Wii U-Turn Around The World

I’m really enjoying the Wii U these days. I got one at launch but I wasn’t able to play it until just recently. Because the first thing I did once I got it was to break it.

WiiU System Update

Before you brick, you see the ring.

But let’s start at the beginning. As you may know, I host a podcast show about Monster Hunter. One of the games that was announced for the Wii U is Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. It’s the first western release of a Monster Hunter game after a very long lull. So naturally, this settled the decision to buy a Wii U very early on. Additionally I tested Rayman Legends at the recent GamesCom and it made an excellent impression. Titles like LEGO City Undercover caught my attention as well.

The problem is that in order to play Monster Hunter with the rest of my colleagues from the podcast, I probably needed a Wii U from the US. I wasn’t sure, but that’s how it worked for Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii – the servers were separated into regions and European consoles couldn’t play with American ones. Thank you, region lock.

So Shepard from the podcast pre-ordered two systems and was generous enough to be willing to hop into the adventure of shipping one of them to me. I was kinda hoping to get in before the EU release date, but it was shortly before Christmas. Even though we paid extra for express shipment, the package didn’t arrive until a few days after the EU release. Bummer. The bottleneck seemed to be the customs office.

Ah, the customs office. The fat fly in the soup for every person interested in importing games from abroad. Thanks to tracking data, I was able to determine that the package spent at least a week just waiting to be processed at customs. Seems like express shipment doesn’t grant you immunity against German authorities. But of course, the kicker is that every item sent from abroad needs to be paid taxes for. And of course, you can’t pay them a the postal office around the corner, oh no. You have to go to an actual customs office. In my case it’s a drive down the autobahn to the middle of nowhere next airport. And I’m one of the lucky ones: I have a car. Even when you get there, there is usually an impossibly long wait involved. Because why would they hire more staff, right?

wiiu customs2

Airport Customs Office – a place beyond space, where time has no meaning.

I always laugh when the guys at the office try to sell me the idea that I could have paid the taxes at the postal office, had I just followed proper procedure. Because every time I write down what to do, they always seem to add more rules afterwards. You need to add a receipt. No, that’s not enough, your address needs to be on it. And it needs to be on the outside of the package. No, not together with the other shipping papers, it needs to be it it’s own transparent envelope. And then you have to make a hand stand and say Beetleguice three times. Oh wait, we were just kidding. We need to take a look anyway.

So I got the Wii U, I paid the taxes. I set it up. I let it do the inconceivable 2-hour-system update process. I played Little Inferno for an evening. It was fun. Next day I sit down to eat breakfast with a bunch of eShop codes to I was able to coerce from some incredibly sleazy, unreliable code import shop. The Wii U says it needs to update. AGAIN?! Sigh, alright. Surely this is just a small patch unlike that huge frigging 2 hour day-1 system overhaul I just did yesterday right? The update process started. Percentage bar seems to be moving. Time says it’s just a couple of seconds.. or is it minutes? I decide to let it be and focus on my breakfast.

After breakfast and a couple of Emails I check the Wii U. Not much progress since the last time. It must have been at least half an hour now. Timer seems to be stuck. Is that seconds or minutes? No way to tell. I decide to cancel just to get those eShop codes in. I can still re-download the update while I’m working. Oddly enough, there is no cancel. I press any button, the console doesn’t respond. But it says “Downloading” so it seems like it’s safe to just turn it off. I press the power button. No response. Now I’m sure the console just froze and that’s the reason why it takes so long. So I pull the plug. Plug it back in, re-start the console. Power light goes on and off immediately. I just bricked the Wii U.

After trying a couple of things I get really worried. I can’t even get the CD out. A quick web search confirms that there is nothing I can do. It’s a common problem. The only solution is to send the Wii U in. Wait! Send it in? Like to America?! I check with Nintendo Service. I ask both, at the US and the European one. Both tell me to send the Wii U to America, indeed. And here I was thinking the sleazy code store was annoying. And here I was thinking getting the Wii U a few days after EU launch was a long time to wait.

So I pack the Wii U back in. This time only the actual console. How do I get this through customs now. I call the customs office hotline. They give me the address of a customs office not quite in the middle of nowhere and the name of some obscure form to request. If I do things right I will still have to pay taxes. But there is a chance I might get them back afterwards. Yay.

Customs Office in Niehl

Harbor Customs Office: “Whaduyouwant, kiddo?! Whatsa Wiijuh?”

The new customs office turns out to be a shed at a harbor nearby. The guys inside deal only with stuff like container shipments and probably never saw a private person as a customer. They are utterly confused about the situation. But instead of admitting it, they start spewing a tale of how I’m supposed to go to a customs agency. I actually go out and call the hotline again. The guy on the phone clearly disagrees with the guys in the shed and I’m stuck in-between. I decide to stick with the guy on the phone because his version at least involves the possibility that I don’t lose money. In any case, the guys at the shed just don’t have the actual form I need. Off I go to the airport office after all. Luckily, I don’t need to wait in line this time. The guys in the “exports” room seem to be pretty relaxed. I sense this is the tip of the mismanagement iceberg that is probably responsible for the massive waiting lines there.

The airport office guys are as skeptical as the harbor guys. But at least the have the form and they are more cooperative. They fill out the form, write down the Wii’s serial number, seal the package with a hilariously elaborate, official customs office seal. All the while they keep assuring me that this won’t help me at all. But they don’t have a better idea so I just run with it.

Christmas comes and goes. The New Year’s Eve. Snow comes and goes. I see myself getting older. Think about settling down, starting a family. After a couple of weeks the package arrives. Of course not back home. Not even at Nintendo. I wasn’t able to send in the Wii U directly to Nintendo because I don’t have a US Address. Instead, I sent it to my podcast buddy Shepard. He calls Nintendo and coerces the service hotline person to cooperate with us. The Wii U gets forwarded via UPS to Nintendo. Again, some weeks pass. The Wii U returns repaired!

Wii U Repaired

Wii U repaired and ready for the trip back to Germany.

Shepard now faces the daunting challenge of shipping the Wii U back to Germany in a most customs-office-friendly fashion. We decide to forgo any express shipment experiments. But I do insist on a tracking number. Shepard apparently goes through a very tiresome procedure at the postal office, but eventually the package is underway. Apparently he does a good job because just a week later or so, I get called to the customs office to get it. Here is the final boss of this story.

The lady dealing with my case is the same one I met when receiving the Wii U for the first time. This was more than 2 months ago. Clearly, she doesn’t remember me. She asks me for the value of the Wii U. The time has come. I bombard her with the receipts and forms I gathered. She disappears for a moment, comes back and lets me go without taxes. I thank her. Between her teeth, she lets me know that there is a LOT to be thankful for.

Wii U Arrived

You’ve come a long way baby.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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