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Breaking down Wii U's post-launch software lull
Breaking down Wii U's post-launch software lull Exclusive
January 18, 2013 | By Matt Matthews

January 18, 2013 | By Matt Matthews
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

With a dearth of software releases coming out between now and March, is the Wii U's post-launch software pipeline any drier than that of other consoles? Gamasutra analyst Matt Matthews takes a closer look.

When writing earlier this week about hardware sales, I said that I was astonished to see so few titles releasing for the Wii U between now and the beginning of March of this year. A few commenters took me to task for that remark, asking whether the Wii U was really out of the norm.

It's a good question! I'll answer it in just a moment, but I left some important context for my remark out of that column, and that was a mistake.

If you look back at some of the comments that Satoru Iwata has made over the past year in his role as president of Nintendo, you'll see some acknowledgment that the company hasn't always managed the pipeline of software for its platforms as well as it could, both in terms of first- and third-party titles.

For example, in April 2012, Iwata said this: "As we look back, when we launched the Nintendo 3DS, we failed to prepare a software lineup which could satisfy our consumers in addition to other factors, and the Nintendo 3DS could not initially increase the sales as we had originally expected."

He also said: "We absolutely need to keep the vitality of evergreen titles and release new key titles seamlessly."

Almost a year prior to that, in July 2011, he responded to a question about the lack of software for the Wii this way: "We thought that time would solve the issues for the Wii just as it had done for the Nintendo DS, but this was not the case. [...] The lesson from this for our future business is that we need to establish a structure to provide software in a seamless manner."

In this context, I found it astonishing that Nintendo, with a million new Wii U owners in the U.S. as of mid-January, would only have two titles available between that point and the beginning of March. If there is any time to cement your relationship with the consumer, I'd think it would be right up front, before the enthusiasm has a chance to wane.

I'm not so much astonished at how many titles Nintendo launched with (that was actually quite good) but rather that they would leave a gap right after release, right after Christmas, even after they had promised to avoid that kind of thing in the future. Yes, launches are special and the timing can be difficult, but launches also too important to screw up.

With that partial mea culpa out of the way, let me address the actual data out there. I spoke with Liam Callahan, an analyst with the NPD Group, and he was kind enough to pull the data for the Wii U and the previous six consoles that launched in the U.S.

In the figures below, I'm only considering the first four calendar months that a system was out. So, except for the PlayStation 2, which launched in October 2000, all of these windows run from November of one year through February of the following year. (I also prepared a copy of this showing the titles in their release order.)

Because we aren't yet to March 2013, I have added two titles that I expect to see release by the beginning of March: Rayman Legends (February 26) and The Amazing Spider-Man (March 5). It is possible that some other title will make it to retail before that point, but I'm going to add these two to the Wii U total. The NPD Group's figures show only 37 SKUs released for it so far, which would bring its early March 2013 total to 39.

Except for the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox, both of which had 51 SKUs at retail within their first four months on the market, the Wii U comes out ahead of every other console since the turn of the century.

Just behind the Wii U is the original Wii, with 36 titles in its first four months, and then the GameCube with 30.

The two consoles with the least titles during their respective four-month launch windows were the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with 22 and 21 SKUs, respectively.

So this much is true: Nintendo launched with an exceptional number of titles available in the first two months, and it will end the first four months with a well-above-average number of SKUs on store shelves.

However, to bring it back to my original point, the gap during January and February is just the kind of gap that I had thought Nintendo was going to try to avoid. Iwata has even said about the Nintendo 3DS launch in 2011 that they "failed to prepare a software lineup which could satisfy our consumers."

Maybe the lineup they have really is satisfying consumers, but I honestly thought they'd go about it in a different way.

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Eric Feliu
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I am not satisfied with the titles available. I purchased a Wii U with the understanding that Lego City Undercover would be available at launch since Nintendo advertised that game pretty heavily prior to launch along with Rayman Legends too. When exactly is Lego City supposed to come out?

Nintendo has done a rather poor job in my opinion of delivering on promises lately. I mean it is over a year now and we still don't have Luigi's mansion for the 3DS? What gives there? At this rate I doubt Pikman 3 will be out until early 2014.

Joseph Anthony B. A. Tanimowo-Reyes
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But we already have a date for Pikmin 3, and the delays for Lego City and Rayman aren't exactly Nintendo's fault.

Russell Carroll
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If Rayman Legends delivers on the promise of its WiiU demo (probably the best demo ever created), you won't care that there are not any other titles due in February.
Personally I'm still playing through Trine and only on world 2 of NSMBU myself anyway. Our WiiU is getting nearly an hour of play a day (which I consider to be a lot b/c the 3DS gets around the same amount, then there are PC, phone and tablet games grabbing some additional time), I can never figure how people always seem to lacking for things to play.
I'm always lacking the time to play all the things I have!

Lewis Wakeford
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You probably have a job and/or a family, though.

Alan Rimkeit
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Bring me a new Metroid game that is not crap like Metroid M and I will buy a Wii U the day it comes out. Mario look awesome, but Metroid is what I want to see.

Over all the launch looks pretty average. Not outstanding but not a crash and burn either. Good on Ninty.

Bob Johnson
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You have to add "in a perfect world" to Iwata's comments.

Because realize what Iwata says conflicts with Nintendo's motto of "A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever."

It is always a bit weird then that Nintendo is asked questions about having new product on the shelf according to the calendar week or month when they are known for delaying games.

At the same time Nintendo is well aware of the long run and key release periods like the holiday season. They havent been around this long dor no reason. I think their analysis of this Jan and Feb is any customer buying in has plenty to play as the article sort of concludes.

Joe Zachery
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To see the sales of games in the US you can clearly see that people didn't buy too many Wii U launch titles. Yet these same people are complaining about not having nothing new to play. The Nintendo No Game Paradox is confusing.

Ujn Hunter
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97% of the Wii U games were ports or sequels. The problem is finding games that I'm interested in getting for the Wii U that I haven't already played/bought on the Xbox 360/PS3. ZombiU is the only game I was interested in and bought at launch. I haven't touched my Wii U (except to watch American Horror Story on Amazon Prime Instant Video) since the first week it launched. :(

Mike Jenkins
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"Except for the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox, both of which had 51 SKUs at retail within their first four months on the market, the Wii U comes out ahead of every other console since the turn of the century."

Of 34 Wii U games on metacritic
7 are shovelware
10-12 were available on other systems at least one month earlier.

A direct comparison of the quantity of launch window titles with other systems is completely disingenuous.

Bob Johnson
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Not exactly since other systems also had their share of ports and shovelware.

Charles Herold
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Shovelware is generally used as a term for poorly made games, designed on the cheap, that have no intrinsic value and are cynically created under the assumption that they will appeal to uninformed gamers who don't know any better. The Game Party series is a classic example of shovelware. I would say there are five games that fit that definition on the Wii U. I we are placing the dividing line betwee cynical and competent-but-forgetable in slightly different places.

To say this comparison is disingenuous is to imply that the quality of games from other console launches is superior. I still consider the worst launch in recent memory to be that of the PS3; as far as I'm concerned, they had no really worthwhile games for the first year they were out. The 360 and Gamecube launches were also hugely disappointing.

If you compare the Wii U selection with a great launch like that of the Wii or the Xbox, then it looks pretty bad. But most launches aren't that good.

I wrote an article on the subject, in fact:

Carlos Rocha
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Still, out of those 36 games, there are only a few that are really worth your time. I can't quite remember perfectly, but there was a time when a Nintendo platform launched with a really amazing Nintendo game and not so much ports. Can't quite say that Super Mario Wii U (hope that's the name) does that job well enough.

Haptic gaming has lost it's charm. Guess it's hard to catch that lightning twice in a row in the same bottle.

Nicklas Holmgren
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Nintendo, please make: Zelda, Metroid, Smash Bros., Nazo no Murasame Jō (in Zelda fashion), and Kid Icarus (in Zelda fashion). Then I'm all game. These are the games I enjoy most. But none of them will be released within the coming year, or maybe not even in 2014. So Wii U, what do you have to show?

So, I bought a Wii U in preparation for what's to come. While I was at it, I thought hmm, maybe I'll try a few games. So, I got Nintendo Land with the console, and while it's a pretty good game of minigames, I still don't consider it worth many hours of gaming. It's more of a tech demo. Also, since I live in the grown-up world, getting friends over to play video games just doesn't happen anymore.
So I bought Mighty Switch Force HD, Trine 2 and Darksiders 2 on the online store. Plus dled Rayman Legends.
* Rayman Legends is a game I would really enjoy owning. The demo was great fun and showed that the game had some great aspects.
* Mighty Switch Force HD is exactly like the 3DS game but with HD gfx, and probably amped up the music quality a tad bit aswell. Problem is, I already owned the 3DS game. While I love the 3DS game, I don't find my money well spent on the Wii U version. The 3DS game is superior thx to the neat 3D effect.
* Trine 2 is basically just the same game which has been release to all other consoles and on the Steam platform. I hadn't played it or it's prequel before, but I was looking forwards to play it. It looks okay, but I still haven't had the pep needed to fire it up again.
* Darksiders 2. Yes I like God of War 3 and I like Zelda. I have the 1st Darksiders so it was natural to get the second. It's an okay game, but nothing spectacular. Enemies drop loot far too often in my opinion. Well, this is a game I'll probably play more later.

Right now, I'm finishing Skyward Sword on my Wii U. I almost completed it on my PC, but well, there are some minor slowdowns here and there so the experience is a bit better on my Wii U. Also the Motion Plus works a bit better on the Wii U aswell. But IMO, it's not perfect.

Matt Wilson
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I'm more struck at the paucity of the Wiishop. I'm a little baffled by Nintendo - it doesn't seem to make any sense to push innovation in hardware and then gate out the majority of game innovators - indies, who can afford risk because we have nothing to lose - with a $5k entry fee.

Chris Skuller
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The way I see it, the problem with the Wii U launch is that too many of the games are old ports that most players are likely to have already.

Also, most people buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo's games. With only two of those out, it leaves most people feeling like there isn't a dynamite reason to own the system yet.