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Nintendo has found itself in a curious position. Its handheld console, the 3DS, is tearing up the sales charts, whi...
Nintendo has found itself in a curious position. Its handheld console, the 3DS, is tearing up the sales charts, while its older brother, the Wii U, has been struggling to get out of a sales slump that’s been ongoing since its release in late 2012.
Nintendo has been synonymous with console gaming since the ‘80s. Your grandmother probably still calls your Xbox or Playstation “The Nintendo”-- an apt illustration of how the once-great console king has fallen from grace, and in the eyes of the public. But it can’t be due to competition alone. Nintendo began to suffer as far back as the GameCube, when Sony and Microsoft slowly started to push Nintendo out of the home console market, but there’s more at play here.
The GameCube was a fantastic console that didn’t sell. Its successor, the Wii, sold like hotcakes, and the explanation for the Wii U’s dismal fate probably lies here. The Wii sold because it had a killer app in Wii Sports. I own a Wii, and Wii Sports is still my most played title. I own three or four more games for the little white box, all quality titles, and yet it’s the Xbox 360 that’s currently hooked up to my TV. My point is, the Wii sold like crazy on an oversold promise. Motion controls! Mario with waggle! Games even your Grandma can play! It sold like crazy-- and then it started gathering dust.
I haven’t plugged in my Wii in about a year. I’m sure many Wii owners have forgotten they even own one. A lot of people who bought a Wii found themselves with no games to play post-launch, and having been burned once, passed on the Wii U when it came out.
When it came out, the Wii was novel. The Wii U’s launch, on the other hand, was just plain weird. It came out mid-generation, when the PS3 and the Xbox 360 were finally hitting their stride. In the company of two well-realised consoles, the Wii U asked gamers to put their faith in a console they knew almost nothing about. This is just one of several problems facing the Wii U.
According to VGChartz, the Wii U currently sits at 6.49 million consoles sold worldwide after being out for almost two years. In contrast, the Playstation 4 sold 8.33 million units in 9 months. Even the Xbox One, with its dismal reception and draconian policies, is gaining traction with almost 5 million consoles sold, again after just 9 months. The Wii U is in trouble, but it can still be saved. The system finally has games worth playing, but that alone won’t pull it out of the mud. It will take a lot more to save the Wii U.
So let’s begin.
What is the Wii U? Who is it for? These questions remain unanswered because it seems Nintendo doesn’t want to market its console properly.
The Wii U is a video game console with a tablet controller. In other words, it’s a regular video game controller with a tablet wedged in the middle. It looks like this:
Weird, right? The thing is, the Wii U has finally become a console worth owning, but Nintendo can’t communicate that. How does the controller work? How do games use it? Nintendo’s provided minimal explanation to gamers, and although this is an approach that works well for games, it bombs when it comes to selling a console.
At this rate, Nintendo should be throwing everything it has on ad campaigns, yet they’re seemingly content with the confusion surrounding the Wii U. Nintendo, if you want to sell your product, you have to explain it.
Gamers aren’t the only ones that are confused. Video game developers still can’t get their head around the Wii U, and that may be one of its biggest problems.
When it came out, the Wii U was thought of as an alternative to the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, and game devs treated it as such. They developed ports of popular games like Batman: Arkham Origins and, more recently, Watch Dogs, yet it was evident that the Wii U wasn’t meant for these kinds of experiences. The Wii U is a console that does its own thing, but devs can’t-- or won’t-- realise that.
And there’s nothing stopping them. Nintendo’s old handheld system, the DS, was also completely unique. It had two screens, one of which was a touch screen, in a mini-laptop-style design. There had been nothing like it before. In the 3DS’s case, though, devs jumped at the chance to create novel experiences unavailable anywhere else, and as a result the DS became one of the most successful consoles of the past generation, handheld or otherwise. I still play mine, only because it has a massive library of games that can be played only on the DS.
That’s another thing: Nintendo has a fantastic console in the DS’s successor, the 3DS, which is basically a DS with 3D effects. Nintendo could utilise the 3DS’s popularity in a big way in order to push the Wii U. How?
A big reason why the Playstation 4 is enjoying such popularity is due to its little brother, the PS Vita. One thing both PlayStation and Nintendo have that Microsoft doesn’t is a handheld console. The PS4 has utilized the Vita to great success with its Remote Play capabilities, enabling users to play their PS4 games via WiFi on their Vitas.
But the real strength of the PlayStation ecosystem lies in the Cross Buy and Cross Save incentives, something Nintendo is only just beginning to realize. There are a ton of games on the PlayStation Store right now that are playable on both the PS4 and the Vita. When you buy the game, you buy all available versions. Not only can you buy games on both systems for a single price, you can also play them as one. Reach a checkpoint on your PS4, grab your Vita, and continue where you left off. This concept offers fantastic value to gamers, and they’ve rewarded Sony for this with their loyalty (and their money).
Nintendo is catching up, but it has a long way to go before reaching Sony’s level of success. The first cross-buy Nintendo game came out just last month, but there still kinks in the system. If you buy the 3DS version of the new game Squids World, you’re entitled to the Wii U version at no extra cost. The trouble is, it doesn’t work the other way. Buying the Wii U version doesn’t give you the 3DS version, so it’s very important which version you buy.
Nintendo’s tablet controller could be a fantastic extension of the 3DS’s dual screen play model, but Nintendo won’t monetise it. If it wants the Wii U to survive, it needs to focus on making more games that work for both the 3DS and the Wii U, and sell them at a single price. Both ways.
Like Sony, Nintendo benefits from an enormous and varied back catalogue. With games dating as far back as the first Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo arguably has the largest game library of any video game company. You can find old Nintendo classics going for a few bucks at the Nintendo eShop, but there’s a lot of room here to utilise said back catalogue to move huge numbers of Wii U units. The console that showed Nintendo that this can work was the Ouya, of all things.
Ouya devised a subscription model where you can pay a flat annual fee to get all of their games-- every single game for the console for $60 a year. Sound crazy? Maybe, but Ouya’s strategy was also incredibly successful-- the plan sold out in one day. This wouldn’t work for Wii U games, but Virtual Console classics are a different matter. Nintendo could introduce a flat fee for the entire retro game catalogue on the Wii U, helping it move massive numbers of consoles.
Left for last, because it’s the one thing Nintendo’s doing right. The entire reason the Wii U should sell is because Nintendo has finally started putting out quality first-party exclusives, making the Wii U worth owning almost two years after it came out. You can’t find games like Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, Pushmo World, or Wonderful 101 anywhere else except the Wii U. So why isn’t Nintendo doing more to make people play them?