Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Old and busted. New hotness.

So, another E3 has come and gone.  While everyone in attendance had something to show off, one of the biggest impacts of the show had to be Nintendo's unveiling of the "Wii U".  No folks, that's not some sort of new college funded by Nintendo and dedicated to the development of new motion controlled games for the Wii library.  No, it's the name Nintendo decided to go with for it's newest upcoming game console.  While it's good to see Nintendo getting a jump on the competition and to see all the cool new games in development, there were a couple of major details conveniently left out of the presentation ... like a price or release date.  In fact, Nintendo was quick to point out that even the hardware being shown was still considered "prototype".  So, with all focus on the Wii U and the build up for its eventual release, I can't help but wonder if Nintendo's Wii U (the "new hotness") has essentially put a bullet through the head of the original Wii console ("old and busted").

What got this train of thought rolling down the track was a recent trip I took to one of the local GameStop stores.  For some time now, I've needed to replace my Wii in the "office".  I finally took the time to head out and pick one up this weekend [NOTE: If you need my new Wii friend code or my replacement 3DS friend code from before, make sure you hit me up for it].  When I told the person at the register that I was there to replace my Wii, he asked why I don't just wait for the release of the Wii U.  His reasoning behind this was that the Wii U will play original Wii games, supposedly there's not a lot of "big releases" scheduled for the Wii now, and he thinks that GameStop is just going to unload everything Wii related that it can leading up to the Wii U launch (which he believed would be a Holiday 2012 timeframe).  All of this led up to him ultimately calling the Wii "a dead console" ... after which I told him I still needed it, paid for the system, and headed back home.

So, as I was in the office hooking up the Wii, in and amongst all of the other consoles and accessories, I couldn't help but think about whether or not the Wii really COULD be considered a dead man (or rather, console) walking.  After all, the Wii did just get a hefty discount and is certainly priced to move right now.  Plus, if you look at the release schedule for the Wii, there's a bit of a drought of solid titles in the system's immediate future.  Putting two and two together, it does seem to add up that the Wii could be on its last legs.  Of course, I think there are a few too many missing numbers in that equation to draw a concrete answer.  Let me explain.

Okay, first off I've got to say that Nintendo really screwed the pooch by announcing the Wii U, but not any estimated price point or release date.  Because of that, all anyone sees in the news is talk about the successor to the Wii, all of these newer and better titles, and how the Wii U will revolutionize gaming ... which is all great marketing hype for the Wii U, but also has the unfortunate side effect of making the current Wii seem lacking and obsolete.  Worse yet, without any other information to go on, most laymen will likely think that the Wii U's release is just around the corner and that its price will probably be comparable to the Wii.  I think it's a pretty safe bet that both of those assumptions is likely to be far from true.

Industry folks seem to expect the Wii U to hit stores in time for the holiday season in 2012 ... though I've gone on record saying that I think the EARLIEST we'll see it hit is Summer 2012.  If I'm wrong, then we're looking at a roughly a year and a half before the the general public is playing the Wii U, and even if I'm right, that's still puts the release a full year away.  That's a full year which would normally give Nintendo plenty of time for the original Wii to keep the cash flow coming in ... if the company hadn't spent all its time hyping up what's to come and neglecting what's already here.

Oh, and as for the relatively weak lineup of new Wii titles?  Well, that's somewhat understandable too.  Every third party publisher under the sun is currently working on a host of new games for the Wii U's debut.  Unfortunately, that means resources have to pulled from other projects, and in the case of the Wii U games, the logical place to pull from would be the other Nintendo-related projects.  After all, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to cut from the 360 or PS3 development too much when those systems are still going strong.  And since the publishers know that Nintendo's focus is going to be the Wii U, they're simply following suit to take advantage of the hype.

While we're on the topic of resources, let's talk money for a second.  Once again, this is another subject that Nintendo has yet to broach regarding the Wii U.  How much will it cost?  Nobody really know (yet).  If I had to take an educated guess, I'd expect the system to run at either a $449 or $499 price point, considering the showcased hardware and the touch screen controller.  Even if it somehow manages to come in under that mark, you're still looking at spending two to three times the cost of a Wii if you want to get a Wii U at launch. While a lot of hardcore Nintendo fans, technophiles, and other early adopter types might line up for the Wii U regardless of its price, for most people that's probably going to be a hefty chunk to drop on yet another game system.  And consider that, for the most part, the bulk of the Wii's core audience has been made up of the casual set and newcomers to gaming.  Most soccer moms, grandparents, and other family game night attendees really aren't likely to rush out for Nintendo's "next big thing".  They're still happy with the current Wii model and probably aren't feeling the rush to replace it.

So all of this brings me back around to my initial question: Is the Wii a "dead" console?  Well, I guess it's all going to depend on who you ask.  I'm sure if you asked a Nintendo rep if the Wii is dead, you'd get a whole lot of PR spin about how the Wii is still a viable entertainment console ... despite the company's focus on the Wii U.  And you know what?  Even without a stable of new retail releases on the horizon, Nintendo would be right.  Hell, the classic games available on the Virtual Console and unique WiiWare gems like Cave Story, World of Goo, and the Bit.Trip series help support the argument that the Wii is still capable of a lot of entertainment.  However, if Nintendo continues to toss the baby out with the bath water by neglecting current (and possibly future) Wii owners, it's going to be hard to fault any big developers as they drop the Wii like a bad habit.  The smart thing for Nintendo to have done is to recognize it's current audience and to launch the Wii U without the "Wii" name ... keeping the two consoles distinct.  By focusing some Wii marketing to the casual slice of the gaming market while pushing the Wii U to the gadget gurus and the hardcore gamers, Nintendo could extend the life of the Wii and still get a nice sized second bite at the market with the Wii U.

So, what are YOUR thoughts on the fate of the Wii?  Can the system survive the Wii U hype, or would it be more merciful to go ahead and pull the plug?

No comments: