The recently-released Wii U sales numbers, which show the system selling just over 150,000 units for the quarter, paint a bleak picture for Nintendo’s latest console. With Sony and Microsoft releasing new consoles that dwarf the technical capabilities of the Wii U in just a few months, many are already labeling the Wii U as a failed console with less than a year under its belt.
Despite how terrible the outlook is for the Wii U, however, Nintendo still posted profits thanks to its hit handheld, the 3DS. While it’s not a new situation to see Nintendo’s handhelds carrying the weight of the company’s monetary gains — we’ve seen it before with the DS carrying lagging GameCube and Wii sales — it’s never been quite so lopsided as this.
A Chance at Wii U Redemption?
But is the Wii U dead in the water? Surely, with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on the horizon, players will want to go for the more powerful, better supported technology, right? While that may hold true for the hardcore audience, there are several reasons why the Wii U could rally as the new age of consoles dawn later this year. While they may be long shots, Nintendo has been counted out before, only to see its platform rally to provide sales that ultimately contribute to the overall company margins, so a comeback for the Wii U shouldn’t be ruled out just yet.
1. Price Difference
Right now, the Wii U has one big advantage: its price. Unfortunately for Nintendo, however, while the Xbox One requires the high entry fee of $500, the PlayStation 4, which again, features much more powerful technology and is, quite frankly, a much more trusted name among gamers at the moment, will only be $50 more expensive.
That $50 difference might be enough to tempt some, but if Nintendo were to either drop the price down another $50, or offer consumers more bang for their buck at the current price point, the Wii U could stand a fighting chance this holiday season. Dropping the price for the Wii U Deluxe console to $300 would be a major selling point when compared to the prices of the other consoles, but another just as simple option for Nintendo would be to keep the Wii U Deluxe (which includes NintendoLand already) at $350 and also include a copy of one of the Mario games available on the platform. By putting that recognizable face on the box and the words “includes New Super Mario Bros. U (or Super Mario 3D World),” the company would be bound to see more sales.
2. Launch Lineup vs. Established Library
Looking at the Wii U lineup, there is truly no denying its anemic nature. While New Super Mario Bros. U and ZombiU were the big selling points at launch, since then, players have seen large gaps with few or no releases, and only come out the other side with a collection of ports from other platforms and Pikmin 3. Looking ahead to the near future, however, the Wii U will have a strong lineup of titles comprised of some of its biggest franchises.
While PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will be relying on launch-window releases, which are traditionally weak, the Wii U lineup will include games like Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, and the new entry in the Super Smash Bros. franchise. The downside to this is that even the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 will remain as strong as ever with titles like Watch_Dogs, Grand Theft Auto IV, and more coming. So, with that in mind, the Wii U may actually see stiffer competition, as this holiday season might be the most crowded in gaming’s history.
3. What’s in a Name?
Whether you’re talking historical significance or brand recognition, the Nintendo name is the biggest in the gaming industry. Gamers, no matter what age, have a connection with the company. Nintendo needs to harp on that nostalgic element going forward by leveraging the new entries into iconic franchises, as well as the classic entries that have appeared on the system’s Virtual Console, in its marketing.
Nintendo is also the first brand many non-gamers know when it comes to gaming. By making its brand messaging, as well as the fact that the Wii U is a new console and not just a peripheral for the Wii, clearer to parents and grandparents of the console’s target demographics, holiday sales have the potential to significantly improve.
4. Bring Back the Fun
Every so often Shigeru Miyamoto comes out at a Nintendo event and gives the industry a much-needed reminder that video games are meant to be fun. Whether he’s posing with the Master Sword at E3 or excitedly discussing his next project on the latest Nintendo Direct video, when players see Shigeru Miyamoto, they remember the blissful feeling that came the first time they played any of the icon’s projects, the reason many of them fell in love with the industry in the first place.
While Miyamoto has taken less of a hands-on approach as of late, Nintendo could learn a lesson from its most cherished resource in company history. Wii Sports was a system-selling piece of pack-in software that was notable for its simplicity, accessibility, and pure fun. Unfortunately, the Wii U bundled software, NintendoLand, just didn’t have that same magic, as it took longer to get into and didn’t feature the same recognizable games with a new twist that drew players in. While titles like Game & Wario helped rectify the fun and accessibility part of the equation, the Wii U is still looking for a title that has the power to show players that they need to upgrade to the Wii U.
5. Bring on the Second Screen
Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are both in possession of more powerful technology than the Wii U, but there is one thing that the Wii U has going for it: the fact that it has technology built into its console that Microsoft and Sony are attempting to push through extra peripherals. While Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners will be required to purchase a tablet or Vita to enjoy the second screen experience, Nintendo has that ability native to its core tech.
Unfortunately, for now, anyway, the mainstream audience has yet to show that the second screen experience is one that is in demand. Perhaps Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will see a popularization of the concept, as players begin seeing further SmartGlass/Vita implementation, causing the native second screen of the Wii U to become a major selling point for the console.
This rundown of ideas is admittedly highly optimistic, as there are several stumbling blocks which will almost certainly prevent Nintendo from turning the Wii U ship around.
1. Third Party Support
The biggest issue for the Wii U going forward is the extreme lack of third party support. While the less powerful Wii saw gimped ports of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 titles in the early portion of its life, the Wii U saw enhanced versions of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games during its launch cycle. Unfortunately, since then, third party publishers have nearly abandoned the newest Nintendo console, with that trend likely to become more prevalent as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 tech releases to blow away that of the Wii U. In addition, many multiplatform titles that are hitting Wii U lack online play.
Prior to launch, the two biggest third party exclusive titles were ZombiU and Rayman Legends. While ZombiU launched alongside the Wii U, Ubisoft has recently announced that it would not be developing a sequel to the pulse-pounding survival title. On the Rayman Legends front, the delayed platformer saw Ubisoft take a massive U-turn in its commitment to Wii U exclusivity by not only announcing the title’s release on Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 3, but also confirming that the game would be coming to PC as well. The main defense to this argument is that “nobody buys Nintendo consoles for third party games,” but when a family only has a budget for one console, chances are they are going to take that into consideration.
2. Old is Not Necessarily New Again
For those who do buy Nintendo consoles solely for first party software, the unfortunate reality is that the majority of Nintendo titles are rehashes of old titles. With some of the biggest selling points of the Wii U being New Super Mario Bros. U, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Mario Kart 8, and Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo is banking on experiences that are readily available on other platforms.
Sure, Nintendo is relying on tried-and-true formulas, but how many times will even the most die-hard of fans buy such similar New Super Mario Bros. experiences? Even the release of Wind Waker HD, which many Nintendo fans are predicting to be the savior of the console, just as Ocarina of Time 3D was the game that caused players to flock to the 3DS initially, won’t provide the bump that Nintendo needs. Aside from being a much more polarizing title than the universally-beloved Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker HD isn’t doing anything new for the title aside from some minor gameplay improvements and a high-def coat of paint. Meanwhile, Ocarina of Time 3D added that same fresh coat of paint, while reworking problematic gameplay passages and allowing players to enjoy one of the objectively greatest games of all time on the go. Wind Waker HD just doesn’t provide that kind of upgrade from the original Gamecube release to make it the system-selling release that its older brother was.
3. An Antiquated View on Technology that Alienates its Fan Base
Ever since the Wii released, Nintendo has been behind Sony and Microsoft on the online play front, but recent actions taken by Nintendo have left even its most devoted players scratching their heads. The biggest issue has been preventing YouTubers from earning revenue by uploading gameplay videos, which essentially served as free marketing for the company. Not only has Nintendo prevented players from earning money from streaming its content, but it even used YouTubers as a reason for not including a cutscene-based story mode in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. because players could view them online, defeating the purpose of the cutscenes themselves.
Combine this with the fact that Nintendo originally blocked the Evo fighting tournament from streaming Super Smash Bros. matches only to fold under community pressure days later, and Nintendo is not giving the players who support its latest console much reward for being loyal through the hard times. With the Wii U being kept afloat by its hardcore fans, the alienation of that very group cannot bode well for the company’s future.