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[November 29, 2012]
Anyone for Wii hardball? Nintendo takes on the tablets
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Six years after the Wii console took living rooms by storm, Nintendo is trying to capture the same success with its Wii U, released in Britain today.
Since then a dramatic rise in competition from smartphones and tablets, which sell millions every week, has threatened the consoles' business model.
HMV opened its Oxford Street store in London for a special midnight launch, treating fans to game demos and goody bags as they queued in the cold for the Wii U. The key attraction is the GamePad, a tablet-style controller featuring a camera, motion-detectors and a touch-sensitive display that can show game elements - and hide information from other players in the same room.
The original Wii revolutionised gaming, letting people play golf, tennis or bowling games by mimicking the real-life movements rather than pressing buttons. For Nintendo, which announced its first ever annual loss in 2011, the success of the Wii U will be intimately tied to its future.
But industry figures suggest the new console is less intuitive than its predecessor. "The machine is actually quite hard to understand - or perhaps, to see the point of," said Oli Welsh, deputy editor of Eurogamer. "The tablet controller works in so many different ways: as an additional screen, as a multiplayer device, as a remote display, as a motion-controlled 'window' on the game world. All of these are interesting, but not necessarily compelling reasons to pick one up." Even Shelly Pearce, Nintendo UK's marketing director, said: "It's a complicated device to explain in words." So far consumers seem to be reacting positively: the 400,000 units launched in the US on 18 November sold out in a week. But some complained about having to download a huge software update before they could start playing. Others had problems with its Wi-Fi connection.
The challenge for Nintendo will be building on early interest. At pounds 250 for the basic package and pounds 300 for the premium bundle, the Wii U is expensive; the original Wii now sells for around pounds 100.
The problem is magnified because gaming has shifted on to handheld devices, particularly Apple's iPhone and iPad along with dozens of models using Google's Android software. This has created a market of almost 1bn devices on which games costing pounds 1 or less dominate - compared with pounds 40 for many console games.
Traditional games developers writing for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii - which together have sold a total of about 233m devices - have struggled to remain profitable outside a few hit games.
Captions: A gamer buying a Wii U at its US launch. The 400,000 units sold out in a week (c) 2012 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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