How Nintendo Failed the Wii U

The Wii U Has Always Struggled, But the NX Doesn't Have To

After Nintendo's shocking 2014 Wii U sales forecast readjustment from 9 million to less than 3 million, I took a look at what Nintendo did wrong and what they needed to do to right the ship. While they offered some things I'd hoped for, like exciting new IPs, they never did enough to make the console a serious contender in the three-way home console wars.

Some say the Wii U was a bad idea to begin with, but I disagree. The Wii U could have been a success if Nintendo had done a better job of presenting it. With a new console, codenamed the NX, on the way, it's time to look back on how things went so wrong for the Wii U and how Nintendo can avoid those mistakes this time around.

Failure to Feed the Gamer


What they did wrong: After a shortage of games for the 3DS lead to its disastrous first year, Nintendo promised the same thing wouldn’t happen with the Wii U. But it did. Nintendo’s designers were seemingly flummoxed by the complexities of HD programming, and many games planned for the console’s launch didn’t show up until much later. With third parties often stripping features out of the few games they deigned to put on the console, it was up to Nintendo to keep things going: their failure to do so cost the Wii U what little momentum it had at launch.
Attempted course correction: Over time, Nintendo put out many solid games, but delays and disappointments meant the Wii U never had enough hits to pull it out of third place.
The NX time around: Nintendo is better at promising than delivering a steady stream of games, but after struggles with the 3DS and Wii U, perhaps they have finally got the message, and will amass an arsenal of games for the NX launch. One good sign; the are planning a gaming platform that works on multiple systems, in the way iOS works on phones and touchpads. If the NX runs on that platform, it could get every single game Nintendo develops.

Failure to Communicate


What they did wrong: The Wii was so revolutionary and intuitive that it almost sold itself, yet Nintendo still delivered a great ad campaign for it. The Wii U’s appeal was more difficult to grasp - many consumers thought the gamepad was just an add-on for the original Wii - yet the ads were inane and scarce. 
Attempted course correction: The advertising improved some over time, although in the U.S. the focus  on children suggested thatNintendo had simply given up on the idea that anyone over 12 would want to play any of their games (unlike in England and Japan). In spite of improvements, the Wii U never recovered from the terrible initial messaging.
The NX time around: It can be tricky to sell consumers on NIntendo's quirky hardware; they'll need a clear message and a decent ad agency to sell the NX.

Failure to Love the Technology


What they did wrong: The gamepad was an intriguing concept that promised opportunities for new experiences. The problem is that Nintendo lacked a vision for the thing; the only fresh idea they had was asynchronous gaming, which never took off. Soon, Nintendo turned their back on the gamepad entirely;  Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze simply turned off the touchscreen.
Attempted course correction: While some suggested Nintendo could release a super-cheap Wii U with no gamepad, they instead put gaming legend Shigeru Miyamoto in charge of creating games that put the gamepad front and center. Unfortunately, these titles were delayed; instead the best case for the gamepad was made by non-Nintendo developers with Affordable Space Adventures and Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.
The NX time around: Nintendo has had some sort of gimmick for their last four consoles (DS, Wii, 3DS, and Wii U), so there's a good chance something about the NX will set itself apart from the crowd. If so, Nintendo can't follow the Wii U strategy of simply hoping third party developers will think of something cool to do with it after launch. Whatever the gimmick is, Nintendo needs to immediately prove it essential or risk another disaster.

Failure to Listen


What they did wrong: Nintendo’s confidence in its decisions is astounding; they choose a path and stick to it, regardless. This certainty can be a strength – no one could convince them the Wii was a bad idea – but it can prove a weakness as well. When Microsoft faced anger over some Xbox One elements, they walked back their most problematic ideas. Nintendo answered every complaint with, “it’s okay, we know what we’re doing.” Unfortunately, they didn’t.
Attempted course correction: In spite of complaints about region locking and user accounts archaically tethered to consoles, Nintendo stubbornly stayed the course. They did however, at long least, start taking online multiplayer more seriously. 
The NX time around: Nintendo rejected making changes to the Wii U, but they have suggested that region locking and console-tethered accounts may go. Although with Nintendo, there are no guarantees that common sense will trump stubbornness. 

Failure to Shake Things Up


What they did wrong: Like most game developers, Nintendo leans heavily on their popular IPs. Mario and Donkey Kong are a great way to sell to Nintendo's base, but not necessarily a great way to expand that base. 
Their course correctionThe Wonderful 101's anemic sales proved the risks of new IPs, but Splatoon proved that Nintendo could still wow us all over again with something wildly original. Alas, the company still uses IPs as a crutch, resulting in things like an Amiibo board game with the Animal Crossing name slapped on it. 
The NX time around:  Let’s face it, Mario is money in the bank, even when his games sell less than expected, and it's certain that Nintendo will continue to pump them out. But if Nintendo doesn't spread its wings often enough, the NX will once again be that second console people buy just to play Mario and Zelda.

Failure to Make Friends


What they did wrong: Nintendo’s inability to keep up a steady supply of Wii U games wouldn’t have been as big an issue if the console had a steady stream of third-party games. Instead early, inferior ports of older games gave way to mass desertion, particularly when it became clear that the Wii U was incapable of running high-end games designed for the PS4/XB1. Nintendo failed to convince third parties to put their full might behind the console. The result was that the Wii U had to rely entirely on first party, second party and indie titles, missed almost all of the major multi-platform games, and suffered from a lack of new games all around.
Attempted course correction: After a bad start, Nintendo was stuck in an unrecoverable Catch-22 of needing to boost console sales to woo third parties and needing third party games to build console sales. Their goose was cooked. They best they could do was make nice with indie developers; there was no way to get the big publishers back.
The NX time around: How difficult it will be to lure third party's will depend on what the NX turns out to be; if they put out something powerful enough to still be relevant when the PS5 comes out they are likely to get far a decent number of third-party games. If not, Nintendo will need to work as a partner with third parties to help them get the most out of the new technology and to market their games to Nintendophiles.

Failure to Pay Attention

Luigi doesn't just want to beat you; he wants to destroy you. Rizupicorr

What they did wrong: Nintendo’s insistence on blazing their own path rather than following the herd is both a great strength (only Nintendo would make a Wii or a DS) and a great weakness. Nintendo dismissed online gaming as the Xbox embraced it, and they refused to follow Sony and Microsoft into HD graphics in the last generation. Their decisions seemed reasonable at the time - there wasn’t a huge market for online gaming when the Game Cube came out, there weren’t that many gamers with HD TVs when the Wii came out – but Nintendo always winds up one step behind.
Attempted course correction: Nintendo has slowly and begrudgingly moved forward. They have created gorgeous HD games and some solid online experiences. But their efforts only keep them from being two steps behind instead of one.
The NX time around: Nintendo may be okay this time. While they're likely to ignore the current virtual reality boom, that probably will be less important than the advent of HD graphics or online gaming, meaning Nintendo could, with just a little effort, reach technological parity for the first time in years. The question is, does Nintendo care enough to bother?

Failure to Astound


What they did wrong: Nintendo’s focus on keeping the price down at the expense of any feature anyone would want made the Wii U feel unambitious. A lot of that was the low specs and underdeveloped online aspects, but there was just a general feeling of not going the extra mile. The Wii U could have upscaled Wii games, or doubled as a DVD player. Nintendo could increased the Wii U's appeal by pre-installing some of the cooler mini-games they later put in Game & Wario. They could have offered a large virtual console library including N64 and Game Cube titles, made the 3DS compatible with the Wii U so you could play those games on your TV, and put more thought into the now-defunct TVii. But they didn’t.
Attempted course correction: Nintendo basically decided to just play the poor hand it had dealt itself.  
The NX time around: Nintendo needs a shock and awe strategy, one that when revealed will have gamers jumping up and down screaming. But with the Wii U's poor sales performance, it's possible Nintendo is rushing the NX in order to replace it, in which case expect a lot of the same issues.

Failure to Panic


What they did wrong: Things looked bad for the Wii U from the beginning, but even as things went from bad to worse, Nintendo seemed convinced they were about to turn a corner. They ignored calls for a price cut, and when they made one, it was small. They failed to take radical action, such as buying game development companies or cutting deals to increase their rate of exclusives. Instead, they just let the situation deteriorate, convinced they were on the right track.
Attempted course correction: While Nintendo's actions lacked urgency, they did take took some chances, rescuing and Devil's Third from limbo and cutting a deal with SEGA for three exclusives. Unfortunately, none of those helped their bottom line (although Bayonetta 2 was a critical success). This leads me to a disturbing conclusion; Nintendo might be right when they ignore the advice of people like me.
The NX time around: Nintendo seems constitutionally incapable of feeling urgency, and will always approach difficulties in a frustratingly methodical way. But if they do everything else right - and that's a mighty big if - then panic will never be necessary.

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