After a solid launch and a reasonably successful holiday season, Wii U sales have declined dramatically in the early months of 2013. The steep drop-off forced Nintendo to lower its sales projections for fiscal 2012 (which ends March 31, 2013), which in turn prompted President Satoru Iwata to preemptively declare that Wii U will not be receiving a 3DS-style price cut anytime soon.
Nevertheless, the hardware’s ongoing struggle in the marketplace – which has been exacerbated by a catastrophic lack of compelling games during January and February – has led some in the industry to suggest that a Wii U price cut might still be Nintendo’s best path forward. Most recently, Alain Corre, Ubisoft’s executive director for EMEA territories, has endorsed the idea. Nintendo, apparently, has other plans, and curiously enough, they focus on the GamePad’s Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities.
At Wii U’s launch, Ubisoft was responsible for more software than any other third-party, and the publisher’s ZombiU (read our review) proved to be one of the system’s few breakout hits – successful enough to subsequently warrant its own hardware bundle. Despite delaying former Wii U exclusive Rayman Legends for seven months so that Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game can be readied (and infuriating fans in the process), Ubisoft continues to support the system, having announced that both of its year-end, tent-pole releases, Watch_Dogs and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, will appear on Wii U (and Splinter Cell: Blacklist might, as well).
Still, as Ubisoft sees it, there is a simple equation at work: if Nintendo sells more Wii U systems, Ubi can sell more Wii U games, and the easiest way to ramp-up Wii U sales may well be a price drop. Ubisoft’s Corre makes the point clearly in an interview with Edge.
“We always want the hardware to be at a low price because we want as many fans as possible to afford to buy our games, so that’s for sure. We think that Wii U will find its public at some point. Some were expecting sales to be quicker but we are optimistic.”
“I think Nintendo has said that the Wii U sales in general were below expectations originally and the software tie-in ratio is also stable, so I think that when less machines sell, less games sell.”
It’s hard to fault Corre’s logic. Take Sony’s PlayStation Vita as an example: after flailing at retail for a solid year, the system’s sales quadrupled in Japan in the weeks following its recent price cut (which does beg the question of why Sony resolutely refuses to drop the hardware’s price in North America). Unfortunately, a Wii U price cut is, for now, a moot point. Nintendo is already selling the system below cost, and is enormously unlikely to undercut itself further.
Instead, Nintendo is focused on, in Iwata’s words, fully communicating ”the value of our product.” Right now, that means the company’s focus is on GamePad’s NFC features. Near Field Communication is the technology that powers Activision’s uber-profitable Skylanders franchise, and it’s also at work in Disney Interactive’s upcoming Disney Infinity. Wii U’s GamePad has the technology built right in, but so far, nothing has been done with it. Expect that to change. Speaking with Polygon, Shigeru Miyamoto teases… something.
“With NFC, that’s a feature that everyone that owns a Wii U can take advantage of. So that’s what we’re putting our priorities right now. We’re hoping that in the near future we’ll be able to show you something that will take advantage of the NFC on Wii U and people will be able to enjoy that.”
Does this mean that one of Nintendo’s unannounced Wii U games is some kind of Mario-themed Skylanders clone? Anything’s possible, though it’s unlike Nintendo to directly copy a competitor’s product, and both Skylanders Swap Force and Disney Infinity are already slated for Wii U, anyway.
That said, the focus on NFC makes it very likely that Nintendo plans on selling something physical to use with the technology, which could potentially generate significant revenue for the company, but will that be enough to demonstrate “the value” of Wii U and, in turn, sell more systems? What if it turns out to be Pokemon that trainers have to buy instead of catch? Does the Wii U need a price cut? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Follow me on Twitter @HakenGaken.