Opinion: Do poor Wii U sales demonstrate an identity crisis among gamers?

As the sales of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One climb higher ever so steadily, the Wii U sales numbers are making the latest Nintendo console situation seem more dire by the week. The inferior technology, combined with the stigmas associated with the Wii name and several marketing miscues have drastically shrunk the target demographic of the Wii U.

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Nintendo has relied heavily on its tried and true formulas with Wii U.

Even as the sales of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One tower over Nintendo’s current flagship console, so do the complaints about the two more powerful systems. Whether it’s the varying degrees of paywalls that exist across the platforms or the lack of focus on gaming in favor of zeroing in on media apps, gamers have no qualms about making their opinions heard about PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on social media, in comment sections, and everywhere else people voice their concerns.

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
– Steve Jobs

But what about the Wii U? While some would argue that the new consoles–perhaps Xbox One in particular–are trying to push technology ahead at a faster rate than consumers want, the Wii U’s capabilities and focuses appear to be more in line with the loudest consumer desires, yet it lags far behind in sales, popularity, and developer support.

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Nintendo has a strong lineup of games guaranteed with each system launch, but will that be enough to save Wii U?

The Wii U focuses on gaming first and foremost. That is the major sticking point that has turned many consumers off about the PlayStation 4 and, particularly, Xbox One. The two consoles from Sony and Microsoft have made it clear that they intend to deliver fully integrated media experiences to those who use them on a day-to-day basis. This was most apparent in the Xbox One’s namesake, but the PlayStation 4 is certainly accomplishing this as well. Though games were a scarcity in the early months of the Wii U’s lifecycle, and third-party developers have since all but abandoned the platform, Nintendo has made it clear that gaming is the number one priority for its system.

In going with this decidedly “gaming first” approach, the Wii U didn’t include any bundled cameras or online connectivity requirements, nor did it feature any paywalls for its apps or over-reliance on system and game updates. The Wii U has also done an outstanding job of releasing games digitally on day of launch, and Nintendo was even the only company to support backwards compatibility with its latest console.

To further support this approach, Nintendo has released an unparalleled lineup of exclusive titles over the past 12 months which has featured its biggest franchises from Mario and Zelda to Donkey Kong and Pikmin. In addition, Wii U has brought brand new franchises to life through Platinum’s The Wonderful 101 and Nintendo’s latest Frankenstein of a creation, NES Remix. And yet that has done little to shake the stigma of the Wii U as a console that is fighting a losing battle.

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Sure, “nobody buys a Nintendo console for third-party games,” but having ones that do make it over be fully featured couldn’t hurt.

Now, as we’ve all heard, “nobody buys Nintendo consoles for third-party games.” And I will agree with that sentiment, as since the SNES, I’ve not bought a Nintendo console because of the non-Nintendo games that would appear on it. The reasoning behind this is because Nintendo consoles have arguably the best game developer in industry history as an exclusive developer for its platform: Nintendo.

The problem with the approach of placing so much reliance on first-party releases is that those properties simply cannot keep up the pace Nintendo needs them to in order to make the Wii U a successful console worthy of owning. This results in small bursts of releases of excellent games, as was seen in Holiday 2013, followed by large gaps with no big releases, as is being seen now. Those bursts, when left unsupported by other developers during the gap times, lead to an extraordinarily unbalanced release schedule, which is not healthy for any platform.

In addition, Nintendo, a year and a half following launch, has done a poor job of showing people what the Wii U is. Asking somebody who isn’t in tune with gaming culture what a Wii U is can still result in confusion; something that isn’t quite as common with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. This could be due, in part, to the poor marketing by Nintendo that is rooted in the name of the console being too similar to the console’s predecessor. I called out Nintendo’s nomenclature in a 2012 pre-launch article, stating that it was too similar to the iterative nature of the company’s DS models (DSi, DS XL, etc.), possibly pointing those familiar with those models to think a Wii U is just a new model of the Wii.

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While PlayStation 4 and Xbox One natively stream gameplay, Nintendo has worked to crackdown on revenue earned from streaming its games. Twitch Plays Pokemon demonstrated the power of streaming, as a crowd-sourced playthrough of multiple games in the franchise has captivated a global audience and increased interest in the series.

So does the Wii U’s lack of success in the marketplace suggest a “branding identity crisis” among gamers? Not particularly. The poor sales are more likely indicative of the changing marketplace and the iconic company’s antiquated view on online capabilities. Whether you’re talking its crackdown on streaming monetization, or simply referencing the company’s notorious online infrastructure, people who play Nintendo typically do so alone or with someone else on the couch. Even as recently as 2005–less than a year after Halo 2 revolutionized online console play–Satoru Iwata was quoted as saying “customers do not want online games.”

That type of viewpoint is what has haunted Nintendo and hindered its attempts to compete with Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo has since tried to modify its stance on online play, but even with the Wii U, it just can’t get it right. Games like Batman: Arkham Origins shipped to Wii U without the online play found on PlayStation 3 an Xbox 360, and even Nintendo’s big first-party exclusives have lacked online play. While games like Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze proved to be spectacularly entertaining, their appeal was limited by the capabilities of the system.

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Nintendo’s multiplayer games are made for couch co-op, but the company grossly underestimates how much its fan base would play games like Super Mario 3D World online.

If Nintendo does want another console that can compete with Sony and Microsoft in terms of sales and popularity, it will have to do away with the very stubbornness that got it into this spot. Being different is one thing, but refusing to appeal to those wanting to take part in the biggest trends in console gaming from the past decade isn’t wise from a sales perspective. If Nintendo does want to correct the poorly trending sales of Wii U, it will have to go back to the drawing board and try to reassure gamers and third-party developers alike that this is a system worth owning. I’m just not 100% convinced Nintendo is entirely unhappy with the direction it’s currently heading.

About Brian Shea

Brian Shea is VGW's Editor-in-Chief and one of the founding members of the site. In addition to leading the team at VideoGameWriters.com, he contributes such regular features as “Shea’s Say,” "Eleven Things," "Commercials from the Past" and “Essential Gaming."
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  1. Stealth says:

    Wii U is really great

  2. “the Wii U’s capabilities and focuses appear to be more in line with the loudest consumer desires”

    crap online, expensive but under-powered console, the same old franchises over and over again, no 3rd party support and an annoyingly, huge and gimmicky controller… I don’t think anybody has asked for any of this.

    The only reason the Wii U’s not selling it’s because they lost the casuals but the reason Nintendo went for a more core gaming approach with the Wii U was because the Wii sold a lot but the software sales were lacking (and this was said by Iwata himself on multiple interviews). And before someone comes to tell me that the Wii sold more software than the PS3 and X360 let me tell you that those are inflated software sales by the crappy Wii-Sport bundles. At the end the Wii is dead while the PS3’s still kicking with not only 3rd party support like Demon’s Souls 2 but with exclusives games like Persona 5 and Guilty Gear XRD coming out next year

    The only ones to blame for the current situation of the Wii U are Nintendo themselves but living on their own little world with archaic approaches while refusing to adapt.

    • YOUDIEMOFO says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more……

      I never understood why Nintendo never took ahold of the ever changing world of online multi-play and stood the gimmicky mechanics they introduced with the Wii.

    • I totally agree with Kamille.

    • dude you could not be more wrong lol
      online: not EVERY game needs online, online games are why games are shit now days.
      cost/power: the Wii U is cheap, and yes it is underpowered but the graphical leap between ps3/4 aint much.
      same old franchises: umm not really, PS more Killzone, COD, BF and so on they all pretty crap games.
      3rd party: yes a lil bit annoying but still most 3rd party games are shit and so common and easy.
      Wii U gamepad, it aint that big at all I bet you never even played a Wii U lol

      more KIDS play PS/XB than Ninty systems and nearly all kids now days are graphics whores, yes the games look amazing but the gameplay is usually pretty bad and they don’t last anything over 10 hours that aint worth a £55 price tag, games should be no more then £30.
      PS/XB will have the same games this gen just like last gen: dark generic first person shooters and all.

      I am a Nintendo fan yes but I still respect the others, they are great systems. the Wii U is a great console with great games.

  3. I cant say I agree with some of this. Nothing Nintendo does is going to get Sony fanboys, the biggest bashers of the Wii U on board. Let’s also not forget how many Pro Sony sites have been hating it before it ever released.
    Wii U has horrible launch titles. Ps4 didn’t have anything better but sites did not harp on that the way they did Wii U. Then you have some that blatantly lie about the console and its capabilities to drive consumers away. Game Informer actually thinks the console uses friends codes and things like this have fooled many people who never used the console. Look at Kamilles post as a prime example. “Crap online” when I play the WIi U online its not an issue. Its not laggy, it is not slow, it works just as good as when playing a PC game online. “Gimmicky controller” You mean the one exactly like the PS4 controller in every way only with a bigger screen? It is a fanboy excuse to say one controller is a gimmick but the other isn’t when they offer the same features. SHe also tries to twist software sales because Wii Sports was bundled in some regions, as if PS3,PS4,260 and X1 do not have bundled games. Twisting reality to fit your agenda is pathetic to say the least. It is nothing but the same old tired fanboy argument that defies reality. Now lets look at some other fanboy excuses for why they wont buy a Wii U. Nintendo doesn’t have any new IPs. Well that is BS as they have around 20-30 over the past 2 generations. You can say that they don’t appeal to you but then what makes you think the next one will? Again its fanboy BS. They then want Nintendo to go 3rd party which is odd because if the games are crap, why want them on your console of choice? It defies logic but fanboys were never interested or capable of logic.

    I do agree with advertising though. They need to do more about getting their message out without wasting time on sites that are flooded with people who hate them. Don’t waste money advertising on known Nintendo hating sites like VGchartz or N4G because your audience isn’t there. They got banned for not following the hate train. There are just so many factors in this and I cannot blame Wii U owners for not buying 3rd party games. If a PS4 game was announced with less features than the X1 version, the same thing would happen. 3rd parties treat Nintendo gamers as an after thought even though Wii owners bought millions of copies of their games on false promises of real support. you can only lie to people so long before they stop listening to you.
    Is the Wii U in trouble? Nope. Is it perfect? No console is but its going to have great games for years to come. Will it be #1? No but why does Nintendo need to be #1 to be successful? MS hasn’t been and Sony wasn’t last gen but we didn’t dismiss them or their games over it so why the double standard with Nintendo? People who support Sony and only own Sony console will NEVER buy a Nintendo product no matter what is released any more than a MS fanboy will suddenly buy a Sony console. Listening to the dribble they spout is pointless because it becomes obvious they are two faced and their opinion changes too much. 3 DK games in 15 years is milking and a lack of innovation but 5 Uncharted games a single generation is innovation.

  4. Stealth says:

    I do not agree with this article at all. Short sighted.

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