The Nintendo Switch was released in March and has been a resounding success. With the release of the Switch, it has signaled the official death of the Wii U. To date, the Wii U has been Nintendo’s worst performing console in terms of sales, as of September 2016 selling around 13 million units (not counting the Virtual Boy; we don’t speak about that). This was after the major success of the Wii, which sold more than 100 million units.
Since its release in late 2012, the Wii U has drilled a hole in Nintendo’s deep pockets. So why did the Wii’s successor fail so spectacularly?
1. Nintendo’s Marketing Strategy
Nintendo entered this generation of consoles riding the unexpected success of the Wii. The company was hoping to use that momentum to get a head start in the current generation. Unfortunately, this would not be the case. Nintendo did not know who to market the Wii U toward. The modern gaming community is far different from the one Nintendo believed exists.
The video game juggernaut operates under the assumption that children make up most of the gaming community. A quick glance at the buying habits of gamers would show this is not the case. According to the Pew Research Center, most gamers are adults in their 20s and 30s with disposable income, while children have little buying power. They tend to depend on their parents’ financial viability to have access to games. All of Nintendo’s marketing strategies revolve around appealing to children, with TV commercials that air during children’s programming.
Not once have I seen a Nintendo commercial during a football game. Meanwhile, PlayStation and Xbox have ads that bombard your consciousness. Parents ignorant of video games will only have knowledge based on what they see on TV. So if Nintendo is trying to appeal to children, then its marketing strategy should focus more on the parents. That has since changed with the release of the Switch. Nintendo is pulling out all of the stops to push the new console.
Nintendo also seems to view video game consoles as toys. The NES was successful due to this strategy. Video games had become somewhat of a dirty word following the video game crash of 1983. Nintendo had to market its machine as a toy to regain the trust from the North American market. But that was in 1985; the industry has changed so much over 30 years. This mentality no longer makes sense in 2017. Video game consoles are not toys, they are powerful multimedia machines, yet Nintendo still viewed the Wii U as a child’s toy. The competition does not view their consoles in such a manner and this is a very myopic view on Nintendo’s part.
There is also a reliance on nostalgic appeal. I find this rather confounding. I’m not sure what Nintendo is trying to accomplish by appealing to children and nostalgia simultaneously. Today’s children do not have a sense of nostalgia for Nintendo, while those aged in their 20s and 30s have a great sentimentality for Nintendo games. Anyone who has a Wii U is probably a hardcore Nintendo nut. Nintendo seemed to be really confused as to how to market the Wii U. It does not understand the demographics, and it shows.
Another thing to note is that millennials are becoming parents now. Millennial parents will be more informed about video games than previous generations of parents. Their children will play what they play. Now more than in previous generations, parents and kids are playing video games together. Again, Nintendo needs to appeal to adults because they have the disposable income and are more likely to play with their children.
One more problem facing the Wii U in terms of marketing was the name Nintendo gave it. People with little knowledge of video games may have thought it was an add-on to the original Wii. Trailers, which mostly showed the Wii U’s GamePad, made it even more confusing as to what the console was, which was rarely the focus. The Wii U also used many of the same peripherals as the Wii. It is understandable that casual gamers did not know it was a new console.
There was a time when Nintendo would smear their marketing feces all over the place. Now, it seems to be clueless when it comes to the modern gaming market. Nintendo is stuck in its ways and can’t seem to evolve with the times. It holds onto its principles, but this has been a double-edged sword. This mentality has led to the ignoring of trends that has ultimately resulted in the gaming company being left behind in the console wars. Wii U’s failure to sell has been the consequence of these actions. Nintendo needs to make a better effort to understand the modern gaming community.
2. Lack Of Quality Games
When a new console releases, players look forward to the fresh lineup of games. Unfortunately, the Wii U’s biggest flaw has been the lack of quality games. First-party games did not come out fast enough. The Wii U would go months without a major release. Each year saw only a handful of good games. While this console has seen several excellent releases, there simply weren’t enough for most people to justify buying the Wii U.
Several high-profiles series did not even see the light of day on the Wii U. No Metroid, no F-Zero, no The Legend of Zelda (Breath of the Wild doesn’t count) or Pokémon console RPG. Fans of these games were holding out on the device purchase until one of these series got a release.
Nintendo only introduced one new IP during the Wii U’s lifespan, that being Splatoon. While Splatoon was a decent online shooter, it was not enough to mobilize consumers to buy the Wii U. Nintendo could have tried to make more new IPs, but decided to rest on its laurels.
Not only did few quality games come out, but Nintendo bastardized many beloved series during the Wii U’s lifespan, with little understanding of what we love about those games. Paper Mario: Color Splash may not be terrible, but it removed everything that fans loved about the PaperMario series and replaced them with a gimmick. We loved that it was an RPG with many quirky characters and a living, breathing world. But why make memorable and interesting characters when you can just replace them all with Toads? Why can’t Nintendo understand what the fans love about its games?
One more nail in the Wii U’s coffin was its abysmal third-party support. No one bought major AAA releases on the Wii U. Some companies decided not to port games to the Wii U at all. The poor sales didn’t help Nintendo’s case. Trust between Nintendo and other developers had been broken and the Switch needs to be a smash hit to repair the broken trust. So far it seems as if the Switch has done just that.
3. Technical Limitations Dampened Its Appeal
Speaking of third-party developers, the Wii U has technical limitations that scared them off. Comparing it to the eight generations of consoles, the Wii U is significantly underpowered. It is only marginally more powerful than the original Xbox360 and cannot play many major AAA releases due to this lack of power. Porting over these games often led to sharp drops in performance. This is one of the reasons Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was so terrible. The engine was too much for the Wii U to handle, so developers simply didn’t bother releasing games on the platform.
So what made porting games over to the Wii U so troublesome? The GamePad. This controller has awful resolution and a short battery life — not a good combination. Plus, it seems to cause frame-rate issues whenever there is more than one player. Nintendo has also struggled to utilize the GamePad, whose motion controls were forced upon Star Fox Zero. It’s basically Star Fox 64 but ruined with awful motion controls and data overload, and you must constantly dart your eyes from the GamePad to the TV. This is not even optional and creates a sense of anxiety due to the player’s sensory overload. Innovation for innovation’s sake.
The Wii U featured primitive online connectivity with limited communication. The lack of any voice chat can be problematic. A game like Splatoon would benefit greatly from the capability of being able to converse with teammates. After all, communication is a key component to online competitive games.
Modern consoles also act as multimedia machines. The Wii U does not utilize such functions effectively. It doesn’t connect to major social media networks, other than Miiverse. Nintendo seems dead against streaming and does not offer a Twitch.tv app. Youtubers constantly have videos flagged by Nintendo. This is a missed opportunity in terms of streaming’s bonus of being like free advertising. Not having Spotify is also perplexing. It’s probably the most popular music streaming service going right now. The Wii U’s technical shortcomings have doomed it as Nintendo’s worst performing console to date.
4. High Price, Low Value
With all these shortcomings of the Wii U, it had better be cost friendly — but this is sadly not the case. The Wii U is too expensive, considering the value the consumer gets in return. The console only plays games, and a limited library at that. It does not function well as a multimedia machine and has underwhelming specs. Bundles sold for an average price of $349.99, which is way more expensive than a typical Nintendo console.
Nintendo has a history of trying to keep costs down. The Wii U went against that principle and it cost the company dearly. The consumer is not given the incentive to pick the Wii U over PS4 or XB1. You can purchase a PS4 for $50 more than the cost of a Wii U and get more in return for your investment. The Wii managed to succeed due to its relatively cheap cost compared to the competition and gave a unique experience to the player. Hopefully Nintendo learns from this and the Switch launches at a somewhat reasonable price.
The Wii U is a fun console. I own one and have enjoyed it far more than the Wii, which has been gathering dust since 2008. I bought few games for the former but the ones I did buy, I enjoyed immensely. That said, it was an unmitigated disaster for Nintendo. It showcased how out of touch the company is with modern gaming. The Wii U failed due to poor marketing, lack of quality games, technical limitations, and a high cost. Nintendo has handled the Switch fairly well but their past history still leaves me somewhat skeptical.
Previously published on NowLoading.co