Has Nintendo's Wii U turned a corner?

Christopher Dring
Has Nintendo's Wii U turned a corner?

“Wii U has had quite a good year so far,” said Nintendo’s UK marketing boss Shelly Pearce when MCV came to visit the company in Windsor this week.

It wasn’t a statement we were expecting to hear. Wii U’s story so far has not made for pleasant reading. Two years in and Wii U’s sales performance has been – and we’re underselling it when we say – a bit of a catastrophe. Third party publishers and a number of retailers have abandoned the console.

Yet Pearce’s positive appraisal comes from her belief that the Wii U has turned a corner. When it comes with competing with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 that ship – for want of a better cliché – has sailed. But Wii U is actually growing. Sales are up over 60 per cent in the UK this year. And from Nintendo UK’s perspective there’s been a change in public opinion.

“We’ve really seen momentum pick up with Mario Kart 8 back in May,” continues Pearce. “That was when we saw a step change, not just in terms of sales but also people’s attitudes to Wii U. People are starting to consider buying now, which was cemented by our E3 activity. All the software that we showed then gave people confidence that there were lots of games coming that they wanted.”

UK boss Simon Kemp adds: “We’ve felt a real increase in interest and momentum. Compared to 12 months ago, it does feel noticeably different.”

It may be two years old, but Wii U’s disappointing sales figures suggest that not even Nintendo’s core fanbase have invested in the console yet. It’s a fact that’s not lost on the UK team, which has launched its #thetimeisnow campaign specifically aimed at those gamers that have held off.

“It is still about driving hardware to Nintendo fans,” says Pearce. “We have some support, but there’s still more out there. And then we will broaden the console out to families around Christmas time.”

The Wii U games that will receive most marketing and TV advertising this Q4 includes Mario Kart 8 – complete with new, humorous TV ad campaign – and of course Super Smash Bros Wii U, which launches on December 5th.

And the final part of Nintendo’s Wii U plans for Christmas is Amiibo. The toys-to-life proposition will work across numerous upcoming games, but initially Nintendo says it will focus in on what the figures can do in Super Smash Bros. There are 12 toys coming on November 28th and a further six on December 19th, featuring iconic Nintendo characters such as Mario, Link and Pikachu.

Kemp says that he’s talking to game and toy retailers about Amiibo and that the firm’s challenge is explaining what sets it apart from Skylanders and Disney Infinity.

“It will sit alongside those games, but it’s a bit different,” he tells us. “Figures work across different titles, offering different experiences.”

He continues: “In the first instance we would like people to experience the functionality that Amiibo offers, and the people that will get the fullest experience will be the ones that buy it alongside Super Smash Bros. So our first priority is to make sure that people who buy that game really enjoy training up their Amiibo, levelling them up and giving them special capabilities. Of course there will be a wide audience beyond that.”

There are a handful of other titles for Nintendo to push this festive season. Hyrule Warriors launched last month, while next week sees the arrival of Bayonetta 2, which has already landed big review scores from the likes of Edge.

“We’ve really seen momentum pick up with Mario Kart 8
back in May. That was when we saw a step change, not
just in terms of sales but also people’s attitudes to Wii U.
People are starting to consider buying now, which was
cemented by our E3 activity. All the software that we
showed then gave people confidence that there were
lots of games coming that they wanted.”

Shelly Pearce - UK marketing boss, Nintendo


But it’s not just about what’s coming this Christmas, says Pearce.

“One of the key things for us is that people are starting to realise what software there is, what games they can get this Christmas, but importantly a lot of the key stuff that is coming next year, too. It is a really strong line-up. There are a lot of conversations going on about what is coming next year. Splatoon is key, Captain Toad is one I’m looking forward to, and of course Zelda. So we are expecting to see real growth from Wii U this Christmas and we will continue to build on that next year.”

2015 looks promising for Wii U. Alongside the aforementioned games, Nintendo’s legendary developer Shigeru Miyamoto has gone to work on a series of new titles, which will arrive next year.

There may not be a host of games coming to Wii U, at least not on the scale of Xbox One or PS4. But with each release there’s another reason for those Nintendo fans to step across.

If only it could get the price right. Cutting the cost of Wii U is no easy decision, particularly when Nintendo is eager to return to profitability. But with Xbox One and PS4 undercutting each other, Wii U is looking increasingly pricey at £240 with Mario Kart 8.

Nevertheless, Nintendo UK remains positive. It was never explicitly stated in our interview, but you got the sense that the first 12 months of Wii U have been tough on the team. But now – gradually – things feel as if they’re moving in the right direction.

And with Super Smash Bros, a decent 2015 line-up and room to go on price, there remains hope that Wii U can still find an audience.

‘WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN THE 3DS’

Anyone thinking Wii U is taking most of Nintendo’s focus this Christmas is mistaken.

Nintendo’s UK marketing director Shelly Pearce and GM Simon Kemp stressed to MCV that it’s putting significant weight behind 3DS this Christmas.

“The conversations may already be about home console, but the handheld will be a really big focus for us this peak season,” says Pearce.

3DS is in a different position to Wii U. Whereas that console is still trying to reach its fans, 3DS has gone beyond that and this Q4 the firm hopes to reach out to a younger audience with the help of Super Smash Bros, Pokémon plus a range of back catalogue titles including Tomodachi Life.

“We’ve been having a constant conversation with kids throughout the summer,” comments Pearce. 

“We had the promotion a while back with McDonalds and we had a sampling campaign through the summer with our Made For Play tour, which went to all the big family festivals. We also have a specific kids site called Made For Play, which has content specifically targeted towards them. We have also done plenty of things with kids media. So it has been a constant extensive conversation with kids throughout the summer, and the hope is that as we come into peak we will be converting a lot of those young ones into buying their first console.”

3DS’ 2014 may not quite live up to last year’s impressive sales and line-up, but it’s been a decent year for the machine. Tomodachi Life has been a permanent fixture in the Top 20 since it launched 17 weeks ago, while Super Smash Bros on 3DS sales has already sold 2.8m units worldwide.

And it still has a triple-A release to come, with Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire set to arrive at the end of November.

“Pre-orders for Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are doing really well at the moment. It is pre-ordering more than X and Y, so we are quite optimistic about that one,” says Pearce. 

Kemp adds: “And that is a pattern we’re seeing globally.”

Pearce continues: “With X and Y, we reignited Pokémon fans that have been playing for years. But we’ve brought in new people as well. We will be talking to Nintendo fans for these games, but also newcomers and all the kids we’ve been talking to over the summer.”

“Pre-orders for Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire
are doing really well at the moment. It is pre-ordering more
than X and Y, so we are quite optimistic about that one.
With X and Y, we reignited Pokémon fans that have been
playing for years. But we’ve brought in new people as well.
We will be talking to Nintendo fans for these games, but
also newcomers and all the kids we’ve been talking to
over the summer.”

Shelly Pearce - UK marketing boss, Nintendo


Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are both remakes of 2003 GBA games, but that hasn’t diminished Nintendo’s expectations when compared with last year’s X and Y.

“In terms of marketing support, this is getting a similar sized campaign to what we did on X and Y,” says Pearce. “And in terms of pre-orders it is tracking better. So from that perspective, it is at least at the level of X and Y.”

Kemp adds: “A big part of the audience won’t have been around when the original Ruby and Sapphire was around. And also these games will be quite a different experience.”

Nintendo’s major marketing campaign for Pokémon includes the usual TV and online media, but it’s also developed a special demo for the game, which will be made available via various media outlets, plus retailers like GAME.

“That’s a big part of the campaign,” says Pearce. “We are finding that the demo versions of things are working really well for us. The Super Smash Bros demo was really popular and converted lots of people to purchase.”

Nintendo is looking to push 3DS and 2DS console sales this Q4. It has just launched a special Smash Bros 3DS XL, and has new colours of the 2DS set to arrive alongside the Pokémon titles.

There’s even a special offer for new hardware consumers. Gamers that buy a 3DS or 2DS and register either Smash Bros or Pokemon will receive one of seven games, including Zelda, Mario Golf and Yoshi’s New Island.

But there’s actually an entirely new hardware revision coming to market in Japan and Australia this year, which are not due over here until some point in 2015.

The New 3DS and New 3DS XL are re-designed models with an improved screen, battery life, additional buttons and improved specifications. They look interesting. Yet could the fact the 3DS is being update next year not deter consumers from buying this side of Christmas? 

“We are really focused on 2DS and 3DS XL in the UK still,” says Pearce. “Of course there’s been some conversations about [the New 3DS models] online, but in terms of the younger audience that we are speaking to this Christmas about the hardware, it’s not had any impact at all.”

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Tags: Nintendo , Wii U

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