The Wii is here and it has taken America by storm.
James Temperton crunches the numbers, looks over the hyperbole and tries to come to a conclusion about the Wii’s debut.
The Wii has launched in America and one of the most difficult regions for the system has welcomed the Nintendo system with open arms. The system was well stocked, well received and is getting a stupid amount of press coverage. But as with every major system launch, you have to wait until the dust settles to fully analyse the situation. Just over a week on from the USA fanfare for the console, and things are looking pretty good.
Nintendo of Canada’s marketing director Pierre-Paul Trepanier remarked "We didn't expect groups like families and people who haven't played videogames in a while to be suddenly interested. The demand has been overwhelmingly positive, and it's been hard to deal with". This is one of the major positives of the launch, the Wii (as Nintendo wanted) has got non-gamers interested in gaming. Whilst the initial fanboy rush to get hold of the system wiped out just about all the launch units, the few that were left over after the first few hours are being picked off by some rather unusual comments. Interviews dotted across the Internet are with female consumers, older customers and very few over excited adolescent boys.
Something for me that has been slightly worrying about the USA launch is Nintendo's own admission that they are intentionally selling the Wii at a profit, so is it overpriced? Well, certainly consumers haven’t been put off by it and as Reggie is at pains to point out, Nintendo need to make a bit of money from the system:
"We designed [Wii] from the get-go to be profitable, so it will be past this weekend and throughout its entire life. Because we're a gaming company, we have to be profitable in the gaming business. It's not like our competitors who can make profit in operating systems or TVs to offset their losses on the gaming side." A fair point, and one that shows Nintendo are a lot more business minded. And this is something that is shown in another sound bite from NoA’s recently installed president. Fils-Aime believes that in the next two to three weeks in the run up to early December Nintendo can shift one million Wii units in the USA. Following on from this he feels that another million will fly off the shelves between then and the second week in January.
Optimism always stems from somewhere with this man and you would feel that Nintendo have been very encouraged by early figures reaching them on the Wii launch. With an almost total sellout at launch and reported game to console ratios of over two per system, things are looking rosy. Factor in a reported sellout of Wii accessories (controllers and nun-chucks) in Canada and a similar performance probable in the USA and you have a launch that is not only profitable but in terms of early industry share: devastating. Consumer response has been very strong, as you would expect from a Nintendo console launch, but what is also encouraging is a very strong business response. Shares in Nintendo have shot up over the last few days. Certainly some people out there have decided the Wii is a sound investment...
Whilst figures are still a bit vague (and some confidential at this point), we can take a look at what’s been selling in Canada. According to an early report, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the top purchase followed by Red Steel from Ubisoft, Activision's Call of Duty 3, Sega's Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and Atari's Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2. Quite an interesting mix. Positions two and three are stocked up with the two most mature titles on the launch list, which will make for two very happy third party publishers. It would seem then that the Wii is already paying back on its pre-launch promise.
There have been some concerns about technical problems leading to some Wii’s dying. An update via the WiiConnect24 service killed off a number of Wii units across the pond. The off-shot of this is both bad publicity and unhappy customers, but compared to the problems that plagued the XBOX 360 when it first hit shelves the Wii has launched with very few technical issues. Nintendo seem receptive to problems, releasing patches to sort out errors and problems and generally rolling out the Wii in a very efficient and clean fashion.
However, Nintendo can’t account for one ever-growing problem, the Wii controller flying out of people’s hands and destroying TVs, dreams and possibly soon causing serious bod-ily harm. Perhaps this is a problem of Nintendo’s own making. Those of you that have seen Wii promotional footage of people violently thrashing about their arms whilst playing Wii will perhaps understand why this is happening. People perspire when they exercise (especially obese American gamers), so the lethal combination of a small slippery bit of plastic being hurled about near a very expensive TV screen will inevitably lead to destruction.
The Wii wrist strap is just a bit too flimsy when over-enthusiastic people start playing Wii Sports, but the fact is you do not need to play Wii Sports like your life depends on it. So why then do Nintendo insist on showing the Wii as being the pastime of whirling dervishes? Because it makes it look exciting. In reality, a flick of the wrist is just as effective, ten times as accurate and you are far less likely to smash one cheap bit of plastic into one very expensive TV. Common sense surely?
One of the most interesting aspects of the Wii launch has been the appearance of reviews. On GamerRankings.com they list games by average ratings from a number of online publications. Zelda for example has been reviewed by 28 publications (including print) and has scored (on average) 96.4%. Most titles have had about 10 reviews and the scores show a very interesting trend. Over half the titles score on average over 70%, which is pretty damn good. A third of the launch list scores over 80% which is outstanding. Encouragingly, numbers 2 through 8 are all third party releases from Activision, EA, Ubisoft and Atari amongst others. It’s very encouraging for Nintendo and of course its early supporters. The list for your casual perusal:
1. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (96.4%)
2. Trauma Center: Second Opinion (83.3%)
3. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (81.1%)
4. Madden NFL 07 (80.9%)
5. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 (80.9%)
6. Rayman Raving Rabbids (80.7%)
7. Metal Slug Anthology (80.0%)
8. Call of Duty 3 (77.3%)
9. Wii Sports (77.0%)
10. Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam (75.7%)
11. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (75.0%)
12. Excite Truck (74.2%)
13. SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab (70.0%)
14. Red Steel (67.0%)
15. The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (66.0%)
16. Monster 4X4: World Circuit (65.0%)
17. Avatar: The Last Airbender (62.0%)
18. Need for Speed Carbon (60.0%)
19. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent (60.0%)
20. Rampage: Total Destruction (58.0%)
21. GT Pro Series (50.5%)
22. Happy Feet (45.0%)
Zelda has been such an important title for the system and one that was always going to sell it by the bucketload. As much as Nintendo go on about appealing to new consumers and breaking down barriers, the title that scores the best and sells the best is the most established gamer franchise on the launch list (which as much as it is ironic is also very good news). The Wii needs to appeal to core gamers and needs to give them the sort of games they will love, and you don’t get much more loving than what is debatably one of the greatest games of all time.
One worrying aspect has to be that some reviewers have been scoring the Wii lower simply because they don’t know how to play it. ‘Unresponsive controls’ they say, ‘poor gameplay’ they complain, ‘doesn’t work well’ they conclude. Perhaps some reviewers need a bit of Wii training. This is a bit dangerous for Nintendo, but you have to feel that over time people will get used to the Wii, work out how to review it and stop moaning that it doesn’t work, when in fact it is they who ‘don’t work’. Time will be a telling factor...
Press coverage of the launch has been excellent, with the Wii getting some superb reviews and its reviews getting equally good publicity from various outlets. And the same is set to continue as the full worldwide launch looms large. The UK is perhaps one of Nintendo’s most impressive markets from a promotional point of view. Often seen as the key to Europe, the UK market has been remarkably unreceptive towards Nintendo in the home console market in recent years. With the DS they have made up some major ground, and they are going insane with Wii promotion.
Unlike in the USA, Nintendo are giving the system substantial pre-launch promotion. Whilst their attitude overseas has very much been to only advertise the product when it hits shelves, in the UK they are leading in with a staggered line-up of four adverts that will soon expand out to form a series explaining the Wii as December 8th looms large.
So what lessons can Nintendo learn from the Wii USA launch? Well, not much really. It has sold out, which is inevitable, Zelda sold excellently, which is inevitable and the console itself is getting some great reviews and press coverage, but a lot of it is from the specialist gaming press. The fanboys have gobbled up all the Nintendo Wii units so far, now it is up to Nintendo to promote the Wii to everyone else and persuade the whole world to buy the Wii in 2007.
So far so good.
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