It’s no secret that the Wii U has been struggling since it launched in 2012. It’s been an interesting road from the time of announcement at E3 2011, to the launch in 2012 and the eventual drought we saw at the beginning of 2013 that has stretched into 2014, only peppered with key releases here and there. Despite this, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata continually set lofty goals for the Wii U. At the beginning of 2013, Iwata predicted that by March 2014, his company would sell 10m Wii U units. We’re now in May and with Nintendo’s financial results, we know the future is much more dim.
So what went wrong? What is Nintendo doing to fix the problem? We’re going to be privy to that in just a few short weeks when their E3 presentation goes live. We’ll finally see what Nintendo plans on bringing to the future and whether or not they’ll have the staying power to continue to compete in the home console market.
The Problem Is You
If at any point in time you have ever uttered the words, “I only buy Nintendo consoles to play Nintendo games.”, you are part of the problem. Every week of managing the content here at Wii U Daily, I see comments from people on indie games, on the loss of third party support, on the fact that Nintendo hasn’t released a game since February. They’re all similar and there’s enough of them from different people for this to be a problem. It seems like since the Gamecube era, Nintendo has been relegated to a second string console for many gamers. That’s not a sound business model.
Investors have been calling for Nintendo to go software and handheld hardware only for years and while Nintendo continually resists, if you’re one of the people who admittedly only buys hardware for Nintendo games, you’re part of a shrinking demographic that cannot keep Nintendo afloat in today’s economic waters. So let’s ask ourselves, why do people do this? Do they feel like third party games are inferior on Nintendo consoles? Yes, that’s often true. Warner Bros. Interactive has a history of releasing gimped versions of games for Wii U owners.
It’s understandable to be upset at some of these companies for their lackluster treatment of the Wii U. But at the same time, Nintendo cannot afford to have the world think of its console as a second string console only worthy of playing the latest Mario games. It’s not a sound business strategy. Nintendo needs its consumers to be more open-minded, but in that same vein, the company needs to be more open-minded itself.
The Problem Is Nintendo
Nintendo has always had an air of arrogance in the way they conduct business. Until recently, Nintendo was fairly closed off to indie developers, not allowing them to develop for any platform unless they had an established office space. This air of arrogance has bled over into its customers as well. Frequently we see comments bemoaning the announcement of “yet another indie game” for the Wii U, when if it weren’t for these indie games releasing on the Wii U, you would have nothing to play outside of the one virtual console release each week and Mario Kart 8 in a few weeks.
This arrogance is what led Nintendo to pass on Skylanders as an exclusive concept for their platforms. Activision and Toys for Bob originally approached Nintendo about the possibility of the hardware giant backing the Skylanders concept in exchange for console exclusivity. Nintendo turned them down and surely must be kicking itself as the Skylanders franchise has gone on to be a billion dollar business, even spawning clones in the form of Disney Infinity.
Nintendo probably realizes having Skylanders as an exclusive franchise was a missed opportunity, which is why they’re planning on mimicking the concept with their own NFC figurines that are compatible with both the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS. The Wii U has an NFC chip built in that has only been used for Pokemon Rumble to date, a small eShop release with figurines that were never released outside of GameStop. It looks like Pokemon Rumble was a test bed for a more Skylanders-like experience, as Nintendo has shown concepts for figurines that work across multiple games.
This broad approach of bringing technology similar to what competitors use is foreign territory for Nintendo. Nintendo is usually the company that creates and then has competitors ape their products. We’ve seen it time and time again, from Microsoft’s current hard-on for motion controls in the Kinect, to Sony’s blatant rip-off of the SNES CD project which led to the creation of the PlayStation brand as a whole. It must feel entirely alien to Nintendo to look at a product and say, “We need to do that.”
The fact that Nintendo is working on a Skylanders-like concept for its stock of franchises means that they’re open to competition. In previous interviews with Nintendo executives about the launch of the Wii U, many said they never looked at how Xbox LIVE or PlayStation Network works because they didn’t consider those consoles as competitors. That’s terrible news for gamers who expect a better experience for online gameplay from Nintendo, but the fact that the company is now looking at what competitors are doing and attempting to mimic that means Nintendo realizes it doesn’t exist inside a bubble anymore.
We’re finally seeing a company waking up and realizing that they can’t get by on producing one or two games a year. A company who now realizes that gamers demand an online service that functions well for multiplayer matches. It’s one of the reasons we’ve seen so much focus on the online aspects of Mario Kart 8. Nintendo has to get this right in order for non-Nintendo gamers to even be interested in the launch of Mario Kart 8 and exclusive features like being able to upload your race replays to YouTube is the correct direction.
Nintendo captured lightning in a bottle with the Wii, in that it released a product with easy to understand controls and casual games that would appeal to anyone from ages 6 to 95. In attempting to continue that success Nintendo stumbled, as the Wii U doesn’t have the same easy to understand controls and casual game focus as the Wii. I think Nintendo finally understands that the broad “blue ocean” strategy that worked so well for the Wii was due to a lot of factors that simply aren’t viable anymore nearly 7 years later.
With the renewed focus on providing experiences gamers want to play, the Wii U will eventually find its groove. It’s only taken knocking Nintendo off its virtual pedestal to get them there. I’m excited to see what E3 will bring, but I’m still holding my breath hoping Nintendo gets things right.