Just in time for the utter madness of Black Friday, Nintendo has released an extraordinarily complex successor to its Wii, grandma’s favorite videogame console. The Wii, which made gaming accessible to every demographic through ease of play, is no joke. As of the end of September, it had sold 97 million units worldwide.
So what of this new machine? Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s swaggering president, has been hitting the road to promote the Wii U, a machine without the simplicity of the intuitive Wii. The Wii U is a kind of videogame console meets iPad. Its not easy to learn, and it’s a big gamble for the Japanese company. Replicating the Wii’s success is a nearly impossible task that even Mario with all his Power-Ups would find daunting.
A full year prior to the Wii’s release, Nintendo’s stock began to rise amid an elated, buzzy excitement in the press. The gauzy coverage said the Wii’s motion controls will yield a fascinating experience the whole family will love. By the time the Wii hit the shelves in November 2006, Nintendo’s stock price had more than doubled to over $28. A year later, at its high, it rocketed to nearly $77 a share. Not only did Nintendo make money on games, it made money on the Wii, which was cheap to produce. The Wii became a trend that doubled as a lifestyle choice. You could play Wii Sports with your family, and you could exercise with apps like Wii Fit.
In 2012 the world is quite different. A recession has hit the videogame industry, one that has led to numerous game studio closures. When people stopped buying the Wii in droves, Nintendo’s stock price retreated to pre-2006 levels. In the year leading up to the Wii U’s release, shares had fallen by almost 20 percent, from $18.66 to $15.52 last week, in part because Nintendo will lose money on each Wii U sold. (In the last day of trading before the Will U’s premiere, the stock passed $16. After a one-day bump, it declined again.)
This turn of events has severely stressed the business gurus at Nintendo. In 2011 at San Francisco’s Game Developers Conference, Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president, railed against developers who make inexpensive mobile games for the iPhone and iPad. “Game development is drowning,” he warned, before laying into mobile game makers as if he were Tom Coughlin chiding the New York Giants after a disastrous loss.