News of the discontinuation of the Wii U came as no surprise with all of the rumors circulating in the months building up to the announcement that Nintendo would cease production of the device. I will be looking at why the console by and large didn’t live up to our expectations.
Let’s start by looking at the figures; the Wii U has sold just over 13 million units, which is only slightly more than the Sega Master System managed in its day. That’s worse than the Gamecube, which did terribly in the market, despite being a decent enough system, in this writer’s opinion.
What’s concerning about those figures is the estimated figures from Nintendo’s competitors; Sony have sold around 50 million Playstation 4’s (as of December 2016) and Microsoft have sold above 30 million Xbox Ones to date (last published sales figures). The damning nature of those figures is only hit home when you compare the sales figures to Nintendo’s own Wii, which sold in excess of 100 million units, which puts it in the top 5 selling consoles of all time.
So why did the Wii U sell so poorly? Part of the reason for its lack of success can be attributed to the fact that most people didn’t know what the Wii U was when it was announced, or even after its initial release. The general public appeared confused as to what exactly the Wii U was; was it an upgrade or accessory for the Wii? A full blown successor? This was never clear in Nintendo’s marketing campaign or their initial announcement.
Speaking of the initial announcement, the emphasis on the unveiling was completely on the new tablet controller, which by large, we thought it WAS the new Nintendo system. With most of the press event solely focused on the controller; how were we to think anything else? Nintendo didn’t show the actual console during the show and the spokesman even referred to the tablet as the system; so did they get it wrong? They sure did.
Most people (the ones I know anyway) won’t make an uninformed decision when it comes to buying a new piece of hardware in this day and age, and without knowing what it was they were buying, people were clearly giving the Wii U a pass.
Even Nintendo accept that they didn’t make the message clear when it came to telling us what the Wii U was supposed to be. Shigeru Miyamoto said in an interview “I feel like people never really understood the concept behind Wii U and what we were trying to do. I think the assumption is we were trying to create a game machine and a tablet and really what we were trying to do was create a game system that gave you tablet-like functionality for controlling that system and give you two screens that would allow different people in the living room to play in different ways. Unfortunately, because tablets, at the time, were adding more and more functionality and becoming more and more prominent, this system and this approach didn’t mesh well with the period in which we released it.”
The advertising from Nintendo for the original Wii was incredibly clever and probably attributed to why it was so successful. You took one look at the advert and you know what it is and what it’s supposed to do. Why Nintendo didn’t emulate their own successful advertising is still unclear, but it still beggars belief that they got it so wrong after being so successful with the Wii.
Nintendo has made some poor business decisions over the years, which has ultimately left some vocal Nintendo fans feeling apathetic towards the company. The first party games are what makes Nintendo great, but it becomes increasingly frustrating when certain franchises in Nintendo’s roster are so often overlooked.
What do we expect? A few Mario games, a Zelda title and maybe a Smash Bros game; but when was the last time we saw a great Metroid or Star Fox game? The last entry of Metroid didn’t include Samus, the main protagonist, and the last Star Fox game was marred as an elaborate tech demo for the Wii U, which further highlighted some of the design & control flaws.
Speaking of games, the launch titles for the Wii U were not “system sellers”. There was the New Super Mario Bros & Zombie U which looked pretty good, but many of the other games at launch were mini game bundles or party games aimed at a younger or casual gaming audience.
The Wii had Wii Sports which showcased the new hardware at the time, utilizing many different functions of the Wii’s motion controller. The Wii U didn’t have a launch title that did this.
Sony & Microsoft have always had their exclusives which have helped them sell their systems, but usually with a strong line-up of 3rd party games in the wayside. Nintendo has some really famous IP’s they can bank on to attract loyal fans, such as the promise of a new Zelda, Smash Bros or Pokemon if we’re going the handheld route (maybe another time).
Not only were the launch titles a poor showing, but the 3rd party support from outside developers ended up being one of the major reasons the Wii U just didn’t have any games. Electronic Arts famously released a press statement saying they would not support the Wii U, and many other developers followed suit.
The Wii U did have a few games that made the console appealing; Super Smash Bros, Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, Splatoon & Yoshi’s Wooly World. In fact, we already put together a list of what games we recommend for the system, if you happen to own one or are thinking of buying one.
Lastly, before I wrap this up, let’s talk about Nintendo’s online service. Nintendo has a flipping huge library of classic games. The Wii U over the course of its lifespan has managed to accumulate just under 300 of these NES/SNES titles in total, which when you do the math; is a pitiful amount of games. Many of these games are short and are considered disposable games since they are anything up to 32 years old. You want a huge variety of choice at your disposal as you want to be knee deep in nostalgia as you embrace the bygone 8bit/16bit days of yore.
Also, while I’m talking about it – International games that don’t hit the E-store. Many companies have accepted there is now a worldwide marketplace; unlike Nintendo. No, Nintendo still feels the need to stagger releases worldwide or in some cases (like Koei did with Romance of the Three Kingdoms for god knows how many years) don’t release their products internationally at all.
The business attitude of a company of this stature is staggering. If this were Electronic Arts, Ubisoft or even Square Enix committing these decisions of borderline arrogance; these companies would be pitted against an unruly mob with pitchforks approach, but because Nintendo was a huge part of many of our childhoods, it’s almost like the company gets a free pass.
Honestly, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted, the rant is over. I love Nintendo, I’m hopeful for the Nintendo Switch and that Nintendo has learned from their mistakes from the disaster that was the Wii U.
Ryan Griffiths is a British gamer, known as a bit of a lone wolf. Retro games are his passion, with newer releases not living up to his expectations. Of course there are exceptions to the rule when it comes to Dynasty Warriors & Total War games.