Last week I saw two children walking with their mother through the games section of a local Best Buy. Each kid couldn’t have been older than eight years old. One of the kids notices New Super Mario Bros. U and shouts in excitement, “Mario Bros!” The mother responds back, “You already have ‘that game’ for 3DS. You don’t need two machines to play it. One is enough.”
New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Mario Bros. 2 are two separate titles, but I doubt most non-gaming parents care about what the differences are. In that parent’s mind, the kid already has a machine to play Mario, and she sees no need for another machine just to play more Mario.
Small children aren’t the ones with disposable income because it’s the parents (or guardians) who make all of the spending decisions in the household. In addition, not every small child is born with gamer parents who understand the importance of needing the newest, most expensive, or most powerful machine to play video games.
Many believe that 3DS and Wii U can co-exist in harmony and target the same family market without one product cannibalizing the sales of another product. Whether 3DS and Wii U can co-exist in harmony depends on whether families believe Wii U serves a unique purpose that 3DS XL can’t provide.
It appears to me that the 3DS XL can become seen as the ‘main’ Nintendo console whereas the Wii U becomes a side product. We may see a situation where an increasing demand for 3DS decreases demand for Wii U.
This holiday season, parents deciding on which Nintendo product to buy for their 7-year-old child will probably narrow it down to two options:
3DS XL + Pokémon X/Y for $250
Wii U + Super Mario 3D World for over $400
This holiday season, Pokémon X/Y will be the hottest 3DS game while Super Mario 3D World will be the hottest Wii U game. It’s reasonable to speculate that Nintendo will give a decent advertising budget to the 3DS’s first traditional Pokémon RPG. Not only is it 3DS’s first traditional Pokémon game, but it is also the first fully 3D Pokémon game in the traditional series. Pokémon has always proven to be strong system seller for Nintendo portables, and I don’t believe this situation will be any different.
Outside of Super Mario 3D World, I don’t see anything on Wii U’s 2013 holiday release list that is bigger than the first 3DS (and first fully 3D) Pokemon.
Each parent who buys 3DS XL + Pokémon X/Y this holiday season is one less parent putting a Wii U + Super Mario 3D World under the Christmas tree. At $200, buying a 3DS XL is not a small investment and that doesn’t include the $40 purchase of Pokemon X or Y.
The October release of Pokémon X/Y doesn’t give Nintendo’s Wii U releases much room to breathe. Pokémon’s sales momentum from October might spill over into November and distract kids away from Wii U releases like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Another example is “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds” which is a brand new Zelda game for 3DS that could potentially distract attention away from “The Wind Waker HD”, an enhanced HD port of a previously released game.
The mother shopping this holiday season for her 7-year-old will notice that she can easily buy Mario Kart for the 3DS, but she has to wait until next year for Wii U to get Mario Kart. She can’t wait until 2014 when her son is expecting Santa Claus to deliver Nintendo goodies this year. Wii U is getting “Wii Party U” this holiday season, but why should kids/parents care when “Mario Party” is coming out this year for 3DS?
When a parent looks at 3DS, the parent will see the following:
- 3D Mario? Check.
- 2D Mario? Check.
- Donkey Kong Country? Check.
- Pokémon? Check.
- Zelda? Check.
- Sonic the Hedgehog? Check.
- Mario Kart/Tennis/Golf? Check.
- Mario Party? Check.
- Paper Mario/Mario & Luigi? Check.
- Scribblenauts? Check.
- Animal Crossing? Check.
- Smash Bros? Check. (For 2014)
- Nintendogs? Check.
- Games that appeal to young girls (Style Savvy Trendsetters)? Check.
- Games based on licensed kids shows (Regular Show, Adventure Time)? Check.
- 3DS is fully portable which keeps small children busy on long car/plane/train trips.
- 3DS XL is $100-$150 cheaper than the Wii U?
- SOLD!! I found my kid’s Mario machine!
Most non-gaming parents are NOT thinking: “Okay, Wii U is a console and 3DS is a handheld — My kid needs both of them to play every single Nintendo game that Nintendo offers”.
No, the parent is thinking “Which one should I buy as the main Nintendo playing machine for my kid?” And guess which Nintendo device the parent buys? The parent buys a 3DS — 1) It has Nintendo’s most popular franchises. 2) It’s portable for long trips (kids hate long trips). 3) It’s significantly cheaper than Wii U.
Convincing parents that their kids need TWO expensive Nintendo machines just to play Mario is easier said than done. Today’s non-gaming parents do not sit there and think, “Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a Wii port and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a brand new sequel.”
No, non-gaming parents are thinking: “I don’t know what the differences are between the 3DS Donkey Kong and Wii U Donkey Kong. I’m not going to bother researching or getting educated on the differences between two Donkey Kong games. They are both Donkey Kong Country so I doubt my 7 year old son will know the difference either. 3DS XL is cheaper (and portable for long trips) so that can be Little Billy’s Donkey Kong machine.”
Parents did not identify Wii as “just another Nintendo machine”. The Wii established the identity of being the “Wii Sports/Wii Fit” machine – an identity that went beyond Nintendo’s traditional IPs. Therefore, parents were okay with buying their children both a Nintendo DS and a Wii. The Wii U and the 3DS have NOT taken on an identity that is much larger than just Nintendo’s franchises, and this is why both platforms will be viewed simply as “Nintendo machines”.
GameCube and Game Boy Advance are examples of when a Nintendo console and a Nintendo handheld fight over the same audience. Compare the 81 million units sold worldwide for Game Boy Advance to the 21.7 million units sold for GameCube. GameCube’s identity never went beyond being a traditional Nintendo box, and the millions who bought GBA as their main Nintendo playing device didn’t need a second Nintendo playing device (GameCube).
The current 3DS library makes Wii U’s software lineup seem somewhat redundant even if they aren’t entirely identical. Creating 3DS versions for major Wii U titles is giving consumers less incentive to buy the Wii U. Also, why would you expect parents to research the differences between Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) and Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) when these are the same parents who won’t take five minutes to research how Wii U is a new console (and not some Wii accessory)?
This holiday season, Nintendo has two choices on how to market Wii U:
- PLAN A: Emphasize focus on the GamePad’s unique capabilities/features
- PLAN B: Emphasize focus on Nintendo IPs
If Nintendo shifts their marketing away from Wii U’s GamePad, all they have left are two Mario machines (3DS and Wii U) with similar software competing against each other. Because 3DS and Wii U are in direct competition, the 3DS will cannibalize the family/kids market that Wii U is trying to attract.
This holiday season is Wii U’s re-launch and I find it troublesome that 3DS, not smartphones or PlayStations, could be Wii U’s biggest competitor. Could 3DS titles like “Pokemon X/Y” and the new Zelda 3DS distract attention away from Wii U titles like “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze” and “The Wind Waker HD”?
I guess we’ll have to find out this holiday season.