In last week’s This Week in Gaming, the Wii U dominated the news. It’s no secret that sales have been crawling since the release boom, and Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has had a lot to say on the matter.
I shared some of my views briefly in the article itself, and it sparked somewhat of a friendly debate between me and fellow NAG Online writer Miktar Dracon, who made the relevant point that this isn’t the first time people have predicted doom and gloom for the Japanese gaming giant.
I’m not going to light up a cigar and be an armchair economist – I’m certainly not qualified to speak to Nintendo’s finances, projections and other such things I haven’t researched – but what I am going to talk about is why I think the Wii U is going to lose this generation’s console war handily.
The post-launch crash and shaky perceptions
Wii U managed to ship a lot of units at launch time – mostly due to the excitement of a next generation console, and all the hype that comes with it. As the excitement died down, however, so did the sales. The projected sales figures were adjusted downwards by Nintendo, which didn’t stop the Wii U from missing the target anyway.
Iwata has been very open about Nintendo’s failures in marketing the device, saying quite frankly that a lot of people don’t even know what exactly it is. There is a pervasive perception that the Wii U is simply an add-on for the original Wii, and not a new console in itself.
This is an interesting thing to consider, in that the perception could be embedded in something as simple as the name. When you hear that the “Playstation 4” is coming out, it’s very easy to make the connection that this is a brand new device – it’s something a soccer mom shopping for her kids can deduce with no knowledge of the industry whatsoever. Compare that to the “Wii U” – it sounds a lot like it could just be an add-on, the extra “U” doesn’t signify progression the way moving an entire digit does. It’s almost like calling it the “Wii Pro”.
This isn’t the only issue either – look at the box. The touchscreen controller is front and center, with the console itself sitting in the back as almost an afterthought. Again, this reinforces the idea that the Wii U is simply an upgrade; just a flashy new controller for the existing Wii.
Obviously, Nintendo’s marketing team is to blame for not altering these perceptions. But first impressions are difficult to undo, and Nintendo is going to have to work really hard to change the the general public perception of what their console actually is. Aggressive marketing like that may cost more than Nintendo can comfortably pay.
It’s gotten so bad that Nintendo actually broadcast a message to Wii U owners on their device telling them that “this is a brand new console” – the people that actually own the thing.
Poor game support
What really drive console sales is the games. This is why console makers pay truckloads of money to have a big franchise exclusive to their device. If someone is looking to buy a console, the fact that he/she can’t play Gears of War or Halo on a PS3 is going to factor majorly into that decision.
The problem with the Wii U is that there aren’t really that many great games to play – yet. The original Wii boomed at launch because it was innovative and different, but those sales managed to keep trucking on due to some of the amazing first party software that was available. Some of Nintendo’s best and most fun games were on the Wii – hell, even Wii Tennis was awesome the first time you played it.
This unfortunately hasn’t happened with the Wii U. The official excuse from Nintendo is that they underestimated how long game development would take, and they didn’t want to rush them out and damage their brand.
The problem is, they’ve lost momentum. The early adopters have bought already, and now there aren’t many compelling reasons to jump on board. Can you think of a Wii U exclusive right now that you want to play enough to buy the console?
Competing with Core
The first Nintendo Wii did amazingly well, for a couple of reasons. It was completely different. It was innovative, it was exciting and it was new; the world hadn’t really seen interactive and accessible motion control like that, and it was just really cool.
This opened up an entirely different market – the casual gamer. Before the Wii, casual gaming wasn’t all that much of a thing. You certainly didn’t have pensioners and parents playing like you did when the Wii made its appearance. Nowadays, casual gaming has become a very real market with the advent of tablets and smartphones, but back in 2007 Nintendo held sway over all things casual. The advantage to this was that the console wasn’t really competing with the powerful PS3 and Xbox 360; it had cornered its own little piece of the market.
Enter the Wii U. Nintendo have said that this is a console for core gamers, they’re looking to ditch some of their casual appeal and jump on the AAA train. It’s a smart move, since casual gaming has migrated mostly to mobile devices. The catch here is that people are still painting the console with the Wii Sports brush – including developers. Iwata himself admits that there’s a general perception amongst game developers that the Wii U is underpowered.
This means that the Wii U is looking to compete directly with Durango and the PS4, and it isn’t exactly in the best spot to do so. It had the advantage of beating the competitors to release, but then squandered it by not having the games to follow it up.
Let’s summarise the issues here. The Wii U was poorly marketed, resulting in a poor public perception and confusion as to what it actually is.
It’s currently got very little game support, and by the time the games do arrive people are going to be getting excited for Microsoft and Sony’s consoles.
It’s competing directly with the big boys, but compared side-by-side it has less power, less developer support and a lot less gleam in the public eye.
Unfortunately, a tablet for a controller just doesn’t have nearly the same innovative appeal that the Wiimote did. My thoughts are that by the time the Wii U manages to fix its marketing and game line-up, it’s going to be sitting in the shadow of the “real” next-gen. It just seems like such an uncertain investment right now, and I think people are very wary of getting burned on a console which might be promptly forgotten by third-party developers.
If you’re reading this right now and you don’t already own a Wii U – are you willing to buy-in before seeing what Sony and Microsoft have to offer?
I know I’m not.