news Nintendo announced this morning that its new Wii U console would launch in Australia on 30 November this year, with several different pricing options available ranging from a “Basic Pack” at $349.95 to a “Premium Pack” containing a black model with more space for $429.95.
The Wii U is the company’s follow-up to its highly successful Wii console, of which Nintendo has sold several million in Australia since its launch at the end of 2006 in Australia. The console, Nintendo’s sixth console for the home, will feature 1080p high-definition graphics, addressing a common complaint about the Wii, which only supports standard definition graphics.
In addition, the Wii U will continue Nintendo’s tradition of innovating in the control systems which users use to control games, adding a new controller with an embedded touchscreen, which will allow players to continue gaming sessions by displaying a game on the controller’s touchscreen — even though their television may be off or being used for another purpose. The Wii U was first revealed in June 2011, and will be backwards compatible with Wii games.
The news will make Nintendo the first of the three major video game console manufacturers to release a new console for some years. Neither Microsoft nor Sony have yet released much information on their next-generation consoles to replace their respective Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms, although both have released additions to the consoles to tackle specific area such as motion controlled gaming — a feature first introduced in the Nintendo Wii.
It also comes as rival mobile platforms, such as Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 systems are starting to attract significant amounts of investment from gaming firms keen to cash in on the wave of new smartphone purchases. Some handheld smartphone games — such as the Infinity Blade series — are starting to feature graphics comparable to those on offer through dedicated consoles.
This morning, Nintendo also unveiled the titles which would launch through the Wii U on launch day, ranging from a Wii U version of Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros franchise, to a theme park game dubbed Nintendo Land, to soccer game FIFA 13, survival horror game ZombiU, 2D platform game Rayman Legends, the first person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and a special edition of Mass Effect 3. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate will also be released for the Wii U by March 2013. A number of other games will also be available during the Wii U’s ‘launch window’, according to Nintendo, with popular titles such as Transformers, Ninja Gaiden, Darksiders 2, Assassin’s Creed III and Batman: Arkham City to be available.
Nintendo said with regard to the Wii U’s pricing in Australia:
“The Wii U Basic Pack at $349.95 features a Wii U console with 8GB internal storage and a Wii U GamePad, both in white. The Wii U Premium Pack at $429.95 contains a black Wii U console and Wii U GamePad, and with 32GB of internal storage provides more space for downloadable digital content. The Premium Pack also contains a stand for the GamePad and console, a charging cradle for the GamePad, a sensor bar and the Nintendo Land software. Both packs also feature an HDMI cable and AC adapters for console and GamePad. The Wii U Premium Pack also features a reward programme called Nintendo Network Premium that grants points for digital purchases in Nintendo eShop. Valued at around 10% of the original Nintendo eShop price, this credit can be used against future purchases once you reach a minimum of 500 points.”
Nintendo will be counting on the launch of the Wii U to revitalise its ailing financial performance, especially in Australia, where the company recently revealed that it lost 41 percent of its revenue in one year, as diminishing interest in the company’s aging Wii platforms and lacklustre launch of its 3DS handset console slugged the company’s finances hard.
For the year to 31 March 2011, Nintendo Australia booked $339.7 million in revenues, capping off a strong growth period for the company in Australia. The company’s Australian revenues had grown strongly over the past five years as it made money hand over fist from its successful Wii console. To illustrate how strong that growth has been, in 2006, Nintendo Australia made just $71 million in revenue from Australia.
However, financial results filed this month with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission reveal the company’s revenues to 31 March this year sank to $200.1 million — a drop of 41 percent in just one year. For that period, Nintendo Australia said it made an $11.4 million net loss, compared with a $3.6 million net profit the year previously. It also spent dramatically less on marketing — $28.5 million compared with $43.4 million the year previously.
Internationally, Nintendo has also been suffering. In late July, the company posted a sharp drop in quarterly profit and its first full-year loss, Reuters has reported — with the amount lost to be US$575 million. “Nintendo cut its forecast for annual sales of its ageing Wii console to 10 million devices from 12 million, and for the 3DS handheld games device to 14 million from 16 million,” Reuters reported.
Industry speculation about the cause of Nintendo’s financial problems has focused around several key areas. Firstly, the popularity of Apple’s iPhone and similar smartphones running Google’s Android platform has shifted the emphasis of mobile video gaming away from traditional powerhouses such as Nintendo (with its DS and 3DS systems) and Sony (with its handheld PlayStation line) and towards these new players, with major third-party studios now devoting resources to the smartphone platforms.
Secondly, although Nintendo’s own games continue to be popular — for example, the Mario and Zelda franchises — the company has struggled to attract third-party developers to its Wii and 3DS platforms, due to a substantially different development environment compared with major industry players Sony and Microsoft. It is believed that many developers find it a much easier matter to develop platforms jointly for the PlayStation and XBox 360 platforms, and even for Windows PCs, than for Nintendo’s Wii platform.
In Australia, Nintendo does, however, have a strong existing install base for its consoles, with over two million Nintendo Wiis having been sold locally as at December 2010, and hundreds of thousands of Nintendo 3DS units. There are also some three million Nintendo DS units in the community. The issue for many Australian gamers has been a lack of fresh content for the Wii since it launched in 2006 — while rival platforms have continually launched new games.
Am I planning to buy a Wii U, personally? Hell, no. Virtually all of the games available on the Wii U are already available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and I already own an Xbox and am about to buy a PlayStation 3 to play a number of platform-specific titles such as Demon’s Souls and Shadow of the Collossus. Our household does own a Wii, but it’s literally sitting on the bookshelf collecting dust at this point. I think I am typical of quite a lot of Australian gamers in that I would only invest in a Wii U if there were one or more awesome Zelda games which came out for it, as well as few other Nintendo-only titles — perhaps some Mario content in 3D, or Metroid? I don’t know.
Anyway, at this stage it’s unlikely. And as someone who’s owned virtually every Nintendo console ever released over the years, I think my personal situation is probably the problem facing Nintendo with respect to much of the rest of the market. I am a pretty typical gamer. Of course, there’s always the old folk nursing homes, which have proven avid buyers of the Wii …
Image credit: Nintendo