The Wii U is the first major game console to launch in years, but in some ways Nintendo is merely catching up with the HD trend. Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp. began selling their own powerful, high-definition consoles six and seven years ago, respectively. Both Sony and Microsoft are expected to unveil new game consoles in 2013.
Baird analyst Colin Sebastian thinks the question is not how well the Wii U will do during the holidays, but how it will fare three and six months later.
Gaming has changed significantly in the past six years, especially when it comes to the type of mass-audience experiences that serve as Nintendo's bread and butter. Zynga Inc., the online game company behind Facebook games such as "FarmVille" and "Texas HoldEm Poker," was founded in 2007. The first "Angry Birds" game, that addictive, quirky distraction that has players flinging cartoon birds at structures hiding smug green pigs launched in late 2009. The first iPad, of course, came out in 2010 —three years after the first iPhone.
Fils-Aime acknowledges that Nintendo competes in the broad entertainment landscape, "minute-by-minute," for consumers' time.
"That's true today and that was true 20 years ago," he says, adding that Nintendo's challenge is communicating to people "what is so fun and appealing about the new system."
Analysts expect Wii U sales to be brisk over the holidays. Nintendo's loyal —some would say, fanatical— fan base has been placing advance orders and will likely keep the systems flying off store shelves well into next year. The classic Mario and Zelda games are a huge part of the appeal, since they can't be played on any gaming system but Nintendo's.
Research firm IHS iSuppli estimates that by the end of the year, people will have snapped up 3.5 million Wii U consoles worldwide, compared with 3.1 million Wii units in the same period through the end of 2006.
After the Wii went on sale, shortages persisted for months. Stores were met with long lines of shoppers trying to get their hands on a Wii as late as July 2007, more than seven months after the system's launch.
Though supply constraints are expected this time around, Fils-Aime says Nintendo will have more hardware available in the Americas than it had for the Wii's initial months on the market. The company says it will also replenish retailers more frequently than it did six years ago.
An initial sell-out doesn't mean the Wii U will be successful over the long term, IHS notes, citing its estimate that the Wii U won't match the Wii's sales over time.
Bajarin believes it's going to take "a little bit of time" for the Wii U's dual-screen gaming concept to sink in with people. If it proves popular, Nintendo could see even more competition at its hands.
"Technologically, it's not a leap of the imagination to see Apple, Google, Microsoft do something like this," he says.
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