The Wii U is less than a month away from retailers, but with the hype engine revving at lower RPMs than most games at this point in the release cycle, many have expressed concern about the awareness levels of the general public. Seeing as how the casual market made up a significant portion of the Wii sales, could there be legitimate cause for concern for Nintendo and its new console?
“There is a shocking lack of coverage in the mainstream press,” Industry analyst Michael Pachter told me. “I have seen few articles showing pictures or features, so to be honest, I think that the average consumer has no idea (a) that the Wii U is launching in three weeks, or (b) what it is.”
So, how accurate was Pachter’s claim of the average consumer’s knowledge of Wii U? I took the the streets and internet to find out how much the casual gamer knows about Nintendo’s upcoming console less than a month prior to launch. While this is far from a scientific poll, it does go to show that Nintendo has largely neglected to get information out to the casual gamers.
The question was simple: What do you know about the Nintendo Wii U? The typical responses ranged from Jessica, age 24, who said “Not a clue. I have a Wii, but what’s a Wii U?” to Courtney, 35, who simply said “Nothing!” The closest answer from a non-gamer came from Bill, 28, who admitted that he knew nothing about what the Wii U was or when it released, but he did know that it had a controller with a screen on it. In stark contrast to that, I had Jordan, 26, who confused it for what sounds like a Virtual Boy, saying “Nintendo Wii U… is that the one where you wear a screen attached to your head and up-close in front of your eyes?”
“Buzz is almost non-existent among non-core gamers,” Pachter said. “I think that the buzz will build at launch, and expect retailers to advertise heavily as a traffic driver, so sales should be fine.”
A trend in the answers I received was one that I feared would happen back in February when I considered potential problems that the Wii U might face: people think the Wii U is simply an add-on for the Wii, rather than a brand new console in itself. Deanne, 44, thought it was some sort of educational add-on for the Wii, asking if it stood for “Wii University.” Lauren, 25, displayed this common misconception by saying that “Nintendo needs to stop adding new things to the Wii and just start working on a new system already.” In June, during a segment with Reggie Fils-Aime from Late Night‘s annual “Video Game Week,” Jimmy Fallon confused the Wii U for a new controller for the Wii, continuing the confusion amongst his audience.
This confusion has led many to question Nintendo’s decision to keep the name as “Wii U,” rather than changing it to something different. “The name is much like the PlayStation or Xbox naming conventions,” Pachter said, somewhat defending the branding of the upcoming console. “I don’t think ‘Wii U’ is a bad name or a mistake, but perhaps ‘Wii HD’ or ‘Wii 2′ would have been better. The other manufacturers have added numerals to their brands, and consumers have figured it out.”
Of course, with speculation that supplies will be limited for months following launch (not unlike the Wii), is there any reason for Nintendo to build hype to non-gamers? Pachter doesn’t think so. “I truly think the Wii U will sell out through March, so there isn’t really much point in building buzz before then.”
If Pachter is correct, and the Wii U is projected to sell out through March, that would explain the lack of mainstream advertising on Nintendo’s part. With the lack of supply, buzz will spread by word of mouth, and people looking to find the console during the holiday season will do their own research through sources such as product reviews and information pages. Then, by the time Wii U is readily available in early 2013, the mainstream hype will be potentially overwhelming, and the general consumer will be well aware of the Wii U’s capabilities, causing another wave of purchases to boost sales of the console.
Of course, this scenario is completely hypothetical, and contingent upon the interest of the general population. But if anything gets mainstream gamers excited, it’s a new home console. Now, Nintendo just has to hope that its Wii U is the console that the public has been waiting for.