Nintendo Co.'s Wii U home videogame console debuted in Japan Friday after sales of its 3DS handheld player drove an expansion of the country's video-game market in the first half for the first time in five years.
The videogame maker's first home console since 2006 comes in two versions at 26,250 yen ($319) and 31,500 yen with a 6.2-inch (16 cm) touch-screen controller called the GamePad. U.S. customers bought 400,000 units in the first week of sales that started Nov. 18, the company said Nov. 26.
The high-definition Wii U's GamePad lets users wirelessly connect to the console so characters can jump between the device and a TV, a feature Kyoto-based Nintendo is betting will help lure players away from smartphones and tablets. Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is also the fastest growing major video-game market, as demand in the U.S. and Europe slumps.
"Nintendo has a better chance to succeed in Japan, as they have more strongly rooted fans at home," said Satoru Kikuchi, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG.
Still, "success in the U.S. is required to generate profits." Yodobashi Camera Co.'s store in Tokyo's electronics shopping district of Akihabara opened at 8 a.m. Friday, two hours earlier than usual, as about 100 people lined up to buy the Wii U. The store couldn't give details on Wii U sales Saturday.
"I've been waiting for this for so long, and I'm thrilled to finally get it," Ryoji Iriyama, 41, said after purchasing the console and Super Mario Bros U software at Yodobashi Camera. "I'm going to play this with my daughter as soon as I get home." U.S. consumers spent 11 percent less on video games, consoles and accessories in November than a year earlier, led by fewer purchases of consoles and handheld players. Retail spending on the products totaled $2.55 billion last month, down from $2.87 billion a year earlier, industry researcher NPD Group Inc. said in an emailed statement.
Industrywide sales of video-game machines and software jumped 11 percent to 175.3 billion yen in Japan in the six months ended Sept. 30, according to Enterbrain Inc. Nintendo led the gain after boosting sales of its 3DS handheld by cutting the price and introducing its "New Super Mario Bros. U" and Capcom Co.'s "Monster Hunter 3 (Tri) G."
In Japan, Nintendo may face a challenge from its own handheld players in Japan, besides competition from smartphones and tablet computers such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPad, said Tomoaki Kawasaki, a Tokyo-based analyst at Iwai Cosmo Holdings Inc.
Nintendo aims to sell 5.5 million Wii Us and 17.5 million 3DSs this fiscal year, it forecast in October.
"Nintendo must offer a very distinctive feature to convince consumers to spend more than 30,000 yen to play with the Wii U," he said. "Nintendo needs to expand its range of customers."