The Wii U is dying. Sales have remained stagnant since release and Nintendo itself has even acknowledged, so far, the console has failed to meet expectations. It may be related to the lack of software since its release, or alternatively, it may be associated with the company’s inability to market the machine and differentiate from its predecessor.
Whatever the problem is, it’s clear there are currently significant barriers preventing consumers from picking up a Wii U.
Fortunately Nintendo has a little financial leeway, with the success of the Wii and DS the company have massive liquid assets available to them (estimated at around $9 Billion dollars according to one, Mr Pachter). This offers a pretty solid buffer to mitigate risk and allows Nintendo greater freedom in the design and application of their operational strategy for upcoming quarters.
So Nintendo has the finances, and (hopefully) the courage to implement radical short and long term strategies, but what exactly can they do?
Actually Advertise The Damn Thing!
Nintendo’s current marketing strategy for the Wii U is pitiful, most consumers aren’t even aware of its existence, let alone its key features. This really is unacceptable and easily rectified. The company needs to implement a multiformat advertising campaign emphasising how the console differentiates from competitors and more importantly how this translates into unique gameplay experiences. They cannot sit on their laurels any longer, their marketing activity since launch has been unacceptable and for a company with so much experience in the industry is difficult to excuse.
For all intents and purposes – this is how the average consumer sees the Wii U…
Purchase 3rd Party Exclusives
Of the three platform holders only Nintendo can genuinely justify purchasing exclusives, with 3rd parties reluctant to publish multiplatform titles, the console will live or die based upon its exclusives. The company have clearly recognised this and made some progress with the announcement of its partnership with Sega for exclusive rights to the next 3 Sonic the Hedgehog games and the highly anticipated Bayonetta 2.
This is a good start but Nintendo need to broaden the horizon of the types of exclusives the Wii U can offer, while another platformer is good it doesn’t assist the software portfolio’s diversity. Ideally the company needs to target titles which achieved critical success in the past but failed to yield significant enough returns to warrant a sequel, it is these kind of games which can often be considered system sellers, even if in context it is only to a relatively few people. Personally I would be thrilled to see the company pursue a sequel to Enslaved or, alternatively, a follow up to Star Ocean. (That gamepad was just built for JRPGS!)
Introduce Some Originality
Nintendo have always been considered hardware innovators, often pushing the boundaries of technology in ways other than graphical power, it is this regular revolution which often defines the companies’ software output. Every title released in each beloved series is designed from the ground up with the console’s unique user interface in mind.
While this has certainly assisted Nintendo in keeping Mario and the gang fresh and engaging over the years, it has also arguably caused the company’s software portfolio to slowly stagnate. When was the last time Nintendo tried to introduce a new franchise into its stable of loved intellectual properties (IPs)? The company needs to break the mould and release a game designed specifically for the Wii U’s interface, ideally this flagship title needs to be big budget, unique and appeal towards a wide demographic. This title needs to be the Wii U equivalent of what ‘Halo’ was for the original Xbox.
Cut The Price
The cost of the console has been a contentious issue since its release, several industry analysts suspect the Wii U may have been overpriced from the start and Nintendo’s reluctance to reduce the price has only compounded the problem. For a company who intended to once again appeal to the casual audience they haven’t done a very good job of endearing themselves to such a demographic.
With the Wii the company started at an excellent £179.99 price point and as such were able to capitalise on interest from those less traditional audiences. The Wii U on the other hand started at £250, that £70 makes an absolutely massive difference, particularly when consoles with similar capabilities are available for over £120 cheaper. Nintendo just cannot justify this price point.
Incentivise 3rd Parties
Publishers are beginning to state that the Wii U doesn’t present a significant enough opportunity to warrant investing in, and based upon the console’s current predicament who can blame them? Nintendo need to offer 3rd parties like EA and 2K incentives to make the console a viable option, whether that means the company loses money on a couple of releases then so be it.
At the very least the company should investigate the possibility of purchasing titles which truly excel on other consoles. The Wii version of Resident Evil 4 and the 360 version of Resident Evil Revelations show that with the right tweaks extra value can easily be added.
Based upon Nintendo’s recent earnings call, offering incentives does not seem to be an avenue Nintendo is prepared to venture down anytime soon, which for a company in such a difficult predicament is disappointing.
Choose a Market
With the Wii Nintendo were able to have their cake and eat it too, by appealing to both hardcore and casual gamers the company was able to reap the benefits of a two pronged attack. Unfortunately this generation, it just hasn’t worked out, Nintendo clearly believed from the outset that those who originally purchased a Wii could be convinced to upgrade to a Wii U. This ideal was deluded at best and flew in the face of market research which suggested most Wii owners quickly abandoned the console after the novelty wore off.
Although Nintendo’s more casual emphasis made business sense it was not well received by its more traditional dedicated fan base. An influx of shovelware, a lack of high quality titles and an increased focus upon casual games created a lot of ill will between the company and the more traditional ‘hardcore’ fans. It could even be argued that the decisions Nintendo made to yield so much success in the previous generation are now producing negative aftershocks
A large proportion of the company’s dedicated fan base felt the Wii was a betrayal of everything Nintendo had come to stand for in previous generations, and so it has come as no surprise that a console bearing the same insignia has not been particularly well received. If Nintendo intends to make amends for past ‘indiscretions’ then it is the essential they redefine their company ethos and more importantly limit their attempts to draw casual audiences in. I mean hell; if the company can’t even get traditionally dedicated ‘hardcore’ gamers to pick one up, how on earth do they expect to convince casual audiences?
The Reluctant Weapon
This could be considered Nintendo’s big red button, identified as an absolute last resort in the depths of Nintendo Towers, and often, recognised as the most powerful reluctant sales weapon in the industry. Stronger than Halo, stronger than Metal Gear Solid, even stronger than the Italian plumber himself, I am of course referring to Pokémon.
From its initial introduction in 1996 the mainstream iterations of Pokémon have lived on portable consoles with only the occasional low budget spin off actually making it to the big screen, the most recent being the rather half-hearted Pokémon Rumble U. This has to change and soon.
A well-received Pokémon RPG would be an undeniable game changer and could single handedly push the Wii U into homes across America, Europe, and Japan, this is the kind of system seller the console craves. As the strongest exclusive intellectual property (IP) in the industry in terms of commercial strength (Pokémon Diamond/Pearl sold a combined 18 million units.) Nintendo must leverage it for the sake of the Wii U’s future.
What will they do?
Nintendo clearly have a wide array of options available, however rather worryingly so far, they seem to be keeping their cards pretty close to their chest. Within the next 6 months it is essential the company makes public its intentions for both its short and long term strategy regarding the Wii U.
To turn around the console’s prospects the company has to make some big decisions, and fast. Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter suspects that it’s already too late and that the new consoles will soon eclipse anything the Wii U can produce, that being said so far based on middling reactions for most of the launch titles its clear so far developers don’t yet know how to get the best out of the other next gen consoles and this presents Nintendo with the perfect opportunity to say look here we have software which is innovative and of incredibly high standard, we can meet your gaming needs too. Whether it truly is too late, only time (and Mr Iwata) will tell.
Can Nintendo replicated the recovery of the 3DS with the Wii U, or will the tablet based console be consigned to obscurity? What do you think?
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