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.
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