Nintendo Co. set pre-holiday release dates for the Wii U, the world’s first new home console since 2006, betting a broader offering of games, movies and TV shows will help it revive sales.
The Wii U will start selling Nov. 18 for $300 and up in the U.S., with new titles ranging from “Super Mario” and “Skylanders” for kids to more traditional shooting games like “Call of Duty.” The console also will offer a free television service starting in the U.S. and Canada, company officials said today at an event in New York. Sales begin in December in Japan.
Nintendo is beefing up the entertainment features of its console while also responding to growing competition from games played online and on smartphones from players including Apple Inc. (AAPL), which will begin selling the iPhone 5 next week. New titles made specifically for the Wii U will highlight its unique tablet-like controller.
“It’s the next advance in gaming,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo’s U.S. president. “It’s how you will play next.”
A deluxe console, with extra features and memory, will cost $350. More than 50 game titles will be released through March to support the platform, the strongest game slate in Nintendo history, Fils-Aime said.
The most enthusiastic Nintendo fans, who number as many as 7 million, probably won’t balk at the Wii U’s relatively high price, Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said today in a research note. Over time, Nintendo may be forced to cut prices because even its new entertainment features can be easily matched, he said.
“Pricing will be too high to sustain demand given competition from other consoles and tablets,” Pachter said.
Nintendo will offer titles “New Super Mario Bros. U” and “Nintendo Land,” President Satoru Iwata said in a webcast earlier today. Activision Blizzard Inc. (ATVI) will provide “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” “James Bond” and “Transformers.”
The Wii U’s TV service lets users search across the Web and live TV for shows like “Mad Men,” giving a menu in one place with free, paid and subscription services. It will connect to Web-based streaming services from Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Hulu LLC.
Nintendo, the world’s biggest video-game machine maker, is looking to the Wii U to help it recover from its first annual loss. Earlier, the Kyoto, Japan-based company said it will sell the console in Japan for at least 26,250 yen ($338). A premium version costing 31,500 yen will start selling on Dec. 8, Iwata said.
Nintendo’s 3DS handheld player has missed sales projections, in part because of that competition and because of a lack of popular software titles.
With the Wii U pricing, Nintendo will gamble that consumers will distinguish its new features enough to ignore comparisons to lower prices on Sony Corp. (6758)’s $249 PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)’s $199 Xbox 360 with Kinect. Wii U games also will cost $60 or more.
“It sounds inexpensive to me, and probably it’s the price that consumers can afford,” said Takashi Oka, a Tokyo-based analyst at TIW Inc. “It may prompt existing owners to replace their Wii with the new one.”
The company’s effort may be helped by some retailer promotions. Grapevine, Texas-based GameStop, the world’s largest specialty retailer, will let users trade in older consoles and smartphones for credits of as much as $400 on certain devices, President Tony Bartel said today in an interview.
“We think with trade-ins, it puts the Wii U back down at a very affordable price point,” Bartel said.
The basic version will offer a white-colored console and 8 gigabytes of storage, Nintendo said. The premium model is black, with 32 gigabytes of storage. Both will include a GamePad touch- screen controller that’s similar to a tablet computer and supports new forms of game play.
The Wii U GamePad features a 6.2 inch screen that provides extra information to players as they manipulate games on their TVs. It also can be used as a primary screen in the home. The machine includes new social-networking features, allowing players to interact with each other.
“The price is probably set just above production costs so the company won’t lose money,” said Tomoaki Kawasaki, a Tokyo- based analyst at Iwai Cosmo Securities. “I’m paying close attention to whether there will be innovative software.”