The Wii U absolutely fascinates me. It’s just so odd. When taken by itself it’s an excellent piece of hardware. When you look at it in terms of the industry as a whole it’s not so great. Yet for some reason I still want one, but I think that perhaps says more about me then it does about the console. In a few months, for almost the same price, you’ll be able to get something unequivocally superior which will have a lot more games on it. Essentially meaning that unless you love Nintendo games the Wii U offers you nothing that other consoles don’t, and even then are the handful of great Nintendo titles better than the countless new and unique great titles the other console offer? But before I’m being harassed by Nintendo fan’s for being a ‘hater’ let me just say that I own or have owed a SNES, a Gameboy, two DS’s, a Gamecube and a Wii throughout my life. I love Nintendo and I love their games and writing this is giving me a rather intense longing to go and play Super Mario Sunshine.
The first thing to think about when considering the Wii U is obviously what were Nintendo’s intentions? On the surface that’s a pretty simple answer. They wanted to recreate the success of the Wii and they really went about doing it in a very literal way. The Wii had a motion control so they gave the Wii U a touch screen, another way to interact with games. But it seems to me anyway that what Nintendo created with the Wii U shows a distinct lack of understanding about why the Wii so successful. It wasn’t Mario, Zelda, Brawl and Wii Fit (Don’t get me wrong, they obviously helped) but it was the gimmick factor. It wasn’t that it was a different want to play games, it was that it was a new way to play games. Plus the Wii had a great price point when it launched ($249/€249/£179). However the Wii U has neither of those things. A touch screen is not a new way to interact with games and at $349/€349/£265 the console is rather pricey (especially for something that’s looking more and more like it’s going to be another outdated ‘first party only’ Nintendo machine).
Nintendo should have realized that the success of the Wii, while not being a fluke, is also not something they can do every generation. Especially since both Sony and Microsoft are ‘wise’ to the casual gaming market and the success of Ipads/phones and android devices mean that casual gamers aren’t the same easy sale that they were in 2006. This is a rather large oversight. The Wii U is simply not going to be able to rule the casual gaming market and and it doesn’t offer the high end gaming experience craved by the hardcore gamers who are switching to PC in droves. Not to mention in about 2 years time it’s going to look about as advanced as a tin can with a piece of string attached. All that aside however I think perhaps the biggest oversight with the Wii U was that Nintendo completely missed what people actually did with their Wii’s, nothing. The Wii may as well have just been a console solely for first party games, and because of that horrendous oversight the Wii brand is forever tarnished. It has a reputation as the console that everyone owed but no one played and everyone just let gather dust. I don’t think Nintendo realizes just how prevalent that image is in the mind of the average gaming buying member of the public.
However don’t let it be said that I’m not a fan of the Wii U and it’s touchpad. I actually quite like it. It could be awesome for the likes of Skyrim for inventory management, mini games, maps etc. Not to mention the potential for indie devs to make incredibly interesting games. If the Wii U control was on a console the equal of the PS4 or the Xbox One (and had a comparable price point), and it had all the great third party franchises that we all have come to know and love alongside Nintendo’s great first party titles, then there’s a console I (and probably you) want. Unfortunately that’s not happening and I’m skeptical it ever will. To make matters worse it seems like Nintendo isn’t moving fast enough to cultivate a community of indie developers before the PS4 and Xbox One launch. Just look at the list of original downloadable titles currently available (and even coming soon) for Wii U. It’s not so great. Of course it’s early in the Wii U life cycle and it does take time for a community to adopt a new technology, plus apparently the 3DS eShop is actually a bit of a gold mine for downloadable titles. I just worry that the low sales of the console will just lead into developers leaving the Wii U to the wayside causing sales to drop even further.
In January of 2013 the Wii U sold approx. 57,000 units. Thats worse than what any last gen console (PS3/360/Wii) did in a week. Thats right, every console from the last generation sold more each week of its life than what the Wii U has managed in a whole month. With the Playstation, Xbox or PC there is every type of game imaginable from who knows how many developers being released almost all year round. Nintendo simply cannot make games fast enough to compete with that, regardless of how good their games are. What complicates matters further is all of the big studios are making huge games for the PS4 and the Xbox One, games that simply won’t be able to run on the Wii U. EA seems to have all but given up on Nintendo, while Ubisoft also seems to be backing away. Even if you don’t particularly like the games that those companies make, they are still giants in the industry and Nintendo needs them to survive in a post-Wii market.
Ultimately I think the problems with the Wii U stem from Nintendo’s increasing lack of understanding of what their consumers want from their consoles, games. Lots and lots and lots of games. Apps like Netflix and Youtube on consoles are a given nowadays. They’re not what people want, they’re what people expect as a minimum. The touch interface is cool-ish, but touch technology is everywhere now, all the time. What people want is great games, big and small, old and new, available at varying prices coming out frequently. Sony and Microsoft offer that, Steam obviously offers that. The games market is changing at a phenomenal speed. Just look how different it is now compared to 10 years ago, huge well established names like THQ are going bankrupt. Yet Nintendo is still doing the same thing, their own thing. They can’t keep operating as a company that makes consoles for their own games. Things have already started getting difficult for them (Exhibit A and exhibit B) making a loss for 2011 fiscal year (for the first time ever) and again for 2012. Things should improve in 2013 with some good, albeit predictable, games coming out. But of course the Wii U is also going to getting two new consoles to compete against so… who’s to say what will happen. Although recent statements by Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata shows that they’re still not quite grasping the problem. He said that he feels the problem with the console is that Nintendo hasn’t provided enough great games. Which is only part of it, a small part of it. The problem is that Nintendo hasn’t created an environment that’s attractive to third parties. Until they realize that their first party titles cannot sustain a console by themselves they’re just going to be spending their time trying to keep their head above water while Sony, Microsoft and Valve define the industry.
At the end of the day it boils to one thing for Nintendo. They need to change. The games market is now too big for them to continue as they have been. They simply cannot make enough games. They need third party developers and lots of them. Nintendo has the greatest fan base of any gaming company in history (although Valve is catching up). I don’t want them to do better so their shareholders can sleep in a golden bed every night. I want them to do better because we have supported Nintendo for 124 years… or at least for the past 30 or so since the NES dropped. I don’t want to see them go the way of Sega. I want to see them make games that will give the other guys a run for their money, if only to drive competition in the market. I want them to get me excited about Pokemon games again, about Zelda games again. I want a Nintendo console to be the only console you need in your home, not the extra console in your home.