Editorial: What Nintendo Needs to do to Save the Wii U

Editorial: What Nintendo Needs to do to Save the Wii U

How Nintendo can turn the Wii U around.

Unless you’ve been living under a Martian rock, you’ve probably heard that Nintendo revised its sale forecast, slashing its Wii U sale estimates by nearly 70% for the end of the fiscal year (March 2014). In a nutshell, what this means is that Nintendo has some serious work to do if they plan to turn their flagging system around. While armchair analysts continue to debate where exactly Nintendo went wrong, I decided to explore some options that the Big N should consider if it plans to turn the Wii U into a success.

Third Party Support

Let’s get the ball rolling with the obvious. While Nintendo has an incredible lineup of games from itself and its partner studios set to hit the Wii U in 2014, its third-party support is, to put it mildly, lacking. Great-looking games like Destiny, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII,  and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes  are all skipping over Nintendo’s system but releasing on both current and last-gen hardware. While this is nothing new to those who call Nintendo their gaming provider of choice, it’s a trend that has hurt Nintendo severely over the past two decades and needs to be turned around. The following table lists all the notable announced third-party games for the Wii U compared to Nintendo’s first-party lineup.

2014 First Party Wii U Games

2014 Third Party Wii U Games

Mario Kart 8

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Hyrule Warriors

Project CARS

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Child of Light

X

Watch Dogs

Yarn Yoshi

LEGO The Hobbit

Bayonetta 2

The LEGO Movie Videogame

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

-

Both the Nintendo 64 and GameCube suffered from a serious lack of third-party support, which resulted in the systems selling significantly less than their main rivals. The Wii also experienced third-parties’ cold shoulder, but in a completely different way. The system roared out of the gate and was soon embraced by third-party studios who showered the Wii with hundreds of games. The problem was that Nintendo blew most of them out of the water. Games like Wii Fit, Mario Kart Wii  and Super Smash Bros. Brawl  all easily outsold most of the games that third-party studios put on Nintendo’s console, which led to a presumption among publishers that only Nintendo games sell on Nintendo systems.

Third parties still aren’t supporting Nintendo.

This eventually led to many publishers deciding to focus their efforts instead on supporting the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, who both received the lion’s share of quality third-party experiences of the last generation. This forced Nintendo to carry the burden of supporting a console with nearly 100 million owners all by itself. When the Wii U was announced, it seemed that finally, after nearly 20 years, third-party publishers had returned to Nintendo’s side – but as time went on, it soon became apparent that Nintendo would once again be forced to carry the bulk of the load of supporting its system. This is a trend that Nintendo must rectify if the Wii U has any hope of seeing success. While exclusives like Zombi U  and Bayonetta 2  are a fantastic start, Nintendo needs to start showing third-party studios why their games belong on the Wii U as well as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Stronger Online Presence

Don’t be fooled; Nintendo has made massive strides in the online world since the launch of the Wii and DS. Since then, we’ve seen things like e-Shop (and its integrated accounts) and, of course, Miiverse, which can be considered one of Nintendo’s greatest innovations this generation. But even with all these advancements, Nintendo seems stuck in the past when compared with Sony and Microsoft’s online offerings.

One of the most glaring issues with Nintendo’s online presence is the fact that Nintendo themselves aren’t supporting it. Sure, first-party Wii U and 3DS titles will feature token online modes and Miiverse integration. But, while they are entertaining, they don’t show that Nintendo has embraced a world where online gameplay is a key selling point. Now, I’m not saying Nintendo needs to add online gameplay to every game; they just need to strengthen their presence in this field, as this will attract even more players to log into and play over the Nintendo Network.  Case in point, Call of Duty: Ghosts, arguably the Wii U’s premiere online experience, rarely has more than 10 000 players active at any one time, while its contemporaries boast hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of active players. If Nintendo would embrace their strengthened online presence, others will surely follow.

It’s fun on Wii U; too bad only like 10 people play it.

Branding

This is arguably the Wii U’s largest failings and also one of its more frustrating elements. Simply said, no one knows what it is. When the system was revealed at E3 2011, there was a large amount of confusion as to what exactly a Wii U was. Was it an accessory for the Wii? Was it a Wii capable of HD graphics? Or was it a brand new system? No one seemed to know (I didn’t, and I was right in the audience!) and Nintendo was very slow to try to correct misconceptions, which resulted in most of the confusion you hear about today.

What’s most frustrating about this is that this is the second time that Nintendo made this mistake. When the Nintendo 3DS was revealed, most people assumed it was another re-design to the original DS, only one that could display in stereoscopic 3D. Again, Nintendo was forced to take drastic measures, slashing the 3DS’ price dramatically shortly after its launch in an effort to spur on its latest handheld. And while today the 3DS enjoys solid sales, the Wii U branding issue remains front and center.

If you’ll indulge me, I have an idea as to how Nintendo might spur on interest in their console: a complete re-branding. First off, drop the “Wii” part from the name and simply call it the “U”. Change all the packaging and game covers to reflect this change. The console itself and the Gamepad could do with a slight aesthetic upgrade so as not to resemble their past selves too much. And while a total re-branding is expensive, it’s not as expensive as developing a whole new console from scratch.

Can you tell these apart?

Marketing

Ok, now that we’ve totally re-branded the Wii U (sorry, U), it’s time for Nintendo to fix one of their biggest missteps of the past two years: their marketing. During its long history, Nintendo has been known for some truly brilliant marketing campaigns. A few examples of this are: “Now You’re Playing with Power” (NES); “Get ‘N or Get Out” (N64); “Touching is Good” (DS); and, of course, “Wii Would Like to Play” (WII). That last one cemented the Wii as a must-own piece of technology for nearly seven years, and sold nearly all of the console’s qualities in a short 30 seconds. For the Wii U, Nintendo débuted a campaign titled “How U Will Play Next”; while the title is catchy, the ads themselves were devoid of much personality and certainly did not do much to sell the Wii U’s unique features.

What Nintendo’s marketing team (or the agency they contract) needs to pinpoint are the console’s clear and visible strengths. Yes, it can play Mario and Zelda, but for parents (the group that buys the most consoles), the biggest selling points are the Off-TV play, the easy connectivity to services like Miiverse, Netflix, and YouTube, and, of course, the price. Sure, your Xbox One can play Assassin’s Creed IV and Call of Duty: Ghosts, but so can the Wii U, at $200.00 less.

The Wii U had a lackluster marketing campaign.

If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that Nintendo has a lot of work to do to bring the Wii U back to the respectability it deserves. The console itself is an impressive piece of hardware with a surprisingly strong lineup of games that were recently released and coming in the near future. So the onus falls on Nintendo to not only cultivate a better relationship with third-party publishers, but to improve upon their own systems as well as to look at what makes the Wii U unique and sell it based on those aspects. Only then will Nintendo truly have saved the Wii U.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of 3GEM Studios.