In the six years since the last major video-game system launched, Apple unveiled the iPhone and the iPad, “Angry Birds” invaded smartphones and Facebook reached a billion users. In the process, scores of video- game consoles were left to languish in living rooms alongside dusty VCRs and disc players.
On Sunday, Nintendo Co. launched the Wii U, a game machine designed to appeal both to the original Wii’s casual audience and the hard-core gamers who skip work to be among the first to play the latest “Call of Duty” release. Just like the Wii U’s predecessor, the Wii, which has sold nearly 100 million units worldwide since 2006, the new console’s intended audience “truly is 5 to 95,” says Reggie Fils-Aime, the president of Nintendo of America, the Japanese company’s U.S. arm.
But the Wii U arrives in a new world. Video-game console sales have been falling, largely because it’s been so long since a new system has launched. Most people who wanted an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or a Wii already have one. Another reason: People in the broad 5-to-95 age range have shifted their attention to games on Facebook, tablet computers and mobile phones.
U.S. video-game sales last month, including hardware, software and accessories, totaled $755.5 million, according to the research firm NPD Group. In October 2007, the figure stood at $1.1 billion.
The Wii U is likely to do well during the holiday shopping season, analysts believe — so well that shoppers may see shortages. But the surge could peter out in 2013. The Wii U is not expected to be the juggernaut that the Wii was in its heyday, according to research firm IHS iSuppli. The Wii outsold its competitors, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, in its first four years on sale, logging some 79 million units by the end of 2010. By comparison, IHS expects the Wii U to sell 56.7 million in its first four years.
In the age of a million gadgets and lean wallets, the storied game company faces a new challenge: convincing people that they need a new video-game system rather than, say, a new iPad.
The Wii U, which starts at $300, isn’t lacking in appeal. It allows for “asymmetrical game play,” meaning two people playing the same game can have entirely different experiences depending on whether they use a new tabletlike controller called the GamePad or the traditional Wii remote. The GamePad also can be used to play games without using a TV set, as you would on a regular tablet. And it serves as a fancy remote controller to navigate a TV-watching feature called TVii, which will be available in December.