Just one week ago today, Nintendo finally(!) lifted the curtain on the rest of its Wii U launch details. Several small surprises were sprinkled throughout – Nintendo TVii and Bayonetta 2 being the biggest two – but amidst all the hubbub, perhaps the biggest (small) detail went largely overlooked: the fact that, for the first time in its 29-year history as a console manufacturer, Nintendo was releasing multiple tiers of its system.
With some time under our belts to mull the situation over, we gathered a (impromptu, as usual) panel of all-stars to quickly belt a few thoughts at each other as we rushed down the hallway to various important meetings (read: watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo reruns). This is our short-but-sweet catcalled conversation.
Marc N. Kleinhenz, gaming ronin:
I was really, really hoping that the days of multiple-tiered system releases would be a fluke of the current generation, but Nintendo has gone and made it official: multiple SKUs are here to stay. Could this end up being a good thing? Did Nintendo differentiate enough between the two different versions?
And will this all be irrelevant a year from now, with the Xbox Infinity and PS4 launch?
Derrick Bitner, GameXplain Miinion:
The multiple SKUs never really bothered me. I never quite understood the reasoning behind them, though. I know they want to offer a variety so people of all financial means can get a system, but the differences between the SKUs never felt especially significant. It mostly comes down to how big the hard drive is. In the case of the Wii U, the deluxe version only offers a slightly larger hard drive and a packaged copy of Nintendo Land, as well as a couple stands. That's a pretty decent value, except that the size of the hard drive doesn't matter too much since Nintendo has already confirmed that the Wii U will accept external drives. Still, I know that whenever I do purchase a Wii U, it will be the deluxe version.
Craig Harris, Nintendo demigod:
Oh, the multiple SKU thing is easy: there's a basic set so that the Wii U can openly be promoted as a system that's under 300 dollars, competitive with the current generation of game systems currently on the market. Of course, the “good” system is 50 bucks more – and, naturally, the extra stuff that you get makes it a much better value. I do appreciate the hard divide between the two set-ups with the different system colors, but of course I was very much expecting to hear the whining of people who want a white system and all the extra goodies. Can't please all the people all the time and all that.
Andre Segers, GameXplain editor-in-chief:
I'm fine with multiple SKUs in concept – why not appeal to the broadest possible user-base as possible? Though I'm not terribly fond of locking each one to a single color, essentially placing a premium price on those who may favor a black Wii U or punishing those who'd rather have white and the extras of the premium bundle.
That aside, the difference in price is reasonable. Hell, I'd pay that much for Nintendo Land alone. Though God knows I don't need any more cheap pieces of plastic lying around my living room. The digital downloads reward program is particularly neat, as well, though also devious, provided the only way to get it is by purchasing a premium bundle.
With that said, the prices did come in about $50 higher than I expected, but I don't think what they're asking for is out of line.
Sir Gordon Wheelmeier, gaming guru:
My first reaction to the pricing was, “Hmm, okay. That seems fine.” In other words, not cheaper than I thought, but also not prohibitively expensive. The extra controllers – in Japan, at least, where they'll actually be on sale – are really pricey, however. I know the excuse for not selling them Stateside is that they want as many full systems ready to go at launch as they can manage, but I don't believe it. There may be some truth to that statement, but I think keeping that crazy $170-or-whatever-the-yen translation winds up being out of the news was a marketing move. Then, once the controllers hit shelves next year, people will complain about pricing at that point, but they'll be long past launch. But the ultimate question is whether I plan on buying one... no, not this year. There will have to be some really amazing software (and not just Mario and Zelda) to get me on board, and likely at a price drop, at that. I think there's potential, but my Wii has been collecting dust for years, and I don't really want a repeat of that.
Marc N. Kleinhenz, gaming ronin:
Yeah, I think it's safe to assume that the Wii U is $50 more expensive than it really ought to be – the same as the Wii six years ago. I just sincerely doubt that Sony will commit the same mistake of making this look cheap by comparison.
What really strikes me about the launch info, though, is not the price tag – it's the reveal of Bayonetta 2, the Tekken Tag announcement, Andre's membership program, built-in HDDs, Blu-ray usage... this really isn't the same Nintendo that we've seen throughout the past generation.
Maybe having the new system come out on the GameCube's launch date is a good omen. =)
(D'oh – can't forget Nintendo TVii. I mean, for Nintendo, WTF?)
Katharine Byrne, Nintendojo co-EIC:
This is a good step for Nintendo. It shows they’re thinking much more about their intended audiences (yes, plural) and how their tastes might differ on a much wider scale than we’ve seen previously. As much as I’d like a white premium version, as well, there’s more than enough on offer to make me forgo my color preference and settle on the black premium version (even though Europe is missing out on the Nintendo TVii feature).
That said, European prices are around £50 higher than what I was expecting, making our respective bundles the equivalent of $405 and $485, but our limited edition ZombiU black premium Wii U bundle (retailing at around £330/$535) also includes a Wii U Pro Controller (and ZombiU) along with everything else the black premium pack offers, making that version easily the most appealing and best value bundle out of the three.
The Bayonetta 2 reveal was definitely a pleasant surprise, though, and if I wasn't confident about Nintendo's plan to recapture the "hardcore" market before, I'm certainly a little more optimistic about it now. There's still a slight sense of trepidation over whether Nintendo will be able to sustain this kind of promise, but from where I'm sitting, now couldn't be a better time to be a Nintendo fan.
Michael Pachter, Wedbush Securities managing director:
I think Nintendo is trying to cosmetically “reveal” a sub-$300 price point when the device is actually $350. The add-ons for the extra $50 are a few pieces of plastic and a game, so the “bundle” at $349 is actually what people expected. The price appears to be too high for mass market consumers, but given that the Wii was sold out for literally years, it makes sense that Nintendo would price high at launch to better balance demand with what is most certainly going to be limited supply. Nintendo management won’t manufacture more than 12 to 15 million units the first year, so 1 to 1.25 million units a month in production sounds about right. Since we haven’t seen pictures of the assembly lines yet (they haven’t leaked), it’s likely that manufacturing is just beginning. That means three to four million produced by year-end. They will sell all of those, and to be honest, they’ll probably manufacture 75% of them as the premium set.
I think the lack of hard drive is a mistake, but 32GB is sufficient flash memory to allow game saves and multiplayer. It’s not sufficient for full game downloads, which is a relief to GameStop.
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Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered the gaming industry for a dozen publications, including Gamasutra and TotalPlayStation, where he was features editor. He also co-hosts the Airship Travelogues podcast for Nintendojo.
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