Wii U is Priced Ideally for the Single-Console Nintendo Gamer

Yesterday I wrote an article that made it quite plain that I think Wii U is priced too high to truly capitalize on its sales potential. My reason was that I think the $310-minimum price to get at the newest Super Mario Bros. game is too high for many of the fans of the franchise who go after Nintendo hardware just for Mario’s latest side-scrolling adventure. Since they’re a key part of Nintendo’s market, any barrier to Mario is a barrier to Wii U’s success.

That doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad value for everyone, though. I’ve already dropped my pre-order for the Deluxe Set, and I’m pretty happy about it. I know what I’m getting myself into, and I think that Wii U has all the critical features it needs to handle all the best HD games while also offering the great Nintendo-exclusive software I’ve enjoyed over the years. Wii U is priced pretty accurately…for gamers like me.

Last generation saw the growth of the gaming population thanks to Wii, but it also saw the growth of another gaming-related demographic: multi-platform gamers. Of course, it’s not as though gamers had never owned multiple consoles prior to last-gen, but the early years of console gaming didn’t see nearly the same level of overlap. Nintendo dominated with NES, but split market share with Sega’s Genesis when Super Nintendo hit the scene. PlayStations 1 and 2 unequivocally swept in the late 90s and early 2000s, but the advent of Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 led to a rather unprecedented situation.

People were buying Wii at a much faster pace than the HD twins during its first few years on sale, but once the demand cooled, consumers began to slowly shift more toward Sony and Microsoft. A lot of this probably had to do with the dramatic drop in price for both systems, but statistics suggest that it may also have had to do with a lack of satisfaction with just one system: the multi-platform gaming population grew by from 17% to 24% of households between 2009 and 2011, versus about 58% the total population who owns just one.

I don’t have any hard facts to back up my guesses, but I’d say that the timing of this growth is indicative of two things: the decline in compelling Wii content between 2009 and 2011 and the increase in compelling PlayStation and Xbox content as the two systems fell into the $300 price range. Gamers will go where the games are, and will go where the price seems right.

Wii U has a great lineup in terms of both first-party games for diehard Nintendo fans and third-party AAA HD titles, so the content is definitely there. But is the value there? It might not be for the multi-platform customer, who already has a system that can play most of its content, probably comes with a better hard drive, and has a full stable of HD games in its back catalog.

But I think it’s there for the single-platform gamer – the other half of people who own dedicated gaming devices.

A large chunk of that half is sure to consist of Wii gamers. Even factoring out the non-gaming audience that bought Wii just for Wii Sports or Wii Fit and never touched it again after a couple months for a more conservative estimate, that’s a population of somewhere between 20 and 40 million players. Pretty soon new Wii content is going to run out – and then what? While I’m sure true enthusiasts could probably live off the Wii Virtual Console forever, those who want to keep enjoying fresh Nintendo experiences are going to have to upgrade.

These gamers have never been multi-platform players before – nor are they HD console gamers. They might have seen high-profile HD games like Assassin’s Creed before, but they’ve probably only played them at a friend’s house, possibly on PC. That doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t interested. Maybe they were on a tight budget and could never justify owning a capable second platform. Maybe they were younger when their parents bought them Wii in 2006 and are now older and more interested in experiences tailored for teens and adults.

I know these gamers. I know them because I am one of them.

My first home system was the Nintendo 64. A lot of third-parties fled that system for the PlayStation due to Sony’s adoption of the CD format while Nintendo stuck to the cartridges of old. My second was GameCube. Its third-party situation was arguably worse since developers had to deal not only with inferior mini-discs but also the GameCube’s unshakable reputation as a “kiddie console.” My third platform, Wii had to deal with all of that, plus dramatically inferior hardware and the stigma that eventually came to be attached to “waggle” motion controls.

Judging by its launch lineup, Wii U seems set to provide single-console Nintendo gamers with the kinds of content they’ve missed out on over the last three generations. Not only that, they’ll still get Nintendo’s famous first-party games, plus a lot of major hardware upgrades over the last generation. A lot more built-in flash memory. Digital downloads of retail games. And at the center of it all – the Wii U GamePad.

If I could buy a Wii at $250 six years ago, certainly I can buy the next Wii, plus the capability to play more third-party games, plus the Wii U GamePad, which tacks on all kinds of new possibilities both for gameplay and non-game applications, all for $300. And since I’m a big fan of Nintendo Land anyway, why not tack on the game and four times the internal storage for $50 more?

After all, I’ve always been a single-platform Nintendo gamer, so this should be the only hardware purchase I need for the next five or six years.