Nintendo’s Massive Mistakes With The Wii U Are To Blame For Its Struggle
The following is a transcript of the above video.
It is always said that hindsight is 20-20, and this is as close to the truth as you’ll find. However in some cases, such as with Nintendo’s Wii U console, the pitfalls are able to be seen before the console is released and on the market. I had my doubts and criticisms of the Wii U when it was first announced and those remained long after its release. Now, after the launch and settling period is mostly over for Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, and the world is currently playing the blame game with Nintendo in trying to figure out who is at fault for the company’s failures, I feel it’s the right time to discuss exactly why I feel Nintendo’s massive mistakes were all made before the Wii U actually released.
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The first issue happens to be the most obvious, yet it’s perhaps among the most significant of problems Nintendo set out for itself before their console even breathed. It’s the fact that Nintendo decided to dabble in a market they had zero business in. If that sounds mean, understand that it’s said more out of great disappointment rather than in an attempt to insult. Yes, Nintendo’s direction with the Wii U was a huge mistake, and one of its largest faults is its ability to play what the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 can.
Understand that for practically Nintendo’s entire life, it has had one market that it totally dominated without an inkling of competition. Take your mind back to the Nintendo 64, the Gameboys, the Nintendo DS and the eventual launch of the original Wii. Nintendo has always been the master of casual entertainment, and its popular IPs and games such as Mario, Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, Pokemon, Donkey Kong and many others were globally loved by children and adults alike. Nintendo were truly able to cater to any age group and never needed to care what Sony or any other console manufacturer were doing with their lives. Nintendo had the absolute freedom to do whatever they pleased and dominate their unique market, because their direction was always consistent to their fans and well-realised. In today’s world, that is absolutely vital. Perhaps more than anything. Don’t believe me? Let’s look.
The PlayStation 2 from Sony was actually not the most graphically and technically advanced machine on the market during its time. But its vision was to be the gamer’s console, and this was consistent throughout its life cycle. The PS2 as we know, despite not being the most powerful system, went on to become the best selling video game console of its era and of course in history. Why is this relevant? Well, fast forward to the original Nintendo Wii and you’ll see why. The Wii was hardly a powerful console, inferior to both the PS3 and Xbox 360 by a mile. In fact many scoffed at its “gimmicky” motion controls as well. But it was not only the portrait of Nintendo’s freedom to innovate, but a clear sign of its ability to be its own machine and face no competition from either Sony or Microsoft. Its vision was to be the casual console for families of all kinds and gamers of all age groups. It was part of a big movement in broadening the gaming audience and invited children, teens, the elderly and even soccer moms to play. The result? The Wii was the best selling console of the seventh generation, beating out both the PS3 and Xbox 360 in sales and popularity right until the end.
I for one loved the Wii. Not for myself, mind you, but for the fact that I could watch my little cousin have the time of his life with the simplest and most innocent of games. It didn’t take immense hardware power, graphical fidelity or manly games to entice its fans. Nintendo has never needed any of those things. And then came the Wii U. My initial reaction to the news of its hardware and ability to match the the PS3 and Xbox 360 was a resounding “what the hell are you doing?” The whole thing reeked of “look at us, we can do it too!” from Nintendo, and completely took the focus out of the device. Firstly, why would anyone who has always played Mass Effect or Assassin’s Creed on their PS3s and Xbox 360s suddenly want to play them on Wii U? It was never the place for those games. It was never the market. You could argue Nintendo was trying to attract new kinds of gamers to the system, but then my response would be: why in God’s name? Look at the Wii. That was a machine that needed no help or boost in audience. Its vision and direction were clear. It was Nintendo through and through.
Of course the huge boost in hardware power leads to many, many trade offs. The first and most obvious is that it dramatically raises the price of the console. The Wii got away with being the cheapest on the market, and now suddenly the Wii U was more expensive than the PS3 and Xbox 360 by a considerable margin. Furthermore, it made the Wii U more expensive to develop for, even for first party developers. Suddenly, third party developers and the big publishers had an extra platform to develop for, except this one had an emerging audience rather than an established one like the PS3 and Xbox 360 already had. Initially, the Wii U saw widespread support because its launch went off really well, and it sold almost a million units. But momentum died, and it died fast as it suffered problems almost similar to that of the PlayStation Vita. As expected, EA pulled support and berated the system, Bethesda showed no interest in developing for the platform, Ubisoft said they wouldn’t make exclusives for it until sales improved and various developers did not seem enthused. Only Activision stuck by it, oddly enough. The rest of the dominoes kept falling.
And all of this leads to yet another core problem with the Wii U, which is the actual timing of the system. It’s no surprise that support decreased massively over the course of 2013 and it’s for one simple reason. Want to guess? Well, the Wii U launched at the closing of 2012, less than one single year before the entire generation would come to an end. It dropped in the twilight period of the generation and tried to appeal to gamers who had long invested in Sony or Microsoft’s platforms. The Wii U launched as Nintendo’s “next-gen” offering well in advance of the PS4 or Xbox One, but someone forgot to tell Nintendo that getting there first is only everything when you’re arriving ahead of your actual competitors. Which Sony and Microsoft were not and never were. Someone also forgot to tell Nintendo that they were releasing a “next-gen” console, that wasn’t actually next-gen at all. It could barely even do wonders with the current gen games, on top of missing all their predecessors.
And once the PS4 was revealed in February of 2013, the Wii U suddenly didn’t seem so big for the future. Already by May of last year we were asking what happens to the Wii U once the actual next generation arrived. Its only redeeming qualities were seemingly indie support and of course its first party titles, but a console can’t thrive on just that, as it needs third party backing and enthused developers.
Now I’ll go full circle and make a last point to do with the fundamental flaw of the Wii U. After everything you’ve heard is wrong with the Wii U so far, I want to go into the very core of the device and Nintendo as a company itself, and address the one true problem with the device, its marketing and direction and Nintendo as a company. The final problem, if you will.
And that is the fact that the Wii U is a complicated device, akin to the home consoles.
Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? But think about that for just a moment. The gaming audience of today is massive. As such, no more is gaming for the “hardcore” crowd and veterans. If you’re in conflict about this, fire up Assassin’s Creed for example and enjoy seven hours of tutorials explaining the most rudimentary of mechanics and gameplay to you. If you’re the kind of person who has complained about games being “dumbed down”, well, it’s pretty easy to see why and where it has happened.
Now, this is relevant for one simple reason. Picture what the Wii was. Absolutely anyone could operate and enjoy that system. Even a damn baby. It was the embodiment of simplicity. My favourite little cousin, who is now eight years old, was in love with the Wii when he was just four or so. All you had to do was move and swing the motion control remote. There was barely a learning curve. There were no barriers to entry. I saw my aunts and uncles and cousins who never play games freely operate that machine and enjoy its titles. If you’ve ever heard one of your family members tell you that “games are just about killing”, which I have, then the Wii was the proverbial correction to that. No one cared if the games were primitive. It was just casual, non-exclusionary fun. And that was the heart of its appeal. It was the very essence of widely appealing gaming.
The Wii U, however, is not that. It’s not for anyone, contradictory to the belief that adding support for PS3 and Xbox 360 games increased its appeal and audience potential. After all, you’re just adding more possible games, right? You’re just going to attract those other games in addition to your current audience, right? Wrong. It interfered with the very nature of Nintendo’s vision, and their core simplicity and ease of accessibility. Whether you’re considering its high price and thus the barriers to entry, its complex second screen functionality with the Wii, its shift in gaming focus, its reduced simplicity in usability and its wounded former reputation of being the go-to family system, the Wii U failed on all fronts in which the Wii previously succeeded.
In conclusion, sure you can play the blame game right now, but for me it is clear that the faults of the Wii U were all apparent before it actually made its way to the market. The Wii U, as a concept, is not the core issue, but rather how Nintendo realised that concept and what it sacrificed of itself to achieve it. I honestly do not know where the Wii U itself goes from now. Sure, its first party titles will always be fantastic and it won’t lose that, which can be what plays a part in turning its fortunes around. But moving away from the Wii U, I do feel that Nintendo as a company needs to undergo some pretty big changes, and do what Sony was forced to do and what Microsoft is currently being forced to do, and that is re-focus themselves and visit the drawing board to realign their vision and objectives.
The Nintendo of old were the kings of what they did, and no one can dispute that. They knew their audience like you do the back of your hand, but sadly like it often happens in this industry, the appeal of an ever broader audience played a part in their downfall. I do still believe the Wii U can turn things around, because a console generation is a marathon and not a sprint, but it will require a focus change from Nintendo, a strong drive to cater for its fans, its best efforts with its first party titles, and some strong leadership.