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OPINION: £250 is one of the cheapest launches ever, but is Wii U cheap enough?

Ben Parfitt
OPINION: £250 is one of the cheapest launches ever, but is Wii U cheap enough?

I’m not going to lie – I thought Nintendo had to come in at £199.99 or below.

And it didn’t. It looks very much as if the entry-level Wii U Basic SKU will set you back in the region of £250 this Christmas, with prices for the Premium Wii U bundle coming in at around or slightly under £300.

There are two ways of looking at this price.

1. £250 for a new console? Count me in – the PS3 cost £425! The Wii U is a bargain.

And yes, historically speaking Nintendo has managed to price its machine extremely competitively.

Just a few short years ago Sony launched the PS3 over a year after it debuted in Japan at an eye-watering £425. And in the generation previous to that we saw PS2 and Xbox arrive at £299, although Microsoft’s machine was hastily cut to £200 around a month after launch.

That’s not to say that Wii U is the cheapest we’ve seen. Xbox 360 launched at £209.99 for the Core SKU and £279.99 for the Premium. GameCube was announced at £200 but hit the shops at £179.99 while Wii launched at £179.99.

(Note too that Xbox 360 has outperformed all expectations this generation, while PS3 only got going once its price was slashed).

But £250 makes it cheaper than an iPhone or iPad and therefore makes it a default stocking filler for many UK families, particularly with no other rival next-gen launches this year.

2. We’re in a double-dip recession. The appetite for dedicated games consoles is lower than it has been for two decades. £250? No chance.

Yes, £250 is cheap in historical terms. But look at the unemployment figures. Look at the record lows posted by the UK games market this summer. Things have changed. Games are everywhere – in our browsers, on our smartphones. And they’re cheap. Angry Birds in 69p! Who the hell wants a console anymore?

I’ll say this – the next-generation of consoles won’t sell as many as the current generation. So the task faced by Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft is to sell enough to cover their overheads and entice third parties to make games for their machines.

The best strategy for this? Above all else, price your consoles as cheap as you possibly can. Give folk a reason to buy. Will this require historically low launch prices? Quite possibly. And give punters as many reasons as possible to buy into your brand. On Xbox 720 this will likely be the “only box you need under your TV” angle while Sony will be hoping that its Vita cross-compatibility swings the battle in its favour.

Interestingly, I’d feel less concerned by a £300 launch for Xbox 720 or PS4, although both Microsoft and Sony would be wise to do all they can to launch below that.

The fact is that your typical Xbox or PlayStation buyer is likely quite accustomed to forking out premium prices for tech, be it iPhones, iPads, tablets, smart TVs or whatever. They adopt early, the rest come after a price drop several months down the line.

(Which could very easily be on the cards for Wii U in 2013. Wii famously stuck to its launch RRP for yonks, but swallowed its pride by dropping the 3DS price just six months after it hit the market.)

Can the same be said of the potential Wii U audience? Probably not of the mass-market casual crowd. In fact, I see very little here that will tempt your typical mums and dads Wii Sports players to adopt Wii U. The console lacks that Wii Sports Tennis moment, and a tablet that you can’t take out of the house? Urm, what?

But if yesterday’s announcement told us anything it’s that Nintendo is very much focusing all of its attentions on the core audience in this generation. And that might be a wise move, too. There are plenty of disenfranchised Xbox 360 owners out there wondering where the next big first party hits are as they download the Harry Potter Kinect demo for their kids and try and forget about the Usher set at E3.

Nintendo’s capture of Bayonetta 2 as a Wii U exclusive is a smart move. No, in real terms it won’t equate to that many additional sales, but if nothing else it shows that Nintendo is finally waking up to the core game pledges it has been making since the days of the N64. That’s a finger on some sort of pulse you see right there.

I wonder what Wii U would be launching at if it were not for that controller? After all, when they go on sale individually in Japan they’ll cost around £110, which could easily equate to £150 in the UK.

They won’t be on sale at launch, however, as developers have not yet made any games that support two GamePads simultaneously. I wonder why! And I doubt that’s a situation that will change too dramatically, considering the tiny number of people who’ll be willing to fork out £100+ for a second controller.

Bayonetta 2 is a great headline, and will shift some additional units. Some.

The biggest question is whether or not Nintendo has done enough to convince those who turned their back on Wii to reverse their loyalties this time around. And only sales will tell that particular story.

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Tags: Opinion , price , Wii U , launch , comparison

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