Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) Wii U could receive more high-profile bundles than any mainstream console in gaming history. The packaging of Titanfall with Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One was the last big bundle story, but Nintendo's console has seen most of its major releases packed-in at one point. This trend is on track to continue.
May 30 marks the release of Mario Kart 8, a game that many have cited as the Wii U's last chance of establishing a meaningful retail foothold. Nintendo has also announced that it will release a bundle featuring the game on the date, but the package is currently only slated to hit Europe and Australia. What does this latest bundle mean for Nintendo and the Wii U? Will the package ever come stateside?
Nintendo launched its Wii U console in North America and Europe with a Nintendo Land bundle, hoping that the title would replicate the success that Wii Sports had achieved in the previous generation. European consumers also had the option of picking up Ubisoft's undead actioner ZombiU in a bundle at launch, while U.S. residents had to wait a few months until the package came stateside.
The first of the non-launch, Nintendo-developed U.S. software bundles saw The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD included with the console. Then, there was a New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U pack, in addition to a number of other territory-specific SKUs.
Giving up hopes of software sales in order to build a hardware base
Japan received a bundle that featured New Super Mario Bros. U, Wii Party U, and a Wii Remote last September. Debuting alongside this bundle was a slightly more expensive package that featured all of those contents plus a copy of Wii Fit U. Both SKUs also included access to Nintendo's Karaoke service. Nintendo would later package its Wii Sports Club with the struggling platform, a throwback to last-generation success but one that only invites the misconception that Wii U is just a Wii with a tablet controller. Other Japan-specific Wii U bundles include a pack featuring Square Enix's Dragon Quest X and one featuring Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate from Capcom.
Last holiday season, the UK saw the release of a Wii U that came packed with a copy of Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo's big console game for the 2013 holiday season. Activision Blizzard's Skylanders SWAP Force and Ubisoft's Just Dance 2014 have also been paired with the console. That's a lot of bundles for a system that's only been the market for approximately a year and a half.
Can anything kick-start the Wii U?
The reasoning for the abundance of bundles is obvious. Wii U is a sales flop, and Nintendo has been attempting to spur interest in the console without having to eat the losses that would come with a significant price reduction. The most recent North American monthly sales data has the Wii U selling approximately 70,000 units, a 4.5% increase over its performance last March but hardly an encouraging figure.
President Satoru Iwata has wisely stated that price cuts alone will not spur interest in the Wii U. The right software proposition has to be there. Mario Kart 8 will almost certainly wind up as the Wii U's best-selling game--its immediate console predecssor sold more than 38 million copies. The upcoming sequel should give Nintendo's console a small momentum bump on the global front, but the the European bundle is unlikely to do healthy numbers.
Europe is Nintendo's weakest region
The UK received the Super Mario 3D World bundle and will be receiving the Mario Kart 8+Wii U package because Nintendo's device is effectively dead in the territory. Nintendo's second 2013 quarter saw the company sell -20,000 Wii U's in Europe, meaning retailers shipped back substantially more units than it moved through retail channels. The upcoming bundle is a plea to sellers to continue (or return to) stocking the console.
Take a look at the most recent sales tracking out of the UK courtesy of MCV and you'll see that Nintendo has barely any representation on the top-20 software list. The only time a Nintendo platform shows up on the best-selling list is multiplatform software like Lego: The Hobbit or Call of Duty: Ghosts, which doesn't provide any indication that a game sold well on the Wii U or 3DS, simply that the title released there.
LTD sales of the Wii U in the U.K. are said to be somewhere slightly north of 150,000 units, a figure that Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One surpassed almost immediately upon release, though sales of the latter console have slowed . Microsoft's platform has needed a bit of a push in both Europe and North America, with a number of retailer-specific promotions still in place even after the release of the Titanfall bundle. That said, Microsoft's retailer situation isn't comparable to what Nintendo is facing.
U.S. gamers won't see the Mario Kart 8 bundle for a while
Nintendo's Wii U isn't in good shape in any major sales region, but Europe is undoubtedly the market that needs the most improvement. UK retailers like ASDA and Morrison's have already dropped the console, and Nintendo knows that it is rapidly losing brand power in the continent. The Mario Kart 8 bundle is an effort to win back gamers who have written off the company. Things aren't quite as bad in the U.S. For that reason, don't expect Nintendo's latest bundle to hit American shores until the lead in to the holiday sales period.