Wii U, we had a lot of good times together. We soared through the skies of Mira in our customized Skells, tortured ourselves on the most masochistic Mario levels ever created, even ventured to Hell and back to save our friendly neighborhood witch. I’ll treasure these memories forever but I believe it is about time we say goodbye, my friend. Mistakes were made and things were said but in the end, nothing can change the fact that you simply didn’t sell. It’s nobody’s fault… or is it?
As one of the scant 13 million Wii U owners worldwide, I’ve thought a lot about why this console failed so spectacularly despite having some incredible games. I believe that there are several answers to that question that can be divided into three major categories.
1) The Hardware
Many people throw around theories that the Wii U failed because it had weaker hardware than the competition. I call bullshit on this. Nintendo has always had the weaker hardware in every console generation since they started but it has never had a major impact on sales or importance.
No, I think there are a few very concrete things that people objected to with the Wii U. The first is the whole controller situation. Let me explain this nonsense for anyone without a Wii U. The crux of the console is the gamepad, a tablet-style controller with standard buttons and a big ol’ touch screen in the middle. It’s got everything you’d want in a controller, besides being pretty bulky, but the console only allows one of these to be played on a console at once. If you want to play multiplayer games, you need to use one of the Wii U’s other controller options. Some games will use the original Wii Remotes while some others will use the new Wii U Pro Controller, just a standard looking controller comparable to the Xbox One’s or PS4’s. That means if you want to be prepared for multiplayer gaming sessions on the Wii U, you need to have one Gamepad, four Wii Remotes and four Wii U Pro Controllers. Don’t forget the attachments for the Wii Remotes like the Wii Motion Plus’ or the Nunchuks! That’s just for basic games, not even counting things like Guitar Hero or Wii Fit U which require additional peripherals. All together, this will cost you $420 at retail cost! Don’t even get me started on the confusion that all will cause. Compare that to the Xbox One or PS4 that only cost $150 to buy three controllers in addition to the one that comes with the console. You also get the confidence that comes with knowing those controllers will work with almost any game for the console with usually very obvious exceptions (like Guitar Hero or Rock Band)
On the other hand, the Wii U gamepad brought some benefits along with it. You could play games on the gamepad entirely independently of the TV that the Wii U is attached to, meaning you could theoretically play the Wii U in a different room entirely from the console. Also, it allowed for very different kinds of gaming experiences since the gamepad had a touchscreen. Games like Super Mario Maker would have been far less impressive or intuitive on a traditional controller. All of this is mitigated by the terrible battery life of the controller. No joke, our controller at home will never see more than three hours before we have to plug it back into the wall and it was like that from day one. So despite the console clearly trying to make the player feel freed from the tethers of a home console, it actually winds up trapping them further by essentially taking away their wireless controller. Also, the ability to play a game solely on the controller will only go about 30 feet from the console with clear line of sight before it starts breaking up. Forget about trying to go into another room with this.
These problems with the hardware are a constant problem that severely limit the console’s capabilities.
2) The Software
The two worst mistakes that Nintendo made with the Wii U, in my opinion, were to only allow one gamepad per console and to force developers to allow players to play using only the gamepad screen. Let me explain why with a few potential game ideas that require these restrictions be lifted:
- NFL games such as Madden could finally solve the timeless problem of making sure your opponents cannot see what plays you are picking by having both players choose plays on their own gamepads
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords for the Gamecube was a great game hampered by the fact that each player needed a GBA with a Gamecube-GBA Link Cable to play it as each player needed to see the TV and their own secret screen as well. The Wii U could have done this without the need for any extra peripherals.
- Star Fox Zero could have had real multiplayer…
- Card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! or Magic: The Gathering could have easily come out with video game adaptations utilizing the individual touchscreens.
I’m not even a game developer and the possibilities seem endless but these restrictions made it so that the second screen had to be redundant or unnecessary. This undoubtedly upset third parties who wanted more freedom to make the games they wanted to make. This would explain why major developers expressed excitement over the Wii U in the beginning but soon turned against it by the release date.
This caused a huge dearth in content for the console for early adopters. My wife and I bought one only a few months after the console’s release along with New Super Mario Bros. U. That remained the only game we owned for the console for almost a YEAR. It wasn’t for lack of searching, either, there just wasn’t anything interesting available. Nowadays, we have several great options but that wasn’t the case in the beginning when the public was the most excited for the new hardware.
The lack of sales also meant that third-party developers and publishers simply didn’t bother releasing anything for the console. Even now, the Wii U will only get occasional leftovers from the largest publishers, never getting console exclusives.
3) The Marketing
I don’t think I need to recap the disaster that was the Wii U reveal but I will anyway! When they initially announced the Wii U, they showed off the gamepad… and nothing else. Even dedicated gamers weren’t entirely certain that the new hardware was actually a new console or just a peripheral for the Wii, since the demonstration even involved a Wii Remote. The console itself wasn’t shown until several months after. Not only that, but when they booked a major spot on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show, he actually announced it as a peripheral, further confusing people about what the Wii U actually was.
While game journalists attempted to clear things up for everyone, Nintendo stayed silent for far too long, simply letting the confusion fester. So when everyone should have been the most excited for the new console, they instead simply tried to find out what the thing even was.
The games were where this excitement could have been made up but they failed at producing an even decent launch list. Of the 23 launch titles in NA, 15 were simply ports of games that had already been released elsewhere, most of the others were less than notable. Frankly, the only games with any real selling power were Nintendo Land, a mini-game compilation teaching the system’s mechanics, New Super Mario Bros. U, and ZombiU. Let me tell you, it wasn’t any more exciting then than it sounds now. It took more than a year for Nintendo to release anything else of any real note and even that was simply a remake of Wind Waker.
So, since nobody had any good games to talk about for the Wii U, journalists wrote countless articles about all of the hardware problems instead! All anyone got to see was bad press surrounding this new console and there was very little Nintendo could do about it until everyone just got bored and moved on.
So those are the major reasons that the Wii U failed but how can Nintendo recover? Can they recover at all? The answer to that is absolutely and while they are still making some strange marketing choices for the NX, they are making a lot of good changes as well.
The first step is their willingness to admit and understand their mistakes. Nintendo cannot fix their mistakes if they don’t recognize what those mistakes are but it sounds like they have which is always a good sign. Next, they need to re-evaluate their strengths. While the Wii U failed to keep up Nintendo’s bottom line, the 3DS has continued to do very well. If the rumors about the NX are true, Nintendo sees this and wants to merge the two audiences by making the first hybrid console.
They also appear to be working on bulking up their first-party offerings to push consoles right from the start. Zelda: Breath of the Wild will likely be a launch title and there are rumors that a major Mario and Pokemon title will also be available either at launch or shortly afterwards. These would be extremely beneficial titles to have at the beginning and will help to get third party developers/publishers to support the console.
There are still some elements about the console that they must address in order to ensure that the NX will be a success. The first is online capabilities. The Wii U has brought in most common online functions to Nintendo consoles but they are all implemented poorly. The Miiverse is a sad, sad place for anyone filled with dumb screenshots and pointless posts. It’s a far cry from the promised land of gaming social media combined with walkthroughs and news.
The eShop also needs to not suck. Currently, it’s incredibly difficult to find anything even by searching the exact name of the game. Searching for Lego Batman in the Wii U’s eShop will give countless trailers before ever even mentioning an actual game. Compare that to the PS4’s marketplace or the Xbox 360’s (the Xbox One’s sucks too…) where you can easily find whatever you are looking for within only a few moments and the problem becomes apparent.
Finally, the NX needs a NAME!! We’re only about 7 months away from release and we have no official word of what the NX even is. That’s completely unacceptable and the fact that we have nothing but rumors and reports to go off of is a major problem. The Wii U lost control of their marketing and if they aren’t careful, the NX will suffer the same problem.
There are many Nintendo doomsayers, pronouncing the end of the company. That is ridiculous. Nintendo’s finances are fine and the company isn’t going anywhere just because of the Wii U’s failure but changes are absolutely in the company’s future.
Wii U, you may have been taken from us far too young but at least you have left us with hope. In the last couple years, you have really turned things around and left your successor with a very strong place. You even shared your new Zelda game with it before you left us. I hope that this will be enough.