November 2012 saw the release of Nintendo’s newest home console, the Wii U, which brought HD gaming, a new control system and an expanded Miiverse (the digital hangout for Nintendo’s avatars, known as a player’s Mii) to the Nintendo home entertainment catalog. But sales for the new console were disappointing with Nintendo quoting in their Earning Release: Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 2013 (link), that “…the “Wii U” hardware sales have a negative impact on Nintendo’s profits.”
The failing new console is a gargantuan fall from grace when compared to the boom of popularity Nintendo has enjoyed in recent years. Back in 2007, Nintendo were rightly proud of having the two most popular consoles in the world, the handheld DS and the home-console, the Wii. Both of which were celebrated for their innovative hardware, as well as software that utilized the new technology, which made games more inclusive, exciting and family friendly. So with a new console that incorporates the touchscreen technology of the DS and the motion sensitive controllers of the Wii, why has the Wii U failed to gain a foothold in the gaming market?
The Games (or lack thereof)
When released in November, 2006, the original Wii had 37 launch titles, which ranged from popular and recognized Nintendo franchises, with Zelda and Wario games, to popular multiplatform titles such as Call of Duty 3, Need for Speed: Carbon and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. There were also a number of games specifically designed to showcase the console’s capabilities, with the highly anticipated (although generally disappointing) Red Steel, and the additively fun, Wii Sports.
Red Steel allowed the player to wield both guns and swords, appeasing a more mature audience, but Wii Sports was able to attract a much wider demographic, being a collection of mini-games centered around tennis, golf, boxing, bowling and baseball. The quick to learn controls, charmingly simple visuals and overall “family friendly” atmosphere made Wii Sports the catalyst that sparked the console’s strong sales. The fact that the game came free with the console and that both the golf and bowling aspects of the game could be accommodate multiplayer modes with just a single controller, made the Wii an affordable and fun Christmas gift.
The Wii U however had a far weaker library of launch titles, with just 23 games to choose from, around a third of which were mere ports of older games that had appeared on the PS3 and Xbox360 in the past, with only a few perks and alterations to differentiate them from the original games. Much like Red Steel, ZombiU was the flagship game for mature audiences, which saw the player try to navigate a zombie apocalypse hitting London, whilst exploring the full capabilities of the large Wii U controller. Although initial reactions to the teaser trailer were promising, subsequent reviews were not so kind, with IGN calling the game “survival without depth” giving it an “Okay” 6.3/10, whilst Gamespot were even harsher, rating it as a “poor” 4.5/10.
The two tent-pole titles that supported the Wii U’s launch were New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land, which “sold 2.15 million and 2.6 million units respectively.” New Super Mario Bros. U was the first Mario launch title game since the N64’s Super Mario 64 (1996), but whereas the N64’s game was heralded for being groundbreaking in it’s 3D roaming capability, the Wii U’s opening Mario gambit is a fun rehash of a long-running and familiar Mario formula. Nintendo Land has the family friendly appeal of Wii Sports, with far more variety open to the player, drawing on Nintendo’s long back catalog of established characters, from Link to Donkey Kong. Again, the games can be played individually or in groups and are aimed a wide demographic.
But even with these successful games, Nintendo recognizes that the Wii U is seriously lacking in regards to the games they have available, stating that:
““Wii U” was not able to maintain the initial sales momentum after the beginning of 2013 due to a delay in the development of subsequent software titles.”
At the 2006 E3 event, Nintendo showcased the capabilities of the Wii and whet the appetite of many a fan boy/girl; simple movements of the controller could manifest themselves on screen as Link swinging the Master Sword, or hitting a homerun, and even as a surgical operation in Trauma Center: Second Opinion. The console penetrated the public’s consciousness so deeply, it appealed to both Nintendo fanatics and casual gamers alike; to such a degree that the console was the focus of a two-part narrative in the popular animated TV show, Southpark.
The Wii U however failed to ignite such excitement. Although the new console supported HD gaming and was more robust in regards to processing power, many saw this as a natural evolution, not a selling point. As for the large, touch screen and motion sensitive controller, it is hard to think of it as little more than a large and cumbersome tablet, as the average consumer has very little idea what it is actually used for.
There is no shortage of skeptics (or realists) who think that it is simply too late to save the console. This has not stopped Nintendo laying out plans to try and regain the ground it has lost, a task which is becoming increasingly difficult as both Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s XboxOne are gearing up for their big releases later this year. Nintendo’s plan of attack is a simple one, one which actively confronts the main criticisms Nintendo are currently facing, namely a poor selection of games and a lack of understanding as to what differentiates the console from the original Wii.
In regards to the software, Nintendo “…plan to concentrate on proactively releasing key Nintendo titles from the second half of this year (2013) in order to regain momentum.” They are also hoping to attract both gamers and developers, with an easy to access library of downloadable content known as the ““Nintendo Web Framework” which enable developers to create software for “Wii U” using web technology.”
But having the games available is pointless unless Nintendo can actually get the hardware sales to increase, and they recognize the importance of educating their potential customers as they “…strive(s) to improve sales by communicating the compelling nature of our hardware and software to as many people as possible.”
Both of these points are far easier said than done however, with the gaming giant, EA publicly stating their reluctance to work with the console, weakening an already limited gaming selection. As for Nintendo reaching a wider audience, this can only be achieved through aggressive and expensive marketing, and with revenue dropping, the money needed for a successful marketing campaign may be difficult to find, as they have stated:
“The Company Group will continue to make progress with these efforts with the support and encouragement of the shareholders.” But with the Wii U dragging down the overall profitability of Nintendo, how long will that support last?
Is the Wii U dead in the water, or just off to a slow start. Post your thoughts in the comments below.