Wiidy for Launch?

Article

posted 11/1/2006 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
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).


Looking back a couple of generations, we can see that both the N64 and SNES retailed for $200 at launch in the US. The SNES came bundled with a game, but by the N64 era it was just too expensive. But if we go back one further, we find something interesting: the venerable old Nintendo Entertainment System hit the shelves with, you guessed it, a $250 tag. The reason? Americans were still quite cautious about video games, after the crash of ’83. To get by this Nintendo packed the R.O.B. peripheral with the NES, appealing to the robot toy craze to get their console in the door.
 
It worked, and after a short time they discontinued the rather worthless (but cute) R.O.B. and sold the NES for an even $200. I predict something similar will happen with Wii, but under different circumstances.
 
Perrin Kaplan clarified in an interview that Nintendo hoped to profit from the Wii right out the door, but that the units still cost enough to manufacture, that Nintendo might only break even.
 
These things are somewhat expensive to make, it seems, so Nintendo isn’t dipping too deep into our pockets. The prices across territories are relatively comparable, and the fact that every country except Japan gets Wii Sports ups the cost a bit. Say what you will about Wii Sports—it’s the first pack-in game we’ve gotten in two generations, something Sony and Microsoft aren’t doing at all (and I can attest that the game is, in fact, incredibly fun). 
 
Is $250 the ideal price? No, not really. Nintendo could’ve taken a small loss and maybe enticed the non-gamer crowd in the process. But if gamers are the ones who will be snapping Wii up this holiday, why should Nintendo drop the price? They have their audience’s attention, they know the early-adopters are going to practically inhale their current inventory, so an extra fifty is just a logical business decision. The non-gamers aren’t going to be lining up in front of Gamestop on the 19th; they’ll see the console when their gaming children and relatives ask them to sit down for a game of Wii Sports.
 
That brings us to the glossy white elephant in the middle of the living room: the controller and its price. Here is where I think we’re being ever so slightly gouged, and because Nintendo knows they can get away with it. I admit, their strategy in pricing the controller is pretty smart.
 
If you haven’t heard, individual Wii remotes ring up for $40. Not exactly the $25 GameCube pad (or even the $35 N64 pad), but the higher price can be attributed to a number of factors: built-in wireless, all that new-fangled motion-sensing gadgetry inside, and the R&D that went into it. It’s easily forgivable, especially when you take into account the 50 you’ll put down for a wireless Xbox 360 controller (40 for the wired one).
 
Here’s where it gets a little dicey. The Wii-mote might only be $40, but the lovable Nunchuk attachment is $20 all by itself. You get the Wii-mote/Nunchuk combo with the console, but buying both separately will run you a cool $60. That’s a lot for a controller.
 
But we’re going to pay it anyway, because in the long run it’s worth it and there’s an interesting little philosophy Nintendo is pushing with the Wii. The controller is being presented as part of an “identity,” somewhat like a Gamertag. It’s not tethered to your Wii at home, and is perfect for carting over to a friend’s house or dorm. You can customize your Wii-mote with snazzy rubber sleeves, dog tags and wrist straps. All together, 4 controllers and Nunchucks is a hefty chunk of bills, but spread out over 4 people, it’s manageable. 
 
This doesn’t solve the problem of stocking your house with four sets, for playing at home with family, but odds are the casual/non-gamer crowd will only splurge for 4 Wii-motes, at least initially. Nintendo has made it abundantly clear that many games don’t need the Nunchuk, and they’re right; most of the games targeted to the middle-aged customers can be played without the attachment. 
 
Once the console has been on the market for a while, and more Nunchuk supporting games are released, it’ll be easier to drop by your local retailer and plunk down $60 for 3 Nunchuks (edit: to fix the number of Nunchuks). The early-adopters, specifically gamers, will buy the extra attachment from the start because, let’s face it, we’re gamers. Who else would drop $1000+ on a new HDTV to go with that 360? 
 
It’s not the fairest strategy and Nintendo is playing their cards a little dirty, but at least it’s not outright extortion. I know I will be spending the extra cash, just so my buddies and I can indulge in some Red Steel multiplayer mayhem.


With price and date out of the way, only one very big issue remains: games. A launch lineup can make a console into an overnight sensation (Halo, anyone?) or kill it for all intents and purposes before its first year on the market is over (Jaguar). Nintendo doesn’t have a very good track record with launch titles, at least for the past two generations. N64 debuted with only two games—Super Mario 64 and Wave Race 64. Mario 64 was the only reason the N64 lived past its troubled birth. It was such a mind-blowing revolution of a game that most of us didn’t care about the software shortage. 
 
GameCube did not have the luxury of an industry paradigm shift for a launch title. Everything about the launch felt rushed; GameCube was last to market by a couple weeks, and while its starting library was of modest size, most of the games were bare-minimum deals that only showed the basic abilities of the console. There was another Wave Race to keep up traditions, but Mario was nowhere to be seen. Instead we got the rather cruel behavioral experiment that was Luigi’s Mansion—it was neither a true platformer nor a very good game. I can imagine the incredulous laughter at Nintendo HQ after November 2001: “Ha! Look, they actually bought a 50 dollar tech demo!”
 
The only game I was really excited about was Rogue Leader, and that’s because I’m a diehard Star Wars nut. What followed November 18th, 2001 was a long drought until we got Smash Bros. Melee.
 
I’m relieved to report that Nintendo isn’t making the same mistake with Wii. The launch list isn’t sparkling with immaculate killer-apps that will change gaming forever, but I never expected that anyway. What really matters is Zelda. Honestly, if not for Zelda, the Wii launch might not be such a huge deal. But with Zeldaas a launch title, November 19th can’t go badly. It’s the biggest thing Miyamoto’s been working on for at least the past three years. That game alone makes the Wii worth buying.
 
…And then, we have the rest, which actually doesn’t look too shabby. Red Steel, Excite Truck, Rayman, Madden 07, Elebits, Marvel Alliance, Metal Slug, they all look very good for launch titles. They aren’t designed to turn the industry on its ear just yet, but to prove that the Wii hardware isn’t a gimmick. There are an admittedly large number of licensed kiddie games out for a quick buck, but the number of quality ideas makes up for it. Where else could you get Trauma Center: Second Opinion? (The DS version is very addictive, by the way).
 
Compared to the shaky identity crisis that was the DS launch, Wii is doing fine when it comes to games. I just hope we don’t have to wait too long for the really good stuff—Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3 and of course, Smash Bros. Brawl. In any case, we have the Virtual Console to keep us busy. Oh, and ZELDA.
 
So, there you have it. All things considered, the Wii is worth at least 250 out of your next paycheck. Is it in impulse buy territory? No, unfortunately not; Nintendo knows how to make as much as possible for their product. But it’s cheap enough to be tempting, especially when you have to auction off red cells to afford that PS3. At a month out, complaining about the release date isn’t really worth it anymore, and the near-guarantee of hardware and software at launch makes waiting a little easier. And for once, we have some really good games to look forward to. Nintendo has learned from its mistakes, and the rest of us finally get to benefit from that