NEW YORK/TOKYO (Reuters) - Nintendo Co’s “Wii U”, packed with innovative TV and video features, will hit U.S. store shelves on November 18 as it plays catch-up with Microsoft and Sony and aims to lure gamers back from the Internet and mobile devices.
The first Nintendo home console in six years will allow users to make personal TV and video programming lists and record shows through TiVo and other digital recording services.
“It should be the entertainment hub in the center of the house,” said Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.
The machine, starting at just under $300, will also come with a dedicated “Super Mario” game title.
For Nintendo, known for its game-centric approach, adding an entertainment component is a positive step, said Billy Pidgeon, an analyst at M2 Research. “It’s a must-have right now and with this, they can catch up somewhat to Microsoft’s Xbox offerings.”
The Wii U is the first console machine to be sold by a major gaming industry company in more than six years. With a new Microsoft Corp Xbox and updated Sony Corp Playstation expected in 2013, sales will offer clues as to whether more advanced, next-generation game hardware can boost the ailing video game console and packaged games market.
Gamers have migrated steadily online or to mobile devices such as Apple Inc’s iPad and this shift has weakened video game hardware and software sales.
The Wii has been a bonanza for Nintendo, with 100 million sold, but demand is waning. In the three months to June 30, Wii sales more than halved to 710,000 from 1.56 million a year earlier.
Nintendo, which is struggling to reverse years of losses, badly needs a hit. But the console is launching into a holiday season of tooth-and-nail competition.
Consumers are “going to make choices this holiday whether they want to buy a Fire, an iPhone 5, an iPad, a Wii U, and it’s the broadest group of products and services we’ve ever seen,” said P.J McNealy, CEO of Digital World Research.
The original Wii became the world’s biggest selling home console shortly after its 2006 launch, with motion-controlled gaming and a slew of software titles that appealed to users beyond traditional gamers.
Nintendo hopes that its “TVii” feature will help spruce up demand. It will stream video from Netflix Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Google Inc’s YouTube, and Hulu, taking a page from the Xbox.
A “GamePad” touch-screen controller can function as a remote control, and that second screen can be used to create personalized program lists. The controller, which enhances the video streaming and gaming experience, helped push its price tag above rival consoles. Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 start at $250 and $200, respectively.
The Wii U will go on sale in Japan on December 8 for about $340 (26,250 yen).
“Just looking at the price, it does seem a little high,” Richard George, Nintendo executive editor at video game website IGN.com. “The catch is that the initial five to six months of the console, most of the people buying will be hardcore Nintendo fans.”
NEXT-LEVEL HARDWARE BATTLE
Repeating the Wii’s success, however, will be tough as Nintendo battles not just Microsoft and Sony but also tablet and smartphone makers led by Apple that are eating into the $78 billion gaming market.
Apple on Wednesday revealed its latest iPhone with features that allow users to view their smartphone images and games on TVs equipped with an Apple TV receiver.
For now, Nintendo, which began in 1889 making playing cards in the back streets of Kyoto, has a big enough cash pile built up during the Wii boom — about $14 billion — to stick with its hardware strategy.
But if the Wii U fails to win over gamers, it may have to consider leveraging its software assets by letting Super Mario roam across devices built by other companies, analysts say.
The Wii U, unveiled in June, is available in black and white and has a 6.2-inch touch screen that includes a stylus.
Supporting two “GamePad” controllers designed to look and function like tablets, the first new console from Nintendo in six years will come with a gamer’s social network called “Miiverse”, though executives did not provide much more detail.
In addition to the basic 8 gigabyte model costing $299.99, Nintendo will sell a “deluxe” 32 GB version for $349.99 in the United States and 31,500 yen in Japan. The “deluxe” package will include its new Nintendo land game.
Nintendo will offer 23 original Wii U games. Third-party titles include Mass Effect 3 from Electronic Arts, Darksiders II from THQ, Ubisoft’s exclusive Wii U title Zombie U and Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
(The story corrects to say Wii U is first home console in 6 years, not 16 years.)
Reporting by Tim Kelly in Tokyo and Nayak Malathi in New York; Editing by Michael Watson, Maureen Bavdek, David Gregorio and Richard Chang