It's no secret that the 3DS didn't have as smooth of a launch as Nintendo would have hoped for.  There were long periods of time without any notable game releases, the sales didn't meet expectations, the online eShop wasn't ready until about three months after the Japanese launch, and there were game cancellations and delays left and right.  Nintendo ended up having to scramble to increase the sales of the 3DS and improve its image worldwide.

With Nintendo's next hardware launch about a year away, Nintendo could potentially be facing some of the same issues they did with the 3DS.  So, what can Nintendo do to prevent the Wii U's launch from resembling the launch of the 3DS?

Change the name and design of the Wii U.
When the 3DS was released, there was a lot of confusion with the casual gamer. Nintendo had released four different versions of the DS prior to the 3DS, with each of them having the letters DS in their name.  When the 3DS was launched, it kept the DS brand, causing many consumers to think that it was just another revision of the DS.  The 3DS also had a similar design to the numerous DS models, and, on top of that, there were reports of stores mixing the 3DS and DS sections together, creating even more confusion among the people who don't follow gaming news.  With the Wii U, I can see a similar situation playing out if they don't change the name or design.

Although the Wii didn't have numerous revisions to confuse the consumer like the DS did, the Wii U's current design is extremely similar to the Wii's design.  Add in the fact that there's only a one letter difference between the names of the Wii and the Wii U, and you can see how parents or new gamers might become confused when they see the Wii U in stores.  If you don't believe me, then just look at the reaction gamers and journalists had to the Wii U's reveal at this year's E3.  The people watching and attending Nintendo's press conference were people who kept up with the industry, but quite a few of them thought the Wii U was just an add on to the Wii.

The Wii U's design is very similar to the Wii's, which could
lead to confusion.

It also doesn't help that Nintendo seems to be keeping the Wiimote around for the Wii U. While that in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, Nintendo seems to be keen on showing off the fact that the Wiimote can be used in conjunction with the Wii U.  That, along with the Wii U's name being extremely similar to the Wii's name and the Wii U's design being similar to the Wii's design, may cause a great amount of confusion in the minds of casual gamers.

It is vital to the Wii U's early success that Nintendo differentiates the Wii U enough so that consumers don't confuse it with the Wii.  With what we've currently seen, it doesn't appear like Nintendo's doing enough of that.

Have some major first party titles available relatively soon after launch.
With the 3DS's launch, Nintendo purposely didn't release any big name first party games. They wanted third parties to have the spotlight during the launch of the 3DS.  However, this led to large droughts in the 3DS's release schedule since third parties wanted to wait for the 3DS to have a larger user base before committing.  As we all know, third parties that had promised to support the 3DS ended up delaying their games or pulling support completely.  Because of this, there wasn't any reason to own a 3DS for the first few months of its life other than banking on the potential it had.

With the Wii U, Nintendo really needs to focus on creating some big name games and releasing them within the first few months of its life.  The people who buy Nintendo consoles around launch buy them for Nintendo games, not third party games.  If there isn't any enticing first party game from Nintendo, then the people who would normally buy the Wii U around launch won't buy it, which would lead to a small userbase and a similar situation to the 3DS.

I realize that Nintendo wanted improve their relationship with third parties by allowing them to have the spotlight for a few months, but it's been pretty obvious for a while that third parties aren't as willing to work with Nintendo as they are with Microsoft or Sony. Nintendo shouldn't entrust the launch of their next console with the third parties that have constantly given them the cold shoulder since the mid 90s.

Make sure everything is ready to go before launch.
This may sound like common sense, but the 3DS and Wii didn't launch with full online capabilities.  It took the Wii one and a half years to get the WiiWare service, and it took the 3DS about three months to get the eShop service.  In an era when the internet plays a huge role in gaming, it should have been common sense to have these two services ready at launch.  With the 3DS especially, the fact that it launched without the eShop was another bullet point on the list of 3DS negatives that prevented people from buying it around launch.

Nintendo's eShop service wasn't available until three months
after the launch of the 3DS.

Despite their history with online, I don't expect this one to be an issue.  Nintendo says that they've learned from their online mistakes with the DS, Wii, and 3DS, and they're promising that the Wii U's online will be better.  They still need to make it a priority that they have a functioning online store available at the Wii U's launch, though.  Without it, small, independent developers wouldn't be able to have their games released to the Wii U's audience right away, and they would flock to the PSN, Xbox live Arcade, Steam, and smartphones, leaving the Wii U in the same situation as the Wii.

Make sure it's reasonably priced.
Another point that may seem like common sense, but Nintendo seemed to ignore it with the 3DS.  When the 3DS launched here in the USA, a 160GB Playstation 3 cost $299 and the Xbox 360 cost $199 for its cheapest SKU.  250 dollars for a handheld that's around the same strength as the 10 year old Gamecube felt outrageous to a lot of people, especially when compared to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.  Then, a few months after the launch of the 3DS, Sony announced that the much more powerful Playstation Vita would cost the same price as the 3DS, and that they wouldn't be losing that much money with each Vita sold.  In the eyes of gamers and consumers, this made the 3DS look even more overpriced.

Again, with the Wii U, I don't expect this one to be an issue.  Nintendo has a history of having the most inexpensive consoles in relation to their competitors, but they also had a history of having inexpensive handhelds too.  Nintendo let the success of the DS and the hype for the 3DS get to them when deciding a price point, and they could potentially fall into the same trap again.  I just hope that the launch of the 3DS and the price complaints taught them that they can't overcharge for the Wii U and expect people to buy it, even if the Wii was their most successful console in terms of sales.

In the end, Nintendo made a lot of mistakes with the 3DS's launch that they could repeat with the Wii U, it's just a matter of them realizing what their mistakes were.  Based on what Nintendo's been saying lately and their current actions with the 3DS, I do think they learned their lesson, but you can never be sure with Nintendo.  We just have to wait and hope for the best.

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