The new Wii U has been the target of less than inspiring press. Credit: Nintendo
All over the Internet, these past few days especially, there has been much clitter and clatter regarding the imminent doom of Nintendo. The projected forecasts are in: The Wii U isn’t doing so hot, and for some reason people really seem to get off on trashing Nintendo. This has been the case since the dawn of the Internet. I saw it in the N64 era, the Gamecube era, the Wii era and now the Wii U era. Yet the company has always seemed to bounce back. Is this time any different? Can the house that Mario built stop from deteriorating into a melted mess of mushrooms and discarded green tunics?
First of all, let’s look at what’s causing all of this doom and gloom. They’ve recently slashed sales forecasts of the Wii U from 9 million units to 2.8 million units. They also slashed sales forecasts of the 3DS from 18 million units to 13.5 million units. This is sobering news for fans of the company and its roster of classic franchises. But is it recoverable? Is it instant doom? Well, maybe, but probably not.
Some of this info is bull caca anyways. For instance, most of these fine journalists point out the reduced 3DS sales forecasts as some kind of pronouncement of the 3DS as a failed system. Here’s another stat. The 3DS was, by a hefty margin, the best selling console in 2013. It beat the 360. It beat the PS3, PS4 and everything else. It, of course, beat its portable competitor, the Vita. Also, who projects their system at 18 million consoles in a year? That’s the kind of nonsense figure you just make up to give shareholders a boner. The Wii, during its hottest fiscal year of 2008, sold just over 18 million units. The Wii. The system even your grandparents were talking about nonstop. It was featured in an episode of beloved sitcom and a Geico commercial, for God’s sake! Point is, 18 million units in a year is a ridiculous figure that is rarely hit. (It’s only been hit twice by the PS2, the most successful video game console ever.) These are video game manufacturers. They aren’t Apple.
Still, the Wii U figure certainly is sobering. Many, many consoles have hit 9 million in a year and 2.8 million. Can Nintendo turn this ship around? My money is on yes, but they have to start now and go at it full steam. Here are some ideas from one curmudgeonly gamer:
1. Fire whoever does their advertising, like, yesterday.
Wii U owners, how many times has this happened to you? You invite some friends over for beers and “Mario Chase” or “Super Mario 3-D World,” only to find a group of people who are absolutely dumbstruck that the Wii U exists. They had no idea. Now, these aren’t idiots who live under Wi-Fi-disabled rocks. They are fairly tech-savvy people whom Nintendo’s advertising never reached. Personally, this has happened to me EVERY SINGLE TIME I’ve had people over to play video games. Seriously, every single time. They end up having a whole lot of fun with the system, which is the sad thing.
Aside from those of us obsessed with the industry, nobody knows the Wii U exists. Sure, there are ads, but they are just about the most mind-numbingly stupid things I’ve ever seen: a bunch of Abercrombie and Fitch bozos pretending to have fun while hanging out in a bizarre cube? It just feels off, like fan fiction or something. It doesn’t capture any of the magic that makes Nintendo, well, Nintendo. Start handing out the pink slips, guys. Fire the whole lot of 'em. Start fresh. People need to know this thing exists in order to buy one.
2. To rebrand or not to rebrand
The Wii U has always had a branding problem. A lot of people just don’t realize it is a new system because the name is so close to Wii. They think it’s a peripheral for the original system (or something.) That might sound kind of preposterous in this always connected day and age, but, it’s true. Now, it’s way too late to change the name, because that’s like admitting they were wrong and we all know companies never, ever do that. However, maybe there’s some middle ground. Wii U: The Wii-inator? Wii U: Electric Boogaloo? Oh gosh, I don’t know. That’s above my pay grade. Something has to give though. The Xbox One might be in similar trouble if people keep up this trend of never Googling stuff.
3. We need some big games
Not only do we need a constant flow of new games, but we need some real showpiece titles for the system. Why is the tablet a big deal? Prove it to us! “Super Mario 3-D World” was some of the most fun I’ve had in front of the TV in the past few years. We need more of that. Sidescrollers like the upcoming “Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze” and “Yarn Yoshi” will certainly be tons of fun, but games that look like they could have been on the Wii (or Gamecube) aren’t exactly system sellers. Creating massive games with massive worlds takes a lot of time and a lot of manpower but it simply must be done. Where’s a crazy looking new “Metroid?” Where’s “Zelda?” Heck, where’s something totally new that can go toe to toe with series like “Bioshock” and “Elder Scrolls?”
4. Call in some favors
Back in the halcyon days of the NES and the SNES, Nintendo were besties with just about every third party games publisher on the planet. They’d all go roller skating together and paint one another’s nails and talk about boys or whatever. Those days are long past, and nowadays the company is like a walking Ayn Rand protagonist, relying solely on themselves for content. Getting third parties aboard the Wii U is gonna be a hard sell, however. You can’t develop the same kinds of games for Wii U and the recently released Xbox One and PS4, due to a massive horsepower differential. Do whatever it takes guys! Buy everyone Mariners’ tickets, hire shmoes in Mario costumes to go door to door singing Christmas carols, buy an island and turn it into a real life Zelda dungeon that employees can hang out in. Whatever it takes!
5. When in doubt, follow the 3DS route
The 3DS had some equally frustrating growing pains after it was first released. You should have seen the gaming analysts then. They were frothing at the mouth to proclaim the system, and therefore Nintendo, dead in the water. Michael Pachter ( 3 ) felt joy for the first time in at least a decade. The forums on Gamefaqs nearly collapsed under the combined weight of all the “I told you so”s. Then a funny thing happened. The system turned itself around. Michael Pachter felt a great and existential sadness. Now, as stated above, it’s the best selling console of them all.
How did Nintendo do this? Well, first of all, they gave the system a steep price cut and offered up a ton of great free games to early adopters as an apology. It was a classy move and it worked. People started taking notice. Then, the system started releasing a whole slew of amazing titles. Why couldn’t the Wii U do something similar? Lower the price and make it an impulse buy. Make it the console for people who can’t afford to blow 500+ bucks on the other next gen consoles. Give early adopters a ton of games so we have something to brag about to our friends. Then, and this is the important part, release a bunch of great games. See number 3.
6. The Virtual Console is a problem
The virtual console is an amazing idea. Who wouldn’t want to use the tablet controller to play every great title from days long past? “Super Metroid” while laying in bed? Yes, please. However, they are absolutely ruining it by spacing out the release of these old games in order to, I don’t know, generate some press releases and posts on Kotaku or something. Here’s the rub. They already did this on the Wii. We already went through this! All of these games are already out on the Wii’s Virtual Console, so why should we wait so long for them (again) on the Wii U? It’s insulting and, no Sony, you aren’t off the hook either. (They do the exact same thing.)
7. Increase connectivity with the 3DS
The 3DS is a giant hit. Use that to your advantage. Make some games and applications that make people connect the two devices in new and novel ways. Remind 3DS owners that the Wii U exists. Putting Miiverse on the 3DS and creating a single Nintendo Network ID that spans both systems is a good start. More of this, please.
That’s about all I can think of. What about you? And, sure, if the Wii U fails Nintendo could always quit the hardware game and start publishing their franchises on other platforms, as just about every person on the Internet likes to remind us. Just a note, however: Sega did this exact thing. How did that work out? When was the last time you looked forward to a Sega title? Besides, do we really want to live in a world without Nintendo consoles? I think there are more than enough gamers out there to support all three (or six, depending on what you are counting) consoles. Also, once upon a time, Nintendo had another failed console: the Gamecube. Then they came back with a little something something called the Wii. Never count the house of mouse out. Wait, wrong company. You get what I mean.