Is the Wii U really doomed? Exploring the pros and cons of Nintendo's next move
Down but not out.
Nintendo’s stock took a huge dive today as the company reassessed the potential success of their Wii U console, dropping expected sales from 9 million to 2.8 million. It’s easy to think Nintendo is doomed, but the resilient developer won’t be that hard to put down; they've had plenty of experience with low sales and failed consoles (just look at the GameCube and the Virtual Boy).
To figure out what Nintendo might do next, GameSpot editors Justin Haywald and Tom Mc Shea break down the pros and cons of some of the most frequent suggestions people have thrown out in the last few months.
Nintendo Goes Mobile
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata discussed the importance of exploring "new business structures" and possibly expanding further into smartphone development.
Why it could work…
Tom Mc Shea: Controlling a traditional Mario platformer on a touchscreen sounds like a nightmare. However, I do think Nintendo could gain valuable name recognition by delivering their most cherished characters to the mobile environment. Nintendo has been able to create lifelong fans by welcoming children into their colorful adventures at a young age, and once people play these wonderful experiences, they become invested in Mario, Link, and every other captivating character.
The problem right now is that kids have flocked toward cheaper, more accessible mobile platforms, and they now have an unbreakable fondness for disposable games such as Angry Birds. If Nintendo devised fascinating, new experiences for mobile devices starring their beloved family of mascots, they would once again build a small and loyal fanbase. And, if things go correctly, those same players will eventually graduate from the mobile offerings to Nintendo's handhelds and consoles.
Why it won’t…
Justin Haywald: As Tom writes above, simply porting games over to mobile would be a colossal failure. Nintendo's greatest strength is leveraging their unique platforms to create memorable gaming experiences.
But while Nintendo could no doubt make amazing mobile games, they wouldn't necessarily be any more lucrative than their current offerings. Mobile gaming isn't a fad, but the most successful mobile experiences aren't necessarily "fun," they just leverage microtransactions and our addictive tendencies better. Nintendo makes genuinely great games; sacrificing part of that to find the better ways to monetize Mario and Zelda wouldn't feel very much like Nintendo.
Nintendo Goes Third Party
Like Sega after the demise of the Dreamcast, Nintendo could also start porting their games over to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Why it could work...
Tom Mc Shea: Nintendo's strength lies in their fantastic development studios. For almost two decades, I've needed to own every Nintendo system solely because their first-party games were so incredible. I've had no problem buying consoles specifically for that reason, but Nintendo has to realize that there's a finite number of people willing to make that investment.
Ultimately, their goal should be to get their games to as many people as possible. For every year that passes in which fewer and fewer people care about Nintendo's franchises, their cultural impact lessens, which damages their potential growth going forward. If Nintendo swallowed their pride by supporting other platforms, they could ensure they remain relevant in a contentious environment, and continue to win over fans with their exceptional game design.
Why it won’t...
Justin Haywald: Just like the problems with mobile development, most of Nintendo's success comes from building games custom-made for their platforms. They don't try to compete in terms of raw power with the competition, they leverage new technology in surprising ways. Sure the Wii U has been a failure so far, but a lot of that comes down to messaging. If the Wii U had been a clear successor to the Wii (instead of what seemed like a mere controller upgrade) things could've gone very differently.
Would Nintendo be able to support the kind of quirky hits and ingenious deviations they currently experiment with if they became a studio like EA or Microsoft? It's more likely something would have to give to support continued AAA hits, and nobody would want Nintendo to abandon smaller titles like Chibi-Robo or Nintendo Remix to make Mario, Link, and Zelda yearly rehashed franchises.
Nintendo Dumps the Wii U GamePad
Would it still be the "Wii U" without the GamePad?
Why it could work...
Justin Haywald: The Wii U GamePad lets Nintendo provide unique experiences that no other console can provide, but it also raises the price of the Wii U beyond what Nintendo's target demographic has come to expect. Things might be different if the GamePad didn't feel like a feature-deficient tablet. You can't take games with you on the go (heck, the gamepad can barely leave the room your Wii U is located in), and there's no tie-in, either in library or in gameplay functionality, with the 3DS, which is probably Nintendo's biggest missed opportunity.
Nintendo didn't need to add a GamePad to their console, they already had the 3DS.
The first step Nintendo needs to take is getting rid of the mostly unnecessary GamePad peripheral. Then call the updated system a Wii 2, and work on a handheld that brings both their systems and shops together. Imagine playing Wii U games on the go with Nintendo's next handheld...and quiver at the company's newfound market dominance.
Why it won’t...
Tom Mc Shea: The Wii U's reputation is damaged beyond repair. The popular consensus is one of extreme apathy, so even though Nintendo would be able to chop down the price of the system by removing the GamePad, there are reasons beyond cost that are keeping consumers at bay.
Look no further than Nintendo's competitor, Sony, to see how this scenario could play out. Even though the Vita (like the Wii U) has plenty of great games, the system is still languishing at retail, even after a substantial price drop. Image is everything when it comes to marketing, and Nintendo has to do a lot more work than simply remove their expensive peripheral to convince people to shell out their hard-earned money.