Everyone’s heard it all before. “ The Wii U is doooomed! Nintendo is the new SEGA! They’ve destroyed the video game industry forever!!1!” A lot of video game publications may be overdramatizing Nintendo’s situation when they make these ridiculous claims, but it's hard to deny that the Wii U has seen shockingly weak performance, putting Nintendo’s home console business in a bit of a bind.
Nintendo has plenty of money. Their portable console business is healthier than ever and their less-than-successful consoles are continually supported by Nintendo software and Nintendo fans. For these very reasons, I have faith that the Wii U will be fine—it does not need to be “saved.” However, its sales still do pale in comparison to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and Nintendo has displayed far too many issues with public relations, advertising, branding, online infrastructure, and more to reshape that hierarchy. It’s simply too late for Wii U to become anything more than a pacifier while we wait for Nintendo’s next console. Thus, Nintendo’s goal should not be to make the “ultimate console” in any sense of the term, but rather to provide the best-selling pacifier they reasonably can.
To accomplish this, Nintendo must focus on a clear goal for the Wii U and make every decision with this goal carefully in mind. Nintendo must create the best consumer value and properly inform the public without expending misguided or excessive resources. In this light, there is plenty that Nintendo can do to ensure a faster turnaround, greater success, and longer-lasting significance for the Wii U, even *gasp* without third-party support.
Actually Use the Virtual Console
During the Wii’s lifetime, one of the best features the console had to offer was the Virtual Console, which was home to digital reproductions of nearly every Nintendo game worth owning. Every week, Nintendo would release a small selection of games, usually with one or two titles that were at least worth consideration. By the time that they had stopped releasing games, it was because just about everything that Nintendo had to offer was already there. They had even localized and released a handful of games whose original runs were limited to Japan. That’s what I call dedication.
Now we’re here at the tail end of 2013, and after Wii U’s entire year on the market, there are maybe ten games worth owning, at best. By this point in the Wii’s life, we had upwards of twenty from Nintendo alone. What happened to Nintendo 64 games? What about the GameCube games we’ve been teased about for so long? What about the games that they already released on Wii’s Virtual Console and somehow can’t be bothered to bring over to Wii U?
Making these games digitally available is cheap and easy. There is no reason to justify not only why the Wii U’s Virtual Console has only one game that we didn’t already play to death on the Wii, but why Nintendo’s digital library is actually smaller than what they offered six years ago. Making these games, and more, readily available for download would be an effective and inexpensive way to expand their software library and enhance the consumer experience.
I would give them a lot of credit here if that whole “ReUmagined” rumor proves true. Speaking of which...
Make the Best of Your IPs. All of Them.
Nintendo fans keep coming back to the Big N time and again because of their enchanting and diverse set of characters, worlds, and styles of gameplay. Nintendo fans, like no others, have the capacity to get excited about games simply by virtue of the associated characters and brands, even when they’re never played them. That’s a powerful thing. And when Nintendo uses this to their advantage by making incredible games out of pre-existing franchises, publicity and word of mouth drive sales like crazy.
A prime example of this effect is Fire Emblem Awakening. Since its release, Awakening has sold twice as many copies as the Nintendo DS’ Shadow Dragon on a console with only a quarter of the install base. That’s eight times more successful, because people who had known about Fire Emblem and wanted to love it finally had a reason to get involved. The game was a great entry point for new players and called back to tons of features that old Fire Emblem fans loved, all while introducing plenty of new ideas that made it a unique experience in and of itself. Thanks to Fire Emblem Awakening, gamers got a title that will forever be adored, and Nintendo got the most commercially successful Fire Emblem game to date. Both sides got exactly what they wanted.
This design philosophy is what’s made A Link Between Worlds so popular in only one week. To some extent, it’s what drove other successful games like Donkey Kong Country Returns and Pokémon X and Y. And it’s what Nintendo needs to do to captivate their fans in droves to the Wii U.
Give us another Metroid Prime-style game. Give us another HD remake or two like with The Wind Waker. Give us Super Mario Galaxy 3. Take the Kid Icarus: Uprising route and turn a long-dead game or two like Mach Rider, Ice Climber, or even Geist into the extraordinary titles we know they have the potential to be. Bring back Star Fox, Eternal Darkness and F-Zero, dammit! A new IP couldn't hurt. And don’t think for a second about putting anything less than 110% into these titles, or you’ll undermine the entire purpose of reviving them.
If you give your loyal fans something to love, I promise you will be rewarded.
Market the Damn Thing Correctly
Since day one, the message of the Wii U has been confusing. “Is this a console for the Blue Ocean gamer, or a console for the hardcore crowd? Is it a new machine, or is it just a peripheral for the Wii I already own?” Reggie Fils-Aime has already expressed that he thinks the consumer now knows the difference between the Wii and the Wii U, but this attitude within themselves is exactly what they need to combat if they want to have any semblance of hope for the console. No matter what Reggie may say, consumers are still unclear.
I’ve seen dozens of people claiming that Nintendo should have named the Wii U differently, and while I certainly agree, this is a tired and irrelevant critique. Nintendo can’t backtrack and rebrand the entire console. Nintendo can’t go back and lure in third parties again. All that is said and done, and hindsight is no use to us here. We need to Nintendo to work with what they have, rather than pretending the Wii U can be something it’s not.
I’ve got to give credit where credit is due and pat Nintendo on the back for picking up their advertising in the last few months, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean they’re doing a good job.
First of all, they don’t talk about the console like it’s anything new. Their commercials call Wii U an “upgrade” from the Wii and say that it plays different games. That’s just not the way good marketing works. They need to call it an entirely new system. They need to say that the console is better—that the games look better, feel better, and are better. You can’t tell your customers that something is “different” and expect it to work; you have to send the message that this experience is fundamentally better.
Second of all, their commercials are based almost entirely around children. Wii U is a great console for kids, I’ll grant it. But the Wii U is not just a toy, and you know it, so stop telling the public that that it’s a kids’ console. By all means emphasize family fun—when it works, it can be a great thing. But don’t think its all-ages accessibility alone will push sales, and don’t think that commercials, by nature, mean the problem is fixed. No matter what a system’s commercial may say, if the main players in every ad are children, the only people who will take the console seriously are children.
There are plenty of great aspects about the console that make great selling points for gamers of all creeds. Wii U is the only console in this generation that offers backwards compatibility. It also has an entire community of Miiverse users ready to help you solve a puzzle or find some hidden lives on a moment’s notice. Its GamePad’s touchscreen offers the best HUDs and menu systems to date, and the fact that you can play games entirely on the GamePad screen means that if someone wants to use the TV for… you know… television, then there’s no need to sacrifice your game time. Not to mention that it's fully compatible with the Wii U Pro Controller, which is specifically designed for those used to a more traditional control scheme.
These kinds of features are relevant and useful for all players, from the six-year-old playing Dewey’s Adventure to the most devout Call of Duty fan in the world. The sooner Nintendo starts emphasizing these features and diversifying their line of commercials, the better the Wii U will fare in the long haul.
Stop Selling the Wii in North America
Come on, now. Who do you really think you’re helping?
Send the Right Message
Nintendo’s idea of their target audience seems to be caught up in a limbo between the Blue Ocean gamer and the hardcore market. That’s precisely their problem—they’re in a limbo between the two, rather than accepting that the console can serve both purposes. That would be a tricky stunt for most home consoles to pull off, but if the Wii U’s purpose truly is that of a pacifier, there’s no reason it can’t pacify both ends of the spectrum. Because they don’t need to try and outpace the competition, the only message Nintendo needs to send is that it’s a console worth buying.
The three groups of people Nintendo needs to send this message to are Nintendo fans, the Blue Ocean market, and the hardcore gamers. Sending this message to Nintendo fans is easy, because we fans have consistently proven that we will buy a console merely for Nintendo software. Sending this message to the hardcore market requires a bit more planning, but games like Bayonetta and Metroid, alongside a little bit of promotional work and some advertising of the beautiful Wii U Pro Controller, should do the trick nicely enough to draw in a healthy chunk of gamers. Getting through to the Blue Ocean market is the trickiest hurdle, because those who buy games and consoles for fun or function are precisely the people who ask, “why is Wii Fit U so much better than Wii Fit that I should spend an extra $300?” But by emphasizing features like Off-TV play and the Wii Fit Counter, they can again draw in a healthy chunk of consumers.
Remember, the idea isn’t to captivate everyone, but to do their best with what they reasonably can achieve.
Nintendo cannot catch up to Microsoft and Sony. They’re playing a different game now. They need to keep their fans happy while doing what they reasonably can to push hardware to as many people as possible.
I love Nintendo and I want them to succeed. That’s precisely why we can’t pretend they’re doing everything right. Otherwise, they may never realize they’re doing anything wrong.