The world’s most famous overall-wearing Italian plumber is in serious trouble. His creators, Nintendo, are not doing so well. In mid-January, Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata announced a revised forecast for the company’s fiscal year. The forecast changed from a profit of 55 billion yen, to a loss of 25 billion yen ($240 million USD). The same company that started a videogame revolution just 8 years ago with the Wii, is now struggling to stay relevant.
Nintendo played a significant role in the creation of modern home videogames. Ever since the first Nintendo system came to America in 1985, the name Nintendo has been synonymous with videogames. In 2006 Nintendo introduced the Wii, something brand new for videogames at the time. It featured a remote-like controller that is motion sensing. With the Wii, Nintendo showed that videogames could be for everyone. Suddenly your parents or little sister started asking if you had heard of titles such as Wii Sports or Just Dance.
They started “playing” Wii Fit, a fitness based game that exploded with the soccer-mom demographic. Nintendo stopped advertising to adolescent males and started advertising to families. They expanded a market that desperately needed to broaden its horizons and lose its negative connotation of toys for teenage boys. The Wii went on to sell over 100 million units worldwide, handily beating the competition of Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Unfortunately, the success was short lived.
How could Nintendo fall so hard so fast? Wii U. Heard of it? Probably not. If you had heard of it, what might you think it was? A new game for Wii? A peripheral or some kind of upgrade for your current Wii? The Wii U came out in November 2012, and had a whole year head start over the competition for the next generation of home video game consoles. In the first two months of release, Sony’s PlayStation 4 sold an astonishing 4.2 million units, Microsoft’s Xbox One sold a still-impressive 3 million. Nintendo’s most recent forecast predicts sales of 2.8 million units for the entire fiscal year ending in March. That’s right, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One outsold the Wii U’s entire fiscal year in just two months. Nintendo’s new home console has been a colossal failure. Why?
The Wii U lacks a vision. The gimmick of the Wii, the motion control remote, was revolutionary. The gimmick of the Wii U, a bulky tablet controller, is expensive and not revolutionary. Nintendo did need to release a new console, the success of the Wii could only last so long before Sony and Microsoft caught up. But they released an expensive (compared to Wii) console with no vision, and more importantly, no games. The Wii was a hit because it came with Wii Sports. The second you got home and turned on your new tiny white little box, you instantly got it. You knew as soon as you played Wii Tennis or Bowling what Nintendo’s vision for videogames was.
The reasons for failure continue, with poor messaging of the Wii U’s value proposition as well as outdated hardware not nearly as capable as Sony’s powerhouse PlayStation 4. Casual gamers do not know what the Wii U is or why they need one, and hardcore gamers are not interested in an underpowered console that still does not have Nintendo’s staple of first-party games (such as a Super Smash Bros or Mario Kart, both are expected sometime in 2014).
I want the old Nintendo back, the Nintendo I grew up with. The Nintendo that was aggressive in the market and innovated with their products. Not the Nintendo trying to compete with Apple and Google (poorly at that, the tablet controller is a joke when you compare pure hardware specs with an iPad or Google Nexus). The original Nintendo Entertainment System gave us Super Mario Bros and a whole cast of imaginative characters in games. The Nintendo 64 gave us games with 3D graphics, putting gamers in living worlds to explore. The Nintendo Wii showed that everyone can enjoy games together, regardless of gender or generation.
As a fan of videogames, and an owner of multiple Nintendo consoles, I can say I have no plans to buy a Wii U now or in the distant future. It’s disappointing because to me games are a social experience, and nothing beats playing Super Smash Bros with my friends. I just cannot justify spending $350 for a console with one game I want to play. I understand that the price will go down, but the vision won’t change. The Wii U will still be a console centered on one tablet that one player can use at a time.
Unfortunately, the Wii U is here to stay, meaning we Nintendo fans will have to wait this mess out. Here’s hoping that Nintendo survives the next few years to once again bring us something revolutionary.