What exactly happened with the Wii U?
In January of this year, Nintendo officially ceased production of the Wii U. This successor to the best selling Wii console was pretty much a major let down for Nintendo. Throughout its lifespan, the Wii U sold fewer than 14 million units. Compare that to its predecessor, the Wii, which cleared 100 million units, and you can see that something clearly went wrong. The Wii U even sold less units than the GameCube, which makes it Nintendo’s all time lowest selling console. So just what happened exactly?
The Wii U’s troubles began with the name. For some strange reason, Nintendo decided to name the console the Wii U, rather than the Wii 2 or something completely different. I understand trying to capitalize on the Wii name, but people need to know this is something brand new and not an accessory for the Wii.
And there’s there rub. The Wii was adopted by not only hard core gamers, but the masses as well. Gamers will know this was something new, but not the public at large. Many, many people thought that the Wii U was simply a controller add-on for the Wii. This confusion caused people to forget about the Wii U, thinking that they didn’t need a fancy new controller. It also didn’t help that the Wii U e3 reveal press conference focused way too much on just the controller, causing even more confusion.
While we are talking about the controller, that’s where another issue stemmed from. When you look at the Wii Remote, people just got it. As soon as you saw someone swinging it like a tennis racket or bowling ball, people from ages 5 to 99 understood how to use it. The tablet controller on the Wii U was a much harder sell, especially for games that utilized its features.
Try explaining each of these to your elderly parents:
Wii Remote: OK, swing this like a tennis racket, got it? Good, let’s play!
Wii Gamepad: OK, I’m going to be over here looking at this game pad, moving around a ghost, you are over there but don’t looking at me, look at the TV. OK, you can’t see me, but need to move around and avoid me. OK, yes, figure out which person you are first. Great, now if you feel a vibration, that means I’m close…wait! Where you going?
The tablet screen was a great idea, it was just a hard sell to the masses as a separate way to play games as it wasn’t as intuitive as the Wii Remote. But that’s OK, because gamers still got it, right? Well yes, but then we get to the games…
There were two issues with games on the Wii U. The first was the launch titles. While there were some 30 titles out for the Wii U at lunch, the vast majority of them were older ports from other systems. Mass Effect 3, FIFI, Assassin’s Creed 3, Arkham City, etc… These were all solid games, but also games that most gamers had already played. Unless you were strictly a Nintendo gamer, most people had probably played these games on their Playstation, Xbox or PC.
So that left Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros U to fill the void. Both were solid titles, but there was a long drought of great 1st party titles from launch until August of the next year (about 10 months later) when Pikmin 3 was released. I remember finishing Mario Bros and not even turning my Wii U on for months after that.
The second issue with the games was with the controller itself. It seems that developers never really figured out how to best use the screen. Other than Nintendo Land creating some fun asymmetrical games, or ZombieU using it as a room scanner, the screen was mostly regulated to being a way to play the game with the TV off (or as a simple map). It was treated as an after thought. It wasn’t until Super Mario Maker came around that it was actually used for something useful, but that was almost 3 year later.
The Wii U came in two versions, the Basic and the Deluxe. For most gamers, the Deluxe was the only real purchase. It came with 32gb of internal storage (vs a paltry 8gb) and the pack-in game Nintendo Land. Unfortunately, the deluxe version cost $350, a full $100 more than the Wii had at launch. Combine that with fact that the Wii U was only $50 cheaper than the PS4 and Xbox One and you have an easy choice for serious gamers. The PS4/Xbox were much, much more powerful than the Wii U and most acted as a media hub in some way. The Wii U just played games and it’s online functionality was easily the worst of the bunch. Nintendo got cocky and priced themselves out of a lot of gamers family rooms.
The Wii U also had some really unfortunate timing. When it was released, it was roumered to be more powerful than both the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Yet a year later, the Xbox One and PS4 were released, making the point moot. But that’s OK, because Nintendo has never cared about competing on specs. Plus, it still had the casual market from the Wii, right?
Not so fast. By 2013, mobile games had really come into their own. The iPad become the tablet of choice and was getting both really powerful and really affordable. This caused the masses to shift away from the home console towards something more portable. People could player their latest casual game on a device they understood, and take it with them on the go. That left the Wii U in a really weird spot. They lost the casual gamers to mobile and the hard core gamers where happy with the arms race between the Xbox and Playstation. And with no new Zelda game in sight, Nintendo was having a hard time wining gamers over to their new console.
Now that’s not to say that the Wii U was a terrible system. It had some good ideas and it gave us Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, Smash Bros, and Splatoon, Nintendo’s first new IP in forever (and a great one). Nintendo just had a really hard time getting out of their own way. With the lack of killer first party games, poor and slow system software, and a loss of their dedicated audience, it’s no wonder the Wii U has finally been put out of its misery.
Thankfully, Nintendo seems to have learned its lesson. The Nintendo Switch has been an abject success since launch. It’s a great device with a message that’s easy to get across. And there has been a new first party game every month since launch (Zelda, Mario Kart, ARMS, Splatoon 2) with many more on the horizon. Here’s hoping Nintendo can keep it up.