There was a very simple reason that video game consoles stayed so popular even as PCs surpassed them in technological versatility back in the ‘90s: Plug in and play. You could put a game in a console and be guaranteed it would work when you hit the power button. That all changed seven years ago when the Xbox 360 made downloadable games a console standard, so now you have to look at a console’s operating system before you can even choose a game to play. The wait between boot up and play has gotten extensive. Just look at the Wii U: When new owners fire up that system for the first time, they have to wait in excess of an hour for the console’s firmware to download! That won’t be changing any time soon either, according to Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime.
“Nintendo developers want to make sure that the very best product is available to consumers,” Fils-Aime told Gamasutra on Tuesday, “That creates a dynamic where our developers are working on elements until the very last point possible. That’s why the system update was required on day one—and this is quite similar to what’s happened with other consumer electronic products.”
That’s also why the Wii U won’t come with the current firmware preloaded in the console for months to come, continued Fils-Aime. It won’t be until 2013 that the Wii U is fully functional right out of the box. Technically speaking that’s still in the “launch window” as described by Nintendo, but it’s a strange shift away from the instant usability that made the company’s past gaming machines so appealing to people.
The Wii U’s mandatory update has been more than an inconvenience for pampered consumers, though. Many Wii U owners thought that their consoles were broken due to the excessive firmware download and install times and unplugged their consoles hoping to reboot. Doing so unfortunately destroyed their consoles.
It’s increasingly common for Nintendo to promise features for their gaming machines and then not deliver them for long periods after their release. The Nintendo 3DS released in March 2011 without its digital storefront the eShop. Even after the firmware download for Wii U, the console still doesn’t have support for marquee apps like Nintendo TVii. That’s the nature of consoles in 2012: They don’t have to work out of the box for months after the power button’s pressed.