Editorial: Nintendo’s Latest Attempt to Sell More Wii U’s

Pretty please?
Will somebody buy a Wii U now?

During last week’s Nintendo Direct conference, a small bomb was dropped when a long-awaited classic was announced to finally be hitting the virtual console. That game, of course, is the magnificent Earthbound. It appears that, perhaps, the hundreds of petitions for Earthbound finally had the intended effect. What was strange was that Earthbound was the only new release that Nintendo had lined up for the Wii U. With sequels to A Link to the Past and Yoshi’s Island as well as the highly anticipated Bravely Default all being announced for the 3DS, it is almost understandable why Nintendo fanboys like James Troxell were oblivious to Nintendo ignoring its home console.

This focus on the 3DS during the recent Nintendo Direct was interesting. The 3DS is selling like crazy, selling around three million units this year alone. The Wii U represents the opposite side of the spectrum, selling just south of four-hundred thousand units so far in 2013. With the Wii U floundering to kick off 2013, I would expect Nintendo to announce some substantial titles to be released. Looking to future releases for the Wii U, the most buzz worthy exclusive titles are Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101. While both of these games have received a decent amount of hype, they are not of the same caliber of many of the titles that were announced for the 3DS.

The announcement of Earthbound hitting the Virtual Console this year could be a sign that Nintendo is beginning to run out of ideas on how to make the Wii U appealing. Nintendo has long resisted letting Americans have anything more from the Mother series apart from the SNES release of Earthbound. In turn, many followers of the series have been extremely vocal in their attempts to convince Nintendo to release any Mother title. The very surprising announcement makes me wonder what Nintendo’s true intentions are. Announcing it at the end of a short Wii U section with roughly half of the excitement of the firmware update (loading times will now only be two minutes!) makes me think that Nintendo is up to something.

The Earthbound buzz strongly reminds me of the controversy that surrounded the localization of Xenoblade and The Last Story for the Wii. Both games were highly anticipated titles that were released to positive reviews in Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Neither game was initially confirmed for an US release, leading to a letter writing campaign that eventually led to the titles being released in the US. In a move that was reminiscent of a spoiled child still attempting to have the last word, Xenoblade was exclusively available through GameStop and Nintendo’s website. Neither game sold particularly well, and in the end Nintendo was able to lay back and say “told you so!” Now, Earthbound will see a strict Wii U Virtual Console release, a console that has sold around one and a quarter million in North America. With such a small user base, it is easy to imagine Nintendo declaring that Earthbound clearly does not sell in North America, giving them all the excuse they need to keep future Mother titles in Japan.

Let us just ignore the fact that no Zelda title has ever sold close to that many units!
If Skyward Sword sold under four million, then a Wind Waker remake can surely sell nine million!

On Wednesday, Nintendo announced its results of the 2013 fiscal year. After posting a large loss in 2012, Nintendo posted a profit of just over seven billion yen in 2013. This profit was made in spite of the JRT as well as a thirty-six billion operating loss. Stunningly, Nintendo has projected the Wii U to sell nine million units for the fiscal year of 2014. This projection is based on projected releases from some of Nintendo’s largest franchises. However, it is crazy for Nintendo to assume that games like Wind Waker and Pikmin 3 are able to drive the Wii U sales that high. Skyward Sword sold less than four million, yet Nintendo seemingly expects the HD remake of Wind Waker to not only double that number, but also entice the same number of people to buy a Wii U.

Nintendo’s handling of the Wii U continues to be confusing. When the 3DS struggled after launch (although not to the extent of the Wii U), Nintendo slashed the price by eighty dollars. Coupled with some high-profile software, the 3DS has remained near the top of the sales charts ever since. Even with this knowledge, a price drop appears to be the last thing on Nintendo’s mind. While Nintendo would never admit to giving up on the Wii U, I am starting to wonder if they are becoming more open to the idea. Handheld gaming has proven to be insanely profitable for Nintendo, and with the number of compelling 3DS titles set to be released this year, it is easy to see why the Wii U becoming more of an afterthought. A home console market that lacks Nintendo’s presence is strange to think about, but may also be beneficial to Nintendo in the long run. Focusing solely on their profitable handheld consoles would streamline the company’s mindset. Considering that the last great home console from Nintendo was the SNES, maybe this should happen sooner than later.

5 comments

  1. This will be another Gamecube, I think. Nintendo’s console presence there was pretty small, but their handheld business (with the stellar GBA/SP and slow but steady launch of the DS into the monster it became) was booming.

  2. Yeah, I think and hope it’ll be a GameCube. Nintendo needs to get humbled. But I would be pretty sad if they bowed out of the home console business. Galaxy 2 and Skyward Sword were two of my favourite titles from last (last last?) generation and I think the Wii U is a better concept for a console.

    I also think releasing Earthbound is less about trying to make a bundle of money and more about garnering good customer relations. With LttP2 it feels pretty obvious that they’re trying to woo back the hardcore gamer. And with the new 3D Mario game set to be playable at E3, I’m guessing they’re going to attempt at least one more first party push. Skyward Sword sold under 4 million but the Galaxy games sold over 16 million combined. Also, unfortunately, their entirely broken and shitty Mario Kart series seems to sell even better than that.

    My Wii broke, what, about a year ago? and I haven’t missed it, but I think the Nintendo pattern will continue. 3rd party stuff will tank, 1st party stuff will be enough to carry their system enough to stay in the business.

  3. Pretty much agreed. And another Gamecube might seem like bad news, and in comparison it is, but Nintendo made money throughout most of the Gamecube’s lifespan only reporting losses on a few occasions. And Earthbound will make Nintendo exactly squat. Only a very small passionate customer base even knows about this series in the US, and I mean small for Nintendo’s core audience. Still, though, how much could it possibly cost to port this over to the Wii or Wii U or 3DS? Why they didn’t just do it earlier is a mystery.

  4. What Ethan said – releasing Earthbound is less about sales than it is about delivering the clear message that the days of NoA’s mishandling of the Wii are over; a point that is underlined by Iwata being made NoA CEO.

    Also, I’d love for the Wii U to become another GC or N64, since those leaner times forced Nintendo to make better games!

    I can’t wait for sales of their new Wii Fit game to completely flop!

  5. leaner times forced Nintendo to make better games!

    Yes indeedy.

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