Wiidy for Launch?

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posted 11/1/2006 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: Wii
We have the date. We have the time. We have the price. After months of grueling waiting, after two E3’s of enigma, we know Revolution Day. And it is soon to be upon us. We’re just a few weeks away, but how do we prepare for Nintendo’s biggest launch? Will all the bluster, speculation and hope be worth it? How many more rhetorical questions can I pose before you stop reading this article and find something better to do?
 
To the point of things, several matters have to be taken into account before you, the customer, place that hard earned cash down for a Wii. Price, value, launch date and, most importantly, games all have to be weighed. So, let’s get right into it, shall we?
 
The first order of business is the timetable. Despite all the rumors and pipe dreams thrown back and forth on forums, Nintendo has remained pretty realistic about the release date. November 19th is almost bringing it down to the wire, as far as their “before Thanksgiving” promise goes. I’ve heard some rumblings and disappointment that there was no early October launch, and that Nintendo is taking their sweet time because they can afford to. The odious European PS3 delay has given Nintendo plenty of leeway, and they’re taking advantage of it…or so the scuttlebutt goes.
 
It is time for a reality check for the fanboys out there. Nintendo is not “betraying us” with this later release. I’m almost certain that this date was set in stone months ago, maybe even beforeE3. The reason is simple: it’s the manufacturing schedule. Corporations tend to be rather conservative when it comes to promising a certain number of units by a certain date. By now we know that the hardware is final—there were production units at the Nintendo Fusion Tour. Officially there will be at least one million Wii at launch, with rumored amounts numbering 7 or even 9 million by year’s end. Clearly, Nintendo is already cranking these babies out in droves.
 
But even if the assembly lines are running, it still takes time to accumulate sufficient inventory. By keeping the launch date as close to that Thanksgiving deadline as possible, Nintendo ­can promise one million Wii consoles on launch day, even if it has a great deal of units manufactured. If they have a surplus of units, packing and shipping are the two primary concerns. With the production taken care of well in advance, consumers will be able to stroll into their local store and pick up a Wii without their shopping Kevlar strapped on. The timing is more significant when it comes to software as it gives developers a few more precious weeks more to perfect their games. An extra week or so of bug testing can work wonders for a game that would otherwise feel broken. 
 
With the hype surrounding this launch, demand will be high, and that is exactly what Nintendo wants. They’ve struck a clean balance between crippling shortages and market saturation. Not everyone will be getting a Wii at launch day, since all of the early adopters will be preordering anyway, and the immediate inventory will sell out. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said that without some small shortages, the launch would be considered a failure. As long as the Wii is a suitably coveted piece of holiday swag, demand will be sustained through to Christmas. Nintendo has this angle covered too—they’re still standing by their promise of four million Wii units by December 31st. In the weeks following launch, you’ll still be able to find a Wii on shelves. 
 
Now contrast all of this with the PS3 launch. Sony is desperate to get those holiday dollars and keep their prestigious image, and in the process they are kind of shafting their own country. 80,000 PS3s in Japan? If I resided in the Land of the Rising Sun, I’d be more than angry that a company I’d trusted for two hardware generations was letting me down. The 400,000 units allotted to the US aren’t much of an improvement, and the fact that 80% of those will be the expensive, 599 US dollar SKU feels a little like corporate manipulation. Black Friday is going to be a bloody battle zone this year, and when the dust clears there will be nary a PS3 in sight. We’ve already gotten a taste with the Gamestop preorder rush on October 10th; each store had sold out its preorder allotment within minutes of opening. 
 
Next month the cheaper, simpler, and much more abundant Wii will prove to be far more attractive quarry for the holiday shopping parent on the prowl.
 
To add insult to injury, the Wii will be available in all territories by the holiday season, if only by a couple weeks. North America might be getting it first, but Europe can rejoice as Nintendo is not pulling the same con-deal Sony did.
 
PS3’s choke-inducing sticker price might be a deterrent to casual holiday shoppers, but Nintendo isn’t totally innocent in this regard either. They didn’t exactly hit that $200 weak point for massive damage. In fact, their real-time marketing weapons missed the mark by about fifty clams. $50 is certainly enough of a difference to elicit grumbling from the non-gamer crowd, but if we think Nintendo is royally ripping us off, then we’ve forgotten a little of our past. The answers lie in pricing battles that actually took place in ancient America (and by ancient I mean mid-80’s, and yes I’ll stop with the E3 puns).
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