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Nintendo on Wii U hopes, fears and why hardcore fans are its secret weapon

Will we see another early price cut?

Eurogamer last night attended the Wii U's London midnight launch to ask Nintendo UK execs James Honeywell and Shelly Pearce our burning questions surrounding the console.

With a few hundred fans queued outside, we wanted to know if Wii U would enjoy a record-breaking Christmas and - perhaps more importantly - how it would fare over the coming year, as the console market is once again set to become more crowded. The duo gave their verdicts on how easy it will be buy Wii U in the coming weeks, and whether the console could be priced cheaper.

Read on for a frank discussion of why some consumers still don't understand what Wii U is - and what Nintendo should be doing to educate them.

Eurogamer also found out the company's views on a Wii U price cut, the potential problems of another console launch in the shape of Wii Mini, and why the Nintendo's hardcore fans are its secret weapon in selling Wii U to the world.

Will the Wii U be the best-selling console this Christmas?

James Honeywell: We know we've got a certain amount of stock available so it's possible that other existing formats have already got more stock than us. It's possibly the most anticipated - it's the only new thing out there - but whether it will be number one is difficult to pin down.

Do you anticipate it breaking console launch sales records?

James Honeywell: I think it's down to the amount of stock we're able to bring in. We have a good number for today and then we'll have strong shipments coming in up until Christmas. But it's possible we won't break a record.

Shelly Pearce: It'll have a strong launch. Obviously we're trying to get stock into the market as much as we can. But whether we'll have enough stock for launch day to break sales records I don't know.

"We'll have strong shipments coming in up until Christmas. But it's possible we won't break a record."

James Honeywell, Nintendo UK's marketing and PR director

How are the pre-orders tracking versus the Wii?

James Honeywell: As soon as we made the [launch date] announcement back in September, pre-orders started amazingly. But what we have had to do is manage the level of pre-orders to make sure we've got adequate stock. We've only taken pre-orders up to the level of stock so no one pre-orders one and doesn't get one.

How much more stock will be in circulation above the amount of pre-orders?

James Honeywell: In terms of day-one it's almost totally sold through. But following that we'll have more shipments - all retailers have been told their allocation for the next few weeks so people can jump on a waiting list. Definitely for the first weekend it's going to be difficult getting one. If you see one, get it straight away!

Are you happy with the amount of stock available in the UK?

James Honeywell: Well we've already said there's more coming in time for Christmas. We're going to ship 5.5 million by the end of the financial year so I'm sure there's going to be enough to satisfy demand.

Do you think we'll see Wii U software in the top ten of the all-formats chart next week?

James Honeywell: Oh yeah, definitely.

Top five?

James Honeywell: Well, it all depends on the strength of the market. Most of the big hits have come out now but it is a big time of the year. I definitely think we'll see Wii U games in the top ten. Hopefully top five.

Where do you see Wii U in a year's time? Do you feel the pressure for it to find a foothold before other machines launch?

James Honeywell: It all comes down to the experience we offer. At the moment, anyway, Wii U offers something unique. Wii proved it's not all about power, that it's down to the games people want to play. We've got a good launch line-up and a good Q1 so as long as we keep releasing good software I think we'll be fine.

Shelly Pearce: We hope it'll build on the launch base of the Wii. In the UK the Wii is now around 8 million [sold] and we hope to attract all of that 8 million - hopefully more. We're certainly pleased it has launched this peak season before Christmas. The key thing is it's the only new home console on the market. It definitely has an advantage in that respect.

"In the UK the Wii is now around 8 million [sold] and we hope to attract all of that 8 million - hopefully more."

Shelly Pearce, Head of European PR at Nintendo of Europe

Reggie Fils-Aime said that Wii U becomes profitable with one game sold. Is that the system's price to retailers then, around £30 different to what consumers pay?

James Honeywell: We don't really talk about the trade price and obviously retailers set their own prices. I don't think it matters to most people - it's more important that they can get the console and the games they want.

I'm sure it matters to Nintendo, though, as you're a business and I'm assuming you'd like to make money on the Wii U. If one game sold makes you a profit then what is the ideal attach rate?

James Honeywell: We don't really set those things. We've got some great titles, there are some great third-party titles. We just want everyone to be successful on the platform.

The Wii U is the most expensive console at launch since the SNES, why is that?

James Honeywell: Obviously the Wii U offers a lot of new features and a totally new way to play games. The reason we've brought out a number of packs is to allow consumers to make the choice of which they want to purchase on day one. Ultimately we've tried to bring out a number of things at different price points and bring lots of people in.

Shelly Pearce: I think it's good value for money considering it's quite a technical piece of kit. Ultimately the consumer will decide but we're confident that it is.

But despite being the cheapest Wii U offering, the Basic Wii U is still more expensive than the N64, GameCube and Wii. Are you comfortable with that?

James Honeywell: We think it's a really good price as it offers so many different abilities - certainly more than the other consoles you mentioned - such as web chat or Miiverse. We're happy it offers value for money.

Do you think it's less attractive a proposition than the Wii, as it is that bit more expensive?

James Honeywell: No, not at all. We have a number of packs - there is something there for everyone. The Wii U is a different console offering lots of new things [and] those new features cost money to put in.

"There are some similar features in other consoles, but no one brings it together in the unique package that Nintendo does."

James Honeywell

Do you think people expect those sort of features now though, such as a browser and video calling?

James Honeywell: I guess there are some similar features in other consoles, but no one brings it together in the unique package that Nintendo does, and it is really that uniqueness that allows us to have fun in the market.

What would you say to anyone who is on the fence with Wii U and is waiting for a price cut - especially considering how the 3DS price was dropped four months after it launched?

James Honeywell: The 3DS was a strong launch for us - we're hoping the Wii U will be just as strong or even stronger. As for whether there will be a future price cut we certainly have no plans for it at the moment.

Shelly Pearce: We have no plans for a price cut - if someone really wants it this Christmas they should go out and buy it!

Would it be damaging to Nintendo for it to announce another early price drop? It doesn't please the early adopters.

James Honeywell: All technology comes out at one price and eventually changes to another. I don't think it's unique to Nintendo or even video games.

That's true, but in the case of the 3DS it was certainly earlier than a lot of people were expecting.

James Honeywell: Well we wanted to make sure people could get a hold of the 3DS as much as possible. It really is standard for most technology products.

When did you hear about Wii Mini?

James Honeywell: Well… I saw it in the press release with everyone else.

Shelly Pearce: On the internet like everyone!

"We definitely do still need to educate people."

Shelly Pearce

Do you think that bringing a new Wii-branded console on the market - whether it eventually comes to the UK or not - will be confusing to the consumer?

James Honeywell: It's not something we found out about until recently and it's not something we're working to bring to the UK at the moment. Each market takes its own decision about what's right.

Shelly Pearce: I think consumers are quite savvy [to know the difference].

I still know people who think the Wii U is a controller for the Wii.

Shelly Pearce: You need to tell them differently!

But your advertising campaign right now has the tagline 'What is Wii U?' It suggests you're still trying to educate people. The core fans get it - they're outside right now - but what about everyone else?

Shelly Pearce: We definitely do still need to educate people. The key thing is that the controller is the most obvious difference. I think people do find it misleading and we are trying to address that by making it clear Wii U is a new console. Our core fans get it but yes, when we talk to a wider audience we're aware we need to continue to communicate that. There will be lots of sampling activity, demo consoles in stores, things like that.

James Honeywell: We've sold a huge number of Wii consoles in the UK and that wasn't about going after everyone at once. It was about picking certain audiences and working our way through it. We're here tonight [with Wii U] to talk to the early adopters, the most loyal fans. If we can get them on board and playing it, taking it home and sharing it with their friends and family then that is very powerful and will help us to expand. It's not about speaking to everyone at the beginning. You can see from the crowd outside and the pre-orders we've got that we've spoken to some people and hopefully they can experience it and allow us to talk to others.

Ideally shouldn't you want to be able to communicate the Wii U's appeal to everyone?

James Honeywell: We want people to work with us and help us get that message out there. We want people to take one home this weekend and play it together on Christmas Day. That's the best form of communication we can have. It's not about talking to everyone - that would be very expensive - it's about talking to the right people and getting them to talk to others.

Changing tack and talking about the 3DS for a moment, Satoru Iwata said that sales outside of Japan were still “weak”. Why do you think this is?

Shelly Pearce: In the UK it has a pretty strong momentum at the moment. Obviously Japan has just seen the Animal Crossing launch and sales have gone through the roof. Certainly we haven't seen that huge uplift here but I think we're at a tipping point. With sales where they are we're all looking to Christmas - maybe not for the same rate as Japan but it'll get there.

"Certainly we haven't seen that huge uplift here but I think we're at a tipping point."

Shelly Pearce

Paper Mario: Sticker Star is the big 3DS launch this Christmas - do you think that's enough?

Shelly Pearce: I think there's a lot happening this Christmas. We have the new 3DS XL bundles and Layton is still doing really well. And Paper Mario is a classic!

I'm very excited about it but what about Animal Crossing - people have been waiting for two years! Luigi's Mansion, too - that was announced about a year ago.

Shelly Pearce: Yeah…

And Fire Emblem.

Shelly Pearce: Those are coming but not this Christmas. We just have different launch schedules.

What about Scribblenauts Unlimited on Wii U? It is a launch day title in the PAL region of Australia and was thought to be one here, too. The game is finished but the developer has now said that due to circumstances he can't discuss it has been delayed. Why is that?

Shelly Pearce: It will come in the launch window - so by the end of March. I'm not sure the reasons but we will be bringing it to market in the first quarter.

EA and Ubisoft games such as FIFA 13 and Assassin's Creed don't have Online Passes on Wii U but do on other platforms - something a lot of gamers will see is a good thing. Is that a decision from Nintendo to enforce that?

Shelly Pearce: We want to leave it up to the publishers to define their own online strategy for their games, but it is very much their decision.

So they could have one if they wanted to?

Shelly Pearce: Yeah, it's very much what they want to deliver.

Finally, do you think the Wii U target market is different to the Wii? The Wii ended up being criticised for becoming too much for the family market rather than core gamers.

Shelly Pearce: Certainly our focus right now at launch is on the core Nintendo fans. We're particularly catering for the avid people who will buy the console at launch. Next year we'll look to broaden the market - we've got games like Wii Fit U coming - so we hope we can get the balance of catering to all needs. But right now the focus is on the core fan.

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