Posted on July 08 2011 by Benjamin Lamoreux
The past fifteen years has seen some major changes in the face of the conosle wars. Gradually, Nintendo saw a decline from their seat of power, with the Playstation outselling the Nintendo 64, and the Gamecube failing to truly compete with either Sony or Mircosoft. The current generation saw Nintendo switch strategies, with the launching of the Nintendo Wii attracting a wide range of people who had never been considered gamers before, and the results were mixed. From a marketing standpoint, it was a huge success, with the Wii outselling all its competitors by a large margin. As a system though, many of the longtime gamers felt that it was simply not on par with what we’ve come to expect in this industry.
Nintendo is aware of this, and even the very title of their upcoming system is meant to reflect this. The Wii attracted a large crowd and brought a lot to the table for the gaming industry, but it wasn’t for everyone. With the Wii U, Nintendo looks to release a system that you can be assured is for you. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime has said many times since the initial announcement at E3 that Nintendo firmly believes that the 86 million strong fanbase that purchused the Wii will also purchuse a Wii U, and that because it’s designed to attract the fans that the Wii lost because of its unconventionality, additional people will also buy it. Nintendo anticipates it to be even more successful than the Wii, but I’m not sold on that.
While Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 focused on superior processing power and High Definition compatibility with the current generation, Nintendo opted on going for a more varied gameplay experience, using Motion Controls and a software lineup that would attract a new crowd of gamers. Rather than engaging in a three-way battle for who has the better graphics, Nintendo let Sony and Microsoft fight for essentially the same crowd, while Nintendo carved out their own market. Many people who had never touched a video game in their life now have a Wii sitting in their living room. From the “casual gamer” who decided to try a video game for the first time, to an older generation buying up fitness and sports games, Nintendo tapped a previously untappable market, and achieved massive success with a system that was arguably quite inferior to the competition. Having attempted to compete for the same market as the other two companies with the Gamecube, and coming up short, the Wii was the right business decision for Nintendo to regain their throne.
The next step in Nintendo’s eyes is to retain the new auidence they reached with the Wii, while re-entering the competition for the market that Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are currently battling over. If done correctly, this could be Nintendo’s chance to really pull ahead in the console war, but in the attempt to do both, Nintendo might fail to do either.
In creating a graphically superior system, with an innovative controller, Nintendo opens up a lot of opportunities for third party companies to come in and make quality games that we didn’t see on the Wii. But this also means that the price of the Wii U is going to be higher than that of the Wii, and that the focus has shifted away from motion controls. First time gamers who bought the Wii did so because it was the cheapest option out there, and it offered the most unique experience. Nintendo is staying pretty tight-lipped about the Wii U’s pricing, but Nintendo Global President Satoru Iwata has already let it slip that it will be more expensive than the Wii was. With the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 now more affordable than they were at launch, and now both offering their own motion-based experience, if Nintendo wants to continue to draw in first time gamers, they have to prove that the Wii U can offer more entertainment opportunities than what the competition has to offer, because they no longer have the price tag advantage.
Nintendo believes the ability to stream game content to the Wii U controller will make this a reality. There’s a lot of potential in this idea, but it all comes down to whether or not the casual fan is convinced that these new features are enough to make them open their wallets and upgrade from a Wii to a Wii U. This has to feel like more than just another accessory. It has to be a game changer. Given Nintendo’s track record at innovation, it might seem like a no brainer that they can pull this off, but there are already question marks surfacing. Because their E3 presentation focused almost exclusively on the controller, and because of the similar names, many people did not even realize that the Wii U was a new system. Nintendo wanted a name people were familiar with, but there has to be enough distinction between the two systems as they prepare to start marketing it to convince people they need to buy it.
If Nintendo succeeds in wowing their newfound audience of gamers with new gameplay possibilities, and convinces them this isn’t just a lame accessory, but a must-have console, there’s still another audience that I feel Nintendo is inevitably going to lose with the Wii U. If I had told you fifteen years ago that a video game system would be commonplace in the home of the average grandparents, you would have thought me to be crazy. With Nintendo’s vast array of easy-to-use fitness, exercise, and sports games, that’s become a reality. Many people far past the normal age for a gamer bought a Wii, because they wanted to play Wii Fit, Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, and a host of other games. Tennis, golf, bowling, and much more, now all available in the living room for grandma and grandpa. Backwards compatibility or not, this is a demographic that is simply not going to purchase a Wii U. Your grandparents aren’t interested in spending more money just so that they can see their little Mii characters exercise in High Definition. That fancy new controller isn’t going to excite them either. While this has little to do with you or me, Nintendo has to be blind to think that every single person who bought a Wii is going to buy a Wii U. It’s just not practical.
So then there’s the other side of the market. Nintendo’s lack of support from the more “hardcore” third party companies was almost comprehensive with the Gamecube and the Wii. In this generation in particular, subpar graphics and a nearly non-existent online experience cost Nintendo a lot of support. At E3 we saw a few examples of what the Wii U can do graphically, and it’s pretty impressive. While little has been said about the online, Nintendo assures us that it’s a vast improvement over the Wii, and there’s been some pretty positive reactions from third party developers. Toss in the innovative new controller that has everyone buzzing, and Nintendo believes they have the key to winning back third party support, and with it, the crowd of hardcore gamers they lost over the past two generations. Is it enough though?
We hear a lot of third party developers talk about how great the system is, how impressive the graphics are, and how cool the controller is. A lot of them seem to be chomping at the bit to develop for it, and that’s just great on the surface, but to justify launching the Wii U before either of the competition companies launch their next consoles, the Wii U can’t just compete with the current market. It has to dominate it. Getting “special versions” of new games, like Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, isn’t going to convince people that they need to buy a Wii U. The Wii U needs exclusive titles that neither the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3 have, or there’s no point in a non-Nintendo gamer buying it.
While both Sony and Microsoft claim that their new consoles aren’t due out until around 2015, I think the market will dictate a more speedy re-entry into the console wars. I see a 2013 or 2014 release, in response to the Wii U, as a more likely timeframe. This gives the Wii U around two years to build up momentum, and prove to the non-Nintendo world that the Wii U is a must have if you want to play the absolute best new games, before Sony and Microsoft have a chance to retaliate.
If Nintendo succeeds in bringing in a new crowd that didn’t buy a Wii, and the combination of the Wii U’s power and unique experience ends up being comparable to the next generation of the competeition’s consoles, then Nintendo will truly have a foothold in the third party again. To be truly competetive in that market, Nintendo needs to get enough third party support that people begin to say, “I don’t really need to buy a Playstation 4. I can get most of those games on my Wii U, so it’s not really worth paying for another system.” If Nintendo can’t do this, than any momentum they gained with the initial launch of the Wii U will be lost, and their third party support will start to slip again.
Make no mistake, the Wii U is going to sell, and it’s going to sell well. Nintendo proved with the Wii that they don’t necessarily need third party support in order to stay afloat financially. Nintendo has by far the strongest lineup of first party titles. Sure, Microsoft has “must buy” titles like Halo, and Sony had the same with “God of War”, but that doesn’t compare to a lineup of Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and much more. Regardless of third party support, Nintendo is going to make money off the Wii U, but they’re not satisfied with that. They want this to be a system that everyone wants, and that’s why establishing themselves as a major player in the more hardcore world of third party gaming within the first two years of the Wii U is essential. If they don’t do this, history repeats itself, and Nintendo goes back to being the system you buy because you want to play Mario, and not the system you buy because it meets all of your gaming needs, and you don’t have to spend money on another system to go with it.
The Wii U has massive potential, and I believe as a piece of hardware it is far superior to anything out there right now, but I have my doubts about if it can outsell the Wii. If I had to make a prediction right now, I’d say that the effort that Nintendo has put into attracting third party companies will lead to a sizeable jump in sales of software for at least two years. Those who only buy Nintendo systems can be satisfied that they’re getting games they couldn’t have before, and people who own both a Wii U and a rival console might choose to buy the Wii U version of a game over the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 version, but can Nintendo keep that trend going when the competition launch their next generation of consoles? In terms of hardware, until I see the Wii U getting exclusive releases of popular franchises, I don’t see the Wii U attracting a substantial amount of customers that the Wii didn’t already have.
I hope I’m wrong. Nintendo does have a way of surprising us, and finding ways to succeed that most wouldn’t think of. But for now, I see the Wii U as an amazing system that won’t sell as well as it should, and probably won’t sell as well as its predecessor.