The Wii U is set to launch Nov. 18, marking the biggest release from Nintendo since the company introduced the motion-gaming console, the Wii.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said that this launch “marks a beginning” for the company.
“As we prepare for this launch, I think it’s really important to recognize where we are as well as to look to the future,” he said.
Ahead of the launch, Nintendo reported that stores had pre-sold all the stock set aside for reserve on the first day. Fils-Aime said that stores across the country would have midnight releases for the console — including the Toys R Us in Times Square — and continuing with heavy promotion throughout the week. Nintendo has prepared for this launch to be bigger than the Wii’s 2006 debut.
Fils-Aime touted the Wii U’s unique features, specifically the GamePad tablet controller that acts as a second screen for games, video and television viewing.
“[This is] the launch of a very innovative system, a system that will marry new ways to play games, new ways to interact with gaming friends and new ways to engage with a broad range of entertainment,” he said.
The list of launch titles indicates that Nintendo is focusing not only on the family audience but also going after more serious gamers.
“Nintendo prides itself on being a mass-market gaming company. When we talk about our target audience, we say things like ages 5 to 95, male and female,” Fils-Aime said. Offering “Mass Effect 3,” “Call of Duty” or “ZombiU” in addition to classic Mario titles and party games such as “NintendoLand” helps to broaden the console’s reach, he said.
The ability to transfer on-screen action to the tablet controller and vice-versa also makes the Wii U a console that can fit easily into any family situation, he said.
In fact, the device is very focused on getting groups of people together. Some games for the Wii U can support up to five players at a time — with four people using Wii remotes and one person directing some other part of the game on the tablet.
Nintendo, he said, “has built a legacy in side-by-side play. ...We think there is something inherently magical about people playing together but having completely different experiences.” The company has also started something called off-TV play, which lets users play full games directly on the tablet and leave the television open for other use.
The Wii U is also designed to be used for watching regular television and online video. The television interaction component, Nintendo TVii, will launch in December. It allows users to send messages through Facebook, Twitter and Nintendo’s own Miiverse social network while watching their favorite programs — building off of the trend of people using their smartphones or tablets to comment on programs as they happen.
The GamePad also works on its own as a television remote, so people can use it to control the volume and channels on their existing televisions.
“We want every consumer in the household to pick up the GamePad at least once a day,” Fils-Aime said.
This is an important time for Nintendo. Video game sales have been down this year, with NPD Group reporting this month that hardware sales had suffered the most — 37 percent down from last year. And, so far, Nintendo hasn’t had as much luck with its attempts to build a social community around its console as its competitors have with the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live and has fallen behind in sales.
Fils-Aime said that social is another primary focus for Nintendo as it launches the new system. The Miiverse community, he hopes, will connect players who want to discuss games as well as video and television.
Nintendo is also pumping up its online store, the eShop, which Fils-Aime said has been appealing to both publishers and gamers because of the rise of downloadable content.
“We prioritized the eShop because we’re seeing that, first, there’s a segment of consumers that want their games digitally on the system and don’t want the hassle, potentially, of physical discs,” Fils-Aime said. “We’ve also seen the ongoing business opportunities with digital content. Continuous transactions with this content is something publishers especially view as critical to the ongoing monetization of their franchises.”
Nintendo’s ability to attract developers willing to create games optimized for its unique layout is critical as it tries to compete with Sony and Microsoft.
Developers, Fils-Aime said, have embraced the idea of a second screen.
“What I love is that developers are utilizing the second screen of the GamePad in completely different ways,” he said. In “ZombiU,” for example, the tablet houses the player’s inventory menu. In the Wii U version of “Batman: Arkham City,” it’s an extension of the world’s greatest detective’s utility belt. In Madden 2012, players can trace plays directly on the screen.
Fils-Aime said he was particularly impressed with how the tablet improved the multiplayer experience in “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” for the Wii U.
“Multiplayer in the same room has always been a challenge because of the split screen environment,” he said. “But [the Wii U] multiplayer allows two players to focus on individual screens. It’s a much more fun and robust experience.”