FUD and the Wii U storage scandal

Creating or encouraging FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) about your competitor’s products is an established part of how marketers in the tech business operate. Doubly so in the cutthroat segment of gaming consoles.

Nintendo’s pre-release reveal on the final packaging for its new Wii U console was the kickoff for a pretty transparent FUD campaign that zeroed in on the “storage limits” of the Wii U basic edition whose relatively low price point was part of Nintendo’s strategy for driving holiday sales.

Whether the Wii U will prove worthy on its own merits isn’t something I’m really interested in at this point. What I find fascinating is the degree to which a few useful idiots in the gaming press have been maneuvered so quickly into ginning up what should actually have been a positive into a potential brake on sales.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell, Wii U is being released in two different editions: a $299 “basic” and a $399 “deluxe” edition. The only real difference between the two besides the case color (basic is white, deluxe black) is that the basic has 8 Gb of onboard storage and the deluxe has 32 Gb. Kind of.

[Just so it’s clear, I’m talking here about filesystem storage and not random access memory (RAM) where code actually gets executed. The Wii U has 1 Gb of system RAM and 1 Gb of dedicated video RAM — by comparison the original Wii has 24 Mb RAM, the Xbox 360 has 512 Mb RAM, and Sony’s Playstation 3 has 256 Mb RAM and 256 Mb VRAM.]

As explained in a recent slashgear article, the actual formatted capacities will be 7.45 and 29.8 Gb, respectively. While this might be a “shocking” revelation to a low-information public, anyone who has ever worked with gigabyte-sized storage media shouldn’t be at all surprised. It’s how things work.

But the FUD doesn’t stop there. The coup de grace is the awful news that after installing essential software and updates on its first power up, the basic edition of the Wii U will only have 3 Gb free to store games (the deluxe will still have around 20 Gb). Even worse, many of what are expected to be the best selling titles would need double or more that amount of storage.

Oh! The horror!

Well, not really. Fact is that my own reading of what has been said behind the scenes by those involved in engineering the Wii U is that none of them expected users to rely solely on the onboard storage. All the new games being designed for the new console could never be contained within even the larger limits available on the deluxe. The idea from the beginning was that people would attach fast, reliable and cheap external storage in the form of a USB hard disk to the Wii U for up to 2 Tb (that’s Terabytes) of additional storage.

The real wonder here is that instead of trying to lock its customers into buying high priced proprietary onboard or external storage, Nintendo has designed its new console to allow them to attach a standard third party USB device whose capacity makes even the deluxe’s onboard storage look like a puddle on an ocean beach.

Here’s a terrific video from Nintendo where Global President Saturo Iwata explains it all in a peculiarly Japanese tech way. I’d really love to see a translation of the narration, but then I’d miss out on the fun of blurting out my own snarky commentary (the storage stuff comes up starting at 4:31).

An external 1 Tb USB disk drive can be had for between $80 to $130, depending upon the quality of the hardware (some generic no-name manufacturer or leading suppliers like Seagate/Western Digital). So the question is how you want to spend your $100 — on 20 Gb of onboard storage or 1 Tb of external disk?