The Wii U finally got a launch date and a price point last week, which means we can finally plop down some money to reserve our very own next-gen Nintendo console. Of course, preorders are very limited, and several retailers are claiming that they're already out—especially of the Deluxe Edition, which costs a bit more and comes with a game, extra memory, and some other neat stuff.
That's right, the amount of preorders was limited, and those numbers are dwindling. If you haven't preordered one yet, in fact, you might actually be out of luck. The Wii U is a sellout.
Now, I actually predicted this several weeks ago in a column called "The Wii U: Supply, Demand, and Pokémon." You see, Nintendo has this way of underproducing their consoles, which makes them very difficult to find at launch, which in turn causes demand to skyrocket. And this means that said console becomes the thing everyone is talking about. People that didn't originally plan on buying the thing all of a sudden want it. It's a manipulative market strategy, and one that seems to have worked pretty well for the original Wii. (Of course, it could also just be a strategy that is designed to prevent warehouses from being overfilled. Either way, it has the result of increasing demand substantially.)
So, with the Wii U proving to be immensely popular, at least among early adopters, this seems like an early sign of success for the Wii U, right? In fact, I've heard people calling this "a case of the Wii all over again." Even analyst Michael Pachter, a man who's not exactly known for saying nice things about Nintendo, has been optimistic.
However, while I think it's far too early to be able to accurately predict the winner of next generation's "console wars," I'm not convinced the Wii U has the chops to keep Nintendo in the first place position. As we all know, the Wii outsold the PS3 and Xbox 360 by a mile, making Nintendo the champion of this current gen (as far as pure sales figures go, at least.) But that's a crown that I doubt the company will be able to hold onto.
My main reason for this assumption is that a big part of the Wii's success was based on the fact that it was unique. It had motion controls, which, back then, added this "wow factor" that the PS3 and the 360 didn't really have. Sure, we can all look back and roll our eyes at the massive heaps of shovelware that the Wiimote ushered in, but back in 2006, motion controls were new and legitimately exciting.
The Wii U has a similar "wow factor" with its tablet-style touchscreen controller. However, unlike this current generation, in which it took years for Microsoft and Sony to catch up to Nintendo and release their own Wiimote competitors (by which time it may have been too late), Nintendo's competition is ready to fight back. And hard.
As I already explained in a column called "Console-Makers Are Crazy for Tablets," Microsoft is keeping up with the Wii U by integrating SmartGlass, which allows your tablet of choice to interact with your 360 in some interesting ways. And Sony's got all the functionality it needs with its PS3/Vita connectivity. While Nintendo has an early lead on the tech, we won't see a several-year lag between Nintendo's tech and its rivals' competing tech. In fact, we'll easily see competing tech on both the 360 and the PS3, before either of Nintendo's main competitors even step into the next generation.
And really, that's going to be a problem for Nintendo in the long run. Will gaming historians of the future look back on the Wii U as being the launch pad for a new generation of consoles, or will it be considered Nintendo's "catch-up" device, which finally competes with the PS3 and 360 from a hardware perspective? Will the Wii U hold our interest once the PS4 and Xbox 720 hit the market?
Another thing to consider is the Ouya, that tiny little console that exploded on Kickstarter and will be launching next spring. Sure, it's not going to be able to make the splash the major consoles will make in the upcoming generation (it'll be the small guy, the indie guy, and Ouya's totally fine with that), but what if the tablet thing ends up not being the future of gaming? What if moddability and easy access for upstart indie developers end up being the next big things instead? The Wii U won't be able to compete with the Ouya when it comes to moddability, that's for sure.
Nintendo's putting all its eggs into one basket with its tablet functionality. Sure, it'll be fun to see what they do with it, but it's a risky endeavor nonetheless. It's a similar risk to the one that paid off big for the Wii, but if the Wii U doesn't manage to launch the next big thing in gaming, could it be another Virtual Boy scenario? Then again, "the next big thing" might not be all that important if Nintendo comes out with an extremely attractive line-up of exclusive titles. And they've already got Bayonetta 2 locked down, as well as great first-party titles like New Super Mario Bros. U and Pikmin 3.
Still, would you be as excited for the Wii U if it were to launch the same week as the Xbox 720 or the PS4? I have a feeling the answer to that question should probably make Nintendo at least a little bit nervous.
Editor / News Director
Date: September 18, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*