Why Are Wii Not Buying the U?

Wii-U-Panorama-View

AS THE sales figures for Nintendo’s Wii U console hit new lows worldwide, the question on the lips of many gamers must be “just why is the Wii U bombing so hard?

The company has made a profit of 88 million dollars (or 8.6 billion yen) in the first quarter of the fiscal year but sales of the console itself continue to flag.

Since its worldwide release in November 2012, hardware sales for the console have fallen short of their expected targets, forcing Nintendo to adjust them to a more attainable level; in that aforementioned quarter, worldwide sales totalled a meagre 160,000. The quarter before that, it managed 390,000. Accumulative figures since release estimate 3.6 million units sold worldwide, short of a 3.9 million target; the current target for March 2014 levels at 9 million units.

This sales drop-off will doubtless be remedied somewhat during the Christmas period, but how feasible is such a prediction when Microsoft and Sony both release the Xbox One and the PS4 around the same time? Both consoles boast hardware capabilities far beyond the measure of the Wii U, which represents Nintendo’s first foray into HD gaming, lagging behind the Xbox 360 and the PS3 by 6 or 7 years. Further to this, both consoles will be released with maximum exposure and hype befitting their fresh, new faces. The Wii U will have already been on shelves (or not, in ASDA’s case) for a year by that point.

So we must return to that initial question and reiterate – why exactly are sales so low? There are numerous possible answers to this question so we’ll see about addressing several of them. A lack of investment in promotion and advertisement seems to be one of the primary reasons, with few consumers being entirely clear on whether the console isn’t simply a tweaked Wii, which has actually outsold its own successor recently – Nintendo have even advertised the Wii U in America as an “upgrade” to the Wii, implying it to be just another version of that console rather than an entirely separate system of its own. The naming of the console only exacerbates this confusion; to many consumers, the suffixed ‘U’ is not enough to distinguish the two.

The functions and benefits of the GamePad, the central focus of initial hype, have also been unclear in promotion. Its dual-screen capabilities, for instance: much like a DS, the GamePad touchscreen adds supplemental functionality to a game such as map displays and inventory displays. More significantly, it offers players the ability to play while the television is in use (a function called Off-TV Play). These features, however, have not been satisfactorily clarified. Head of games at IHS Electronics and Media, Piers Harding-Rolls has even dismissed the GamePad as a “Fisher Price” tablet, a product inferior to smartphones such as the iPad and Android devices.

Such devices have subsequently attracted the so-called ‘casual’ gamers that flocked to the Wii in droves; these consumers must be asking themselves why they should bother “upgrading” when their Wii is perfectly adequate for their gaming needs. On the other side of the coin, ‘hardcore’ gamers question the supposedly gimmicky nature of the GamePad, wondering if it is simply innovation for innovation’s sake. Traditional controllers for the console are available – as they were for the Wii – but they are sold separately and are relatively unadvertised.

Nintendo’s murky wording and mismanaged focus becomes increasingly baffling when considering the marketing blitz that heralded the original Wii’s arrival. Evidently, the company wished to emulate the runaway success of the Wii, forgetting what facilitated that success. The 3DS suffered similar problems upon release but has managed to turn its fortunes around, its encouraging sales largely responsible for dragging Nintendo back into the black.

The 3DS, however, has a large variety of software available for perusal; the Wii U’s library is staggeringly low, even given the console’s relative nascence. There are scant platform-exclusives available and those, most notably ZombiU, have sold poorly. While specialist retailers have pledged their support for the system, the display areas for the console and its software in outlets showcase a very limited selection of games, most of which are ports of current-gen titles.

Nintendo have attempted to remedy this by recently announcing a strong first-party line-up; beyond the recently released Pikmin 3, future titles include Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros; moreover, producer Shigeru Miyamoto hashinted at a new IP. Bar Pikmin 3 however, all these titles are scheduled for 2014.

The console’s slender library can also be attributed to a lack of third-party development – while Platinum Games have The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 on the cards, other developers have seemed reluctant to emphasise similar support. Ubisoft pulled out of their exclusivity deal for Rayman Legends after the disappointing sales of ZombiU while EA have admitted they are more committed to the new Sony and Microsoft consoles. If other big publishers similarly lose confidence, the console stands to lose a lot of ground on its competition.

Some have compared Nintendo’s misfortunes with the Wii U to Sega’s misfortunes with the Dreamcast. Such speculation is not entirely without merit – low sales and a lack of developer/publisher support (e.g. EA) for that console eventually resulted in Sega bowing out of the hardware market to focus exclusively on software products.

While it is tempting to express similar concerns for Nintendo, the likelihood of such a scenario is low – Sega were already on shaky financial ground with the failure of a slew of systems such as the Sega CD, the 32X and the Saturn when the Dreamcast was released, crippling consumer confidence. Nintendo, meanwhile, are still riding on the crest of the Wii and DS’ resounding success, while the 3DS continues to go from strength to strength despite its lacklustre first year. A similar turnaround for the Wii U is not an absurd proposition, though it will surely be tested during the holiday period.

But perhaps that is the gravest indictment of all – the Wii U has had no same-generation competition and has still failed to hit targets. How well can it perform in sales when pitted against the PS4 and Xbox One when it’s already struggling to keep its head above the water? While its future products look promising, some will not be released until 2014, by which point any initial momentum it had would grind to a halt.

Though recent price cuts in retail will certainly help, especially against the PS4’s £349.99 and Xbox One’s £429.99, Nintendo have been tardy in their promotion and they need to ramp it up considerably in order to gain maximum exposure before the holidays hit.