Recently, Nintendo had another Nintendo Direct. This one was focused on their upcoming Super Smash Bros. game. They showed off some new modes, announced new characters, and finally gave us a release window, which, perplexingly, is different for the 3DS and Wii U versions. Troublingly, the Wii U version is set to release in winter 2014, likely around the Holiday season, while the 3DS is set to release during the summer. Nintendo has been clear that there will be some content differences between the two versions, particularly a few modes and stages being tailored to handheld or console experiences, but the two versions are essentially the same game. Therefore, what is happening is that Nintendo is releasing one version of the game before the other. This is a mistake, and today I want to examine why.
The 3DS is a juggernaut. Though it started off slow and with a lukewarm reception, the 3DS has become a hugely successful handheld device providing such great experiences that I chuckle every time I hear people saying that mobile gaming is a real threat to traditional handheld gaming. It has total dominance of the market such that its only competitor, the Playstation Vita, is often cited as a failed go. On the other hand of the spectrum, the Wii U has not been successful. Starting as slowly as the 3DS, the Wii U hasn’t gained the same level of steam when the excellent first party games began coming in. This can largely be attributed to the much larger competition Nintendo faces in the console market vs. the handheld one.
Super Smash Bros. is a series that began on the Nintendo 64. Starting out as a small-scale mascot fighter, Super Smash Bros. has become one of Nintendo’s flagship series and one of the most anticipated games coming out for either the 3DS or Wii U. Like Microsoft’s Halo, or Sony’s Uncharted series, Super Smash Bros. is a game series that moves systems. It is a game that is hyped up for the mainest of streams in order to push ridiculous numbers and solidify the brand. As such, the handling of advertisement and release of this game is core to Nintendo’s future finances.
Another thing to consider is porting dilution. Some people will rebuy games multiple times. This number is increased when the game in question was on an older system or is old itself. This is why distribution systems like the PSN or the Virtual Console can be so profitable. Handhelds also act as an excuse to repurchase a game since many people like to play their favourites on the go. However, when games are released in close proximity to one another, people are considerably less likely to double dip. The same is true when games are released first on handhelds and later ported to consoles such as Castlevania: Lords of Shadows Mirror of Fate, or Resident Evil Revelations. Condensing a console experience to handhelds intrigues a large number of people. The opposite is not as true.
This leads us to the core problem. The 3DS is a powerhouse system. The Wii U is not. The install base of the Wii U is significantly lower than the 3DS. One may assume that this is the reason why it’s a good thing to release on the 3DS first since more copies of Super Smash Bros. would sell initially than if the Wii U version launched first. However, this is horrible reasoning for a company to use when examining the potential long-term consequences of this decision.
The Wii U is in need of a sales boost. While it has been selling better as software trickles out, the Wii U is still in critical condition. The 3DS does not have that problem. By releasing the game first on the 3DS, you strongly disincentivize many people from buying the Wii U version, and thus the Wii U itself. If the tables were turned and the Wii U version was sold first, the console would receive a large boost to its fortunes and fans would be more likely to double dip later in order to have the same experience on the go, though there would likely be a marginal loss of sales for the 3DS version due to waning hype.
It’s clear that the 3DS version is going to be finished first, and Nintendo wants to get it out to market as soon as they can. However, the 3DS doesn’t lack for games. Delaying the 3DS version to release simultaneously or later than the Wii U version would not inflict much damage since the 3DS has little to fear from its competition at the moment. On the other hand, keeping the Wii U version back, strongly prejudices the Wii U in favour of its major competition in the forms of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
It cannot be overstated how critical Nintendo’s position is at this stage in the console cycle. The Xbox One, and particularly the PlayStation 4 have huge momentum, while the Wii U squandered its year advantage. If the Wii U doesn’t look like its turning around soon, more third parties will move on from Nintendo, and more core gamers will shy from the console. Conversely, if Nintendo can regain confidence in its console, they may be able to win back some of the market and work up some momentum. Userbase and confidence is a snowball effect, and large-scale support now will pay off in spades later in the console cycle. The sacrificing of the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros. is not a move that will help Nintendo’s console. Without help, the Wii U is likely to fall far behind the other two consoles.
One could argue that Nintendo is releasing the Wii U version during the winter in order to capitalize on holiday sales and the stagger the release from the other major upcoming release – Super Mario Kart. However, this point is irrelevant as the 3DS version could be pushed back as well to receive a similar holiday bump. The only thing the 3DS version accomplishes is eating into the Wii U version’s sales.
What Nintendo has prioritized is their handheld division and software sales over long-term profitability of their console. This is a very smart move in the short-term, and may be beneficial to boost numbers in order to increase investor confidence in the company. However, from a long-term perspective, it is a terrible decision that may handicap Nintendo’s ability to make the Wii U a profitable console. Even if the Wii U version has plenty of new bells in whistles, it looks like Nintendo may be hurting its ability to sell Wii U versions by releasing the 3DS version first, and that is a mistake.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer