No matter how good the games, the Wii U is a console no one wants.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the 2DS cannot play DS games when in fact it can.
Nintendo is not going anywhere.
And yet, the company’s home console, the Wii U, may not last another year. Nintendo has vast cash reserves built up by the resounding successes of the 100 million selling predecessor to the Wii U, the Wii, and the DS. The 3DS, and 2DS, for its part continues to perform well in an era dominated by non-gaming centric mobile platforms.
That is not unimpressive and there’s a litany of formidably good franchises under Nintendo’s belt – games the firm’s fans have long attested would be sufficient to see strong sales of the company’s systems. In the case of the Wii U, this simply hasn’t held true and Nintendo will fall short of CEO Satoru Iwata’s prediction of nine million for the fiscal year ending March, 31st.
In late October Nintendo revealed life-time sales of the console stood at 3.91 million units at that time which suggests sales of less than 4.5 million by mid-December leaving the Wii U in the precipitous position of requiring sales of two million per month to achieve the targeted nine million on time. That simply won’t happen.
This isn’t some idle malevolent hope by me, it’s a simple reflection of the fact that Nintendo – which was widely said to have the strongest games line-up of any of the platform holders in the latter half of 2013 – found itself all but ignored by the rush of gamers to buy the PS4 and Xbox One with their admittedly largely mediocre launch titles.
The Year of Luigi, which is bizarrely set to continue into 2014, did not bring about the vital 1-Up Nintendo needed to revive the Wii U. Games like New Super Mario Bros. U, New Super Luigi U, Super Mario 3D World, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD failed to ignite a surge in sales of the console.
When Nintendo revealed its sales figures in October it was noted that “The Wii U hardware still has a negative impact on Nintendo’s profits.” While there may well have been a small surge of interest at Christmas (if only because the PS4 and Xbox One were sold out) there’s practically no reason to believe Nintendo will match its targets let alone beat them.
The great games upon which the House of Mario built its foundations are simply not enough. As to what might prove sufficient to turn round the console, there’s little reason to suspect anything can.
Classic franchises have failed to perform the trick and while there are games from much newer series on the way, Bayonetta 2 among them, they simply can’t spark interest in the Wii U. Third party support, with which Nintendo has struggled, is non-existent and any new IP the company creates will need to be astonishingly alluring to make gamers flock to the console.
There’s little cause to suspect that will happen. Nintendo has always crafted solid, fun, and often truly great games with their commitment to quality sometimes leading to empty release schedules – another problem for the ‘no-game’ Wii U – but to suggest that these titles are sufficient to sell Nintendo’s systems in large numbers is patently untrue.
In November, DFC Intelligence analyst David Cole predicted GameCube like sales of 25 million at most for the Wii U; there’s now a very good chance he was being unrealistically optimistic.
Nintendo is safe and has the resources to survive a console which fails but its future, and the company’s commitment to hardware, are less certain and it would be surprising if Wii U survives another year.
The success of the Wii was predicated on its accessible motion controls and the absence of a similarly compelling unique selling point for the Wii U, the GamePad is thus far an underused novelty, suggests Nintendo desperately needs a revolutionary concept to ensure the success of any successor. Games are not enough.
Most pressingly, Nintendo’s marketing is desperate need of an overhaul. A great many casual consumers are simply unaware that the Wii U exists and many of those who do are under the belief it simply a new controller for the Wii.
Recently the company has attempted to rectify this by expressly stating in its advertising that the Wii U is a whole new console but such steps are far too little, too late. Using the same style logo and font for both of the Wii and Wii U is indicative of the same kind of confusion which reigned in the early days of the 3DS when Nintendo trotted out the same celebrities to promote both systems.
The 2DS is perhaps the best reflection of Nintendo as a whole amongst its product line-up. Released after the 3DS without that device’s signature feature, a glassless 3D display, and numbered lower but able to play both 3DS games and DS titles. Despite the removal of 3D the DS cannot play 2DS which of course the same as 3DS as the system is the first in history to have no games of its own.
To casual consumers, the potential for confusion is paramount. A €130 Pokémon X/Y playing device makes a lot of sense, especially for families, but it’s Nintendo’s positioning and marketing of the 2DS which is problematic.
All of this makes Nintendo appear to be a company living on an island of its own creation, unaware and uncaring of the trends happening elsewhere in gaming.
The company is secure but should it continue to operate as it does, it may well be sleepwalking into a future where no one will care how good the games it makes are. As it stands, non-Wii U owners no doubt know exactly how good Nintendo’s productions are and still see no valid reason to buy the console and that may be the same thing.