This week brought a welcome change to Nintendo: The release of new Wii U games. Lego City Undercover, EA’s Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and Capcom’s Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate breathed the first blast of fresh air into Nintendo’s struggling console that it’s had since its lukewarm launch in November. The console needs those games badly, and more soon. In January and February the Wii U’s sales were lower than the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have ever been over the past seven years. Things have gotten so bad that in the UK, even following an unofficial price cut (UK retailers GameStop, ShopTo, Asda, and Amazon.com have all dropped the price of the Wii U Basic model by £50, approximately $75), Nintendo has decided to step in and hold meetings with retailers to calm them and discuss the future of the console.
“We have taken the decision to reduce the price of the Basic Wii U to test the market and assess the impact of a price change for a short period of time,” said ShopTo’s buying director James Rowson in an interview with MCV, “This has resulted in a smaller than desired increase in sales at this stage.”
This means that ShopTo is starting to consider lowering their stock of the system and its games. It’s not alone, either.
“Currently Nintendo has not lost [shelf] space, but their mix of sales is down,” said an anonymous buyer for another of the aforementioned retailers, “We are looking to reduce slightly but must admit [Nintendo’s] silence on strategy is deafening at the moment. They’ve got to do something otherwise it’s the Gamecube all over again.”
Nintendo responded that it’s got a plan to turn things around, but didn’t illuminate any details. “We’ll be speaking to our retailers directly over the next few weeks to take them through our plans for building Wii U momentum over the course of 2013,” said a company spokesperson.
The last time Nintendo said that it was going to share plans for how it would build excitement around Wii U was in January when it announced a number of new games including The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and Yarn Yoshi. None of the games announced then were given release dates though, and many aren’t expected out before the end of 2013.
Nintendo’s sales failure in the US—January sales totaled just 57,000, and February sales came to 66,000—and its failure abroad demonstrate three undeniable factors about the Wii U: First, Nintendo’s consumers are far savvier about the need for digital content storage space than they were in the past. Around 70-percent of Wii U sales in the US are for the Deluxe model, and the UK price drop for the Basic Set generated no interest. Consumers don’t want to buy a gimped model that they can’t download games to.
Second: The Nintendo Wii U is too expensive. End of story. Even if the controller is an interesting and fun device, it doesn’t translate as value to consumers. Without a market defining game like Wii Sports, the Wii U looks like nothing more than an overly expensive Xbox 360 with a weak library.