Nintendo: What now for Wii U?
As Nintendo slash sales forecasts and predict a £205m loss, Tom Hoggins explores the curious mistakes behind the failure of the Wii U and why not all hope is lost.
By Tom Hoggins, Video Games Editor12:00PM GMT 18 Jan 2014
It has been a tough financial year for Nintendo. While the brilliant 3DS handheld was the best selling video game console of 2013, the Wii U continues to be an undisputed flop. The news that Nintendo has slashed its forecasted Wii U sales between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014 from 9m to 2.8m perhaps comes as a surprise only to Nintendo itself. The travails of its home console have been well-recorded since its release in late 2012: a muddled launch, a startling lack of games and dwindling third-party and retailer support have all conspired to hobble the console’s performance.
For some sobering perspective, it is reported that Nintendo has ‘shipped’ 4.3m Wii U consoles to retail worldwide in the 15 months since its release. Meanwhile its main competitors, Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4, have reportedly sold 3m and and 4.2m respectively in less than 3 months. Whichever way you cut it, the Wii U is nothing short of a commercial disaster and Nintendo are now projecting a £205m loss as opposed to the £587m operating profit they had originally planned for. Even their prediction for 3DS sales, the best selling video game console of the past year, has been cut from 18m units to 13.5m. Among other things, they are in dire need of a new crystal ball in Kyoto.
It is a stark contrast to the huge success of the Wii U’s predecessor, Wii. The original Wii has shipped over 100m units worldwide and is widely credited with expanding the gaming audience with accessible and affordable motion controlled play. So where did it all go wrong?
Communication is as good a place to start as any. When the Wii U was first revealed at E3 2011, the ambiguous name and a presentation that focussed heavily on its touch-screen tablet controller led to some confusion over whether it was a new console or an add-on for the existing Wii. While some were excited by the prospect of second-screen gaming, other were baffled as to what the Wii U actually did. It is an issue that pervades today, Nintendo has continuously failed to communicate the console’s strengths to its audience. A fact that has been wildly exacerbated by a crippling lack of games using the second-screen feature extensively, and the emergence of second screen gaming on Xbox and PlayStation via smartphones and tablets. In truth, Nintendo’s unique selling point has been better exploited on machines not pushing it as an integral feature.
Nintendo has also failed to deliver its first-party titles quick enough, creating a vicious cycle as fewer machines are bought and third-party support —support that Nintendo were determined to secure after shaky third-party relations on Wii—has drifted away. EA, the biggest third-party publisher in the world, went as far as cancelling all Wii U projects after initially backing the machine. Add the successful release of the more powerful Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and third-party support for Wii U has all but evaporated.
A lack of games will always be the most crippling disadvantage a new console can have, but Nintendo has also found it incredibly difficult to market the Wii U. Advertising has been curiously low-key, and when it has appeared, has been confused. Nintendo are seemingly unsure of who to appeal to: the hardcore gaming audience, or the ‘lifestyle’ audience it cultivated with Wii. Nintendo’s mainstream marketing drive was a strong driver for Wii’s success, and it boggles how the same company can get its successor so wrong. A prime example lies in the baffling launches of Wii Sports Club and Wii Fit U; sequels to two games that catapulted the Wii into the public consciousness. Rather than harnessing that familiarity, Nintendo discretely released both games as limited, digital-only downloads. And nobody even noticed.
The result is that neither aficionados or mainstream are convinced by Wii U, instead drawn to the highly-marketed and demonstrably more powerful next-generation consoles. And while the Wii U is considerably cheaper than the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at £220, its lack of comparative power has many doubting its value.
But not all hope is lost. It is not always about raw grunt —the Wii’s success is a testament to that— and despite its commercial travails so far, the Wii U remains a fascinating, unique console capable of some terrific games. The tablet-esque Gamepad in tandem with Wii remotes enable a diverse, flexible control palette that other consoles cannot match, while Nintendo’s catalogue of games and characters remains the richest of any publisher. Last year saw the release of Pikmin 3 and Super Mario 3D World, two of the most critically acclaimed games of 2013, and 2014 is looking healthier for the Wii U library. Bayonetta 2, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, Super Smash Bros and, most crucially, Mario Kart 8 are all scheduled to appear by Spring.
However, as of now the Wii U’s malaise is so deep that it will take more than a brief flurry of sequels to rectify. Speaking in Osaka following Nintendo’s profit warning, President Satoru Iwata said that the firm is thinking about a “new business structure” including “studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business”. Of the Wii U, Iwata said Nintendo “cannot continue a business without winning.”
They are strong words from a proud, wounded boss. But talk of Nintendo dropping out of the console business to become a third-party publisher is premature. Over the past year, analysts and other industry types have lined up to stick the boot in, passing sweeping judgments on the state of Nintendo's business. The oft-repeated line is that Nintendo should bow out of the console race but continue to make its games for Xbox and PlayStation. While this may be a potential route for Nintendo to take in the future, it is an unlikely and impractical present course. Switching development to third-party platforms after decades of working on proprietary formats would likely mean a vast overhaul to Nintendo’s infrastructure and production pipeline. Just ask Sega. This would be a last resort, a path Nintendo would only take when it was sure it could no longer compete in hardware terms. That time is not now, and histrionic calls for them to ditch the Wii U so early into its lifecycle ignores the company’s profitable heritage and vast success with Wii and its handheld division. How soon we forget
If nothing else, Nintendo’s remarkable solvency (the company reportedly has over $10bn in cash reserves and bonds) and the strong performance of the 3DS will allow them to soak up the Wii U’s dismal performance while they plan their next move. But this is hardly an effective long-term business strategy. Something needs to be done now and Nintendo are finally aware of it. They are a strange, eccentric company, operating within their own bubble. Sometimes it serves them brilliantly; despite initial scepticism the Wii was a disruptive, epochal machine; as was the twin-screen DS handheld. And other times, like now, it leaves them floundering and detached.
Nintendo’s actions over the next year will not only decide the fate of the Wii U, but the company’s continuing presence as a console manufacturer. The Wii U can be saved, but it needs a fresh start, a smaller price tag and a stronger, universally appealing catalogue. A full relaunch of the console is not out of the question if Nintendo can finally decide on its eclectic machine’s identity. It needs drastic action, something disruptive. They have done it before, and you won’t find me betting against them doing it again.
Date Listed 17-Jan-14
Address Main Street, Cambridge, ON, Canada
Lightly used Wii U console.
Includes Console, Gamepad controller, HDMI Cable, Power Cable for console, power cable for controller, and the sensor bar.
No memory card is included, and there is no gamepad stylus. Both can be purchased for less than $25 at walmart, and this is the reason for the low price. Offering the console as is, without a card. It has been restored to factory settings and is ready to play.
Kahless wrote:I think they are in denial or embarassed to admit they screwed up.
clone wrote:but Wii sports on a Wii U?... c'mon) with this in mind a follow up would suffer not benefit from backwards compatibility.
Kahless wrote:It wouldn't even be called the Wii U it would have been something like Nintendo Ultra Uber Next Gen 4K Gaming Monster! A name that shows you aren't playing around anymore
Fuzz wrote:If you have a Wii U you should try Windwaker HD. I played the original on the Gamecube years ago, and thought it looked great. On the Wii U its fantastic. Like playing through a cartoon. Very animated, bright and fun. Nice to have the map and items on the gamepad. Really a beautiful game.
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