The Wii U launched last week, to general acclaim and positive responses; Nintendo sold some 400,000 Wii U's in North America. That's not quite equal to the Wii, which moved over 600,000 units in 2006, but it puts the next-generation console well ahead of the PS3
and Xbox 360
when those consoles debuted.
Nintendo is feeling pretty stoked about this, but the company's North American president, Reggie Fils-Aime, took a surprisingly arrogant tone regarding Sony and Microsoft. "In the end, our competitors need to react to what we're doing in the marketplace and need to figure out what their innovation will be," Fils-Aime told CNET. "It's likely that faster processors and pretty pictures won't be enough to motivate consumers. They need to react to what we've done and we need to continue innovating with the Wii U
and we will."
The problem with Fils-Aime's statements is that it sounds an awful lot like the comments Sony executives made prior to the launch of the PS3. Kaz Hirai's comment that "The next generation doesn't start until we say it does," became Exhibit A for how badly Sony miscalculated both the Xbox 360's appeal and the strength of its own console.
Reviews on the Wii U are positive, but the console market has changed enormously in the past six years. Tablets and smartphones now compete directly for gaming dollars. The Wii U isn't coming in at half the price of its competitors; it's actually more expensive than the current baseline cost of the PS3 and Xbox 360. The Wii U's controller is great in certain circumstances and in some games, but it lacks the intuitive "pick it up and play" capability that made the Wii such a hit and drove people to buy the console that had never purchased one before.
The fact is, post-launch sales have become an increasingly poor indicator of launch sustainability. Consider the following chart from VGChartz.com:
The lime-green line that starts between January and April 2011 is the 3DS
, the pumpkin-colored line in December, 2011 is the PlayStation Vita. Both handhelds saw a spike of initial demand followed by significant declines. The 3DS bumps up in July 2011, with news of a price cut, then jumps again late in the year with the release of new titles. Even at its peak, it fails to match the sales volume of the Nintendo DS in December 2010.
Reports on the Wii U's games are strong, but a number of reviewers have stated that the new titles don't offer anything new on the graphics front compared to the Xbox 360 or PS3. Nintendo's dedication on a smooth gamepad experience has paid off; no one reports synchronization issues with the GamePad, but running two displays and the necessary WiFi connection undoubtedly costs some horsepower that might be spent elsewhere.
The signature differences in price and capability that defined the Wii aren't articulated as sharply with the Wii U. Whether or not Nintendo can maintain its momentum is an open question. Part of the company's answer to that question lies in its confirmed introduction of a new, $99 Wii Mini. Thus far, the company has only confirmed the device for Canada, but it's highly unlikely that it'll remain confined in the Great White North.
The $99 Wii has been redesigned from the ground up. Gone is the slot-loading drive, support for GameCube controllers, or the ability to play GC-era titles. The new console also has no Internet connectivity, which means no Virtual Console or WiiWare support.
Best Buy's ad copy states that the new device is fully compatible with all Wii games and comes with a sensor bar, MotionPlus controller, and red nunchuk. The push into $99 territory and the smaller form factor implies that this new Wii may debut on new process technology and cheaper integrated components. The practice of releasing budget versions of the previous console is a time-honored Sony tradition, but the value of the Wii Mini may depend on how much of a library of Virtual Console games you own.