The games industry tends to overlook the significance of games down under. To my surprise, some industry analysts have dubbed Australia as a “gaming nation” - keeping in mind that our population is just under 23 million, which is almost the population of Texas, on a land mass just under the size of the U.S, in a federated country that is a little over 100 years old. So yeah, we’re a small population of folks living on a giant island well out of the way - we’ve hardly contributed to the global canon of video games at all (except with maybe our co-development of BioShock), but at the same time, we are only a young country, and we’re still expanding and growing in all entertainment industries, not just video games. Sadly, our uneducated culture tends to revolve around excessive drinking, rugby league, motor racing, getting drunk, the great outdoors and… getting shit-faced.
We do like playing games, though. In 2009, it was reported that 88% of Australian households own at least one gaming device. In the same year, we grossed $2 billion AUD on video games - more than the annual profits in DVDs and cinema… that might be due to the fact that new game releases sit at something like $118 a pop, but nevertheless, we love our video games, and more than anything, we loved the Wii.
Perhaps the reason the Wii was so successful in Australia was because it had achieved exactly what Nintendo had wanted it to - it tapped into the demographic that had at the time been untapped. The casual market fled from SingStar, Buzz! and EyeToy on the Playstation 2 to the incredibly innovative Wii Sports, complete with real motion-control gaming. It was the perfect gimmick to attract our sports-orientated casual crowd, and it worked not only in Australia, but on a global scale as well. To put things into perspective, the GameCube only managed to sell about 160,000 units down here, but the Wii managed to break 1 million hardware sales by 2009… and it’s only sold tremendously beyond then.
Thing is, the Wii never managed to break the “hardcore” market in Australia, or even the pseudo-hardcore-casual market that exists to enjoy games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, FIFA and Grand Theft Auto. The divide in Australia existed between Wii owners and “serious” gamers whom enjoy a shoot-off in Halo more than a race around the track in Mario Kart. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just the way this country and this industry works.
What I’m seeing with Nintendo’s future plans however, is that the Wii U is attempting to hold on to the casual market with games like Nintendo Land and Wii Fit U, all the while pulling them up into a harmonious existence with “hardcore” gamers with software titles like Batman, Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect. And I don’t know if this balance that which Nintendo is seeking is just too much to ask - at least, in Australia.
I fear the inconvenient and… undeniable ignorance of Australian consumers will mean there will be a bustle of confusion regarding the Wii U as an entirely new console, or merely an expensive GamePad expansion for the original Wii. Quite simply, the “Wii U” title is going to confuse consumers down under, unless Nintendo blatantly spell out that it’s an entirely new console in their marketing campaigns. Secondly, I can’t see the Wii U GamePad really drawing in casual consumers the same way the Wii remote had. Unquestionably, I think the GamePad is fantastic and I can’t wait to hold it in my hands to play the glorious Pikmin 3, but I don’t think the rest of the Australian population will appreciate the device in quite the same way. Casual consumers might judge the GamePad from what they see on face value, and they could potentially end up telling themselves, “well, I can’t play golf with that tablet thing”, “it’s not like a Wii remote at all, it has too many buttons, it’s obviously not for me”, or “I already have an Xbox, I don’t need this.”
The enhanced interactivity that the Wii remote introduced simply isn’t there with the Wii U, the “wow” factor that sparked from being able to hold a controller like a tennis racquet isn’t as pertinent with the GamePad. A tablet controller just isn’t enough to attract casual gaming Australians to Nintendo’s new console, the same way Darksiders II, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition and Aliens: Colonial Marines won’t be enough to draw in the brand-trusting Xbox and Playstation gamers (whom are incredibly ripe all across the country) over to Nintendo. In short, it feels as though the Wii U will only sell as well as the GameCube had in Australia, and perhaps other regions - enough, but well below expectations.
Of course, I’d love to be proven wrong here. I’d love for the Wii U to be a massive hit not only in Australia, but worldwide. But I also think Nintendo need to work harder to set the console apart from the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and really sell it to audiences outside of the only demographics they seem to have been focusing on, which are the die-hard Nintendo fans, the young audiences and the American and Japanese nuclear families. How are Nintendo really going to have the Halo and Gears of War players put down their 360 controller and pick up the Wii U GamePad for something fresh, different and new? How are they are really going to prove that the Wii U experience far exceeds bowling in Wii Sports, or spinning the Wii Wheel in Mario Kart Wii?