I realised something the other day: I just might be the only person in the whole of Poland who owns a Wii U.
Believe me, I don’t say this lightly. I mentioned a couple of months ago how I’m now the proud owner of Nintendo’s latest HD console. My fiancée — star among stars that she is — bought one for me as an early wedding gift and, so far, I have to say I’m absolutely loving it. It’s fun in a way Nintendo consoles always are. Powerful, sexy, game-focussed and innovative. The only thing holding it back right now is a lack of games, and with the world’s largest gaming convention just around the corner, I’m sure that won’t be the case for long.
The only problem was getting my hands on the bloody thing in the first place.
I spent months trying to find one on sale in this city.
Media Markt? No Wii U.
Saturn? No Wii U.
Empik — Poland’s largest entertainment retailer? No Wii U.
The closest thing I found to a Wii U ‘section’ was in a Saturn in the city centre. It consisted of exactly five games shoved into a basket in the corner of the shop next to a load of unsold accessories for the Nintendo DS, as though the sales assistants had been so baffled by the things head office had shipped to them that they’d simply pushed them out of sight in the hopes that no one would notice.
There were no actual Wii U consoles on sale in this shop, by the way, so quite how they expected to sell any of these games is beyond me.
To be honest, most people in this country don’t even know the Wii U exists. When I talk to my students about computer games (and I do this a lot since the vast majority of people working in Wroclaw are IT professionals, it being the home of Google, HP and IBM) they always mention the Playstation and XBox but the Wii U is completely ignored. When I mention Nintendo they wave it away and call it a “niche product” or, worse, look at me baffled and ask “what’s that?”
And it’s not just consumers. Many Polish game developers aren’t making games for the Wii U either. In fact, they don’t even mention it. It’s as though, for Poland, the Wii U simply doesn’t exist. Don’t believe me? Here’s a graph I found of all the IT companies in Poland and the platforms they are currently developing games for. Guess who is in last place?
Suffice to say, tracking down my own Wii U involved a level of detective work even Hercule Poirot would have been proud of. After failing to find a console on sale in any of the dedicated game shops, my fiancée eventually managed to track down a single console on sale in an RTV AGD (a shop most known for selling dishwashers and kitchen appliances).
We went to the shop in high spirits only to find that the promised Wii U wasn’t on display anywhere. In the end we had to ask the sales assistant to help us. We showed him a printout from his company’s website and the part number we were looking for. He looked at it, scratched his head for a little while and then sheepishly admitted that he had no idea what we were talking about. He then disappeared into the stockroom for a good ten minutes only to eventually return with a battered, dust-covered box that looked as though it hadn’t been touched in months.
And, need I remind you — this was the only Wii U I’d managed to find on sale in the whole of Wroclaw after five months of dedicated searching.
Looking at RTF AGD’s webpage today, I see that there are, in fact, zero Nintendo Wii U’s currently on sale in Wroclaw. Apparently, they never restocked the console I purchased.
Now, I’m sure a lot of you might be reading this right now and saying to yourself, “So what? It’s only Poland. And I’ve never even heard of this city called Wroclaw so what does it even matter?”
Wroclaw is the 4th largest city in Poland (population 600,000) and arguably its second wealthiest. Poland is the 8th largest country in Europe (population 40 million) and currently its fastest growing economy (AKA its only growing economy). Whoever is to blame for Nintendo’s complete lack of penetration in this thriving market, it is a shocking situation and one which I honestly don’t see improving any time soon.
Historically, Polish people have tended to gravitate towards what they perceive to be ‘the best’. The most expensive. The highest performing. It’s their way of catching up with the rest of the world after the 50-something years they spent under the iron curtain. After all, Poland only opened up to free trade in 1991 and even then, its economy was a complete wreck. Nothing was in the shops. Hyperinflation was rampant. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the average citizen could afford such luxuries as computer games and by the time this happened, Nintendo simply wasn’t on the radar of the average citizen.
Add to this the fact that Nintendo never translate their games into Polish, while Microsoft and Sony do and you end up with an extremely anti-Nintendo sentiment which can only get stronger over time unless things drastically change.
Of course, E3 is just around the corner so who knows: maybe Nintendo will manage to turn things around. The recent reveal of the new XBox did a lot to boost Nintendo’s fortunes, with UK sales jumping 875% following Microsoft’s disastrous press conference. This suggests that Nintendo might actually have a horse in this race after all.
But it’s a horse that won’t be running in Poland, that’s for sure. For now, at least, this is one consumer who is going to have to rely on digital downloads and shipping from the UK to sate his gaming needs.
A shame too. It really is a very nice-looking horse.