When I first heard that the 3DS version of the next Smash Bros. was releasing months before the Wii U edition, my immediate feeling was confusion, which inspired the thought, "Nintendo, are you trying to kill the Wii U?" The game looks so good on the 3DS that it's already got potential to eat into the Wii U game's sales. Now that it's releasing first, is there any question that the home console version sales are going to suffer?
Actually, yeah, there is question. There are definitely positives to releasing on 3DS first. If Nintendo plays its cards right, it could work this situation to the benefit of both game versions.
First, lets start with the cons. The most obvious is that a lot of people may end up buying the game on the 3DS first, come away unimpressed, and lose interest in the Wii U follow-up. On the other side of the coin, they may be so impressed with the game on the 3DS that they feel no need to get the bigger version on the Wii U a few months later.
Splitting this game between two console was always a risky proposition, one that Nintendo may have reconsidered if it knew the Wii U was going to struggle so much in its first year. The console is selling much better now, but it's still not in a place to squander an exclusive.
That said, Nintendo can still make this work. The pros of releasing the game on 3DS first are smaller, but added together they may make up the difference.
1) Starting on the 3DS is the best place to win over the millions of younger players (or those otherwise new to Nintendo gaming) who own a 3DS/2DS but have never played a Smash Bros. game before.
2) Releasing the 3DS version first invites the trade-in savvy consumer to buy the game on 3DS, play it for a few months, then trade it in for credit towards a Wii U and the superior HD home console version of the game
3) Saving the best version for last (and for the holidays) ends 2014 on a strong note for Nintendo while allowing time for console install base to grow and allowing other Wii U releases (like Bayonetta 2) breathing room to take the spotlight. That's as opposed to releasing the Wii U version this summer and the 3DS version this winter, ending on the technically inferior handheld version and front loading 2014 with the entire (admittedly small) first- and second-party Wii U line up, leaving nothing to generate excitement over the holidays.
I'm not sure if the pros outweigh the cons here, but I'm sure that if Nintendo decided to capitalize on those pros, the company could leverage the situation to its advantage.
Nintendo could pack a lot of new content into the Wii U version: legacy modes that allow you to play Game Boy, NES, SNES, N64, Melee, and Brawl-looking versions of Smash Bros.; huge single-player and four-player campaign modes; better online; all the songs and stages from every Smash Bros. ever; content unlocks for those who have both games registered to their Nintendo Network IDs. Enough new content to motivate those who got the 3DS game to double dip.
Nintendo could also offer a big, $30 credit to anyone who registers both Smash games before 2014 is over (like it did for Fire Emblem: Awakening and Shin Megami Tensei IV). It could even bundle the two games together for the holidays for one price or better yet bundle the 2DS, Wii U, and both games together for $400 just for the holidays.
These aren't the kinds of moves people normally associate with Nintendo, but it's not unheard of. It gave away all those ambassador games, Four Swords Adventures, and 3D Classics: Excitebike when the 3DS needed a boost. It offered loads of store credit up front to everyone who got the Wii U deluxe set. Nintendo was quick to put together both a Wind Waker HD and a Super Mario Bros./Luigi U Wii U bundle when it felt it needed to in order to compete last Christmas. The company dropped the GameCube down to $99, taking a loss on every console sold, in order to win over consumers. The list goes on and on.
Nintendo has a history of getting pretty generous when it isn't on top. It will be interesting to see if that generosity spreads to the marketing and sales of the new Smash Bros.
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