Saturday, May 26, 2012

Can Lightning Strike Twice with the Wii U?

I'd like to add a quick disclaimer before delving into the topic at hand. I am by no means an industry analyst nor do I pretend to be one. This is just my view as a gamer and a fan of Nintendo.

Will the Wii U repeat the Wii's success?

In less than two weeks, Nintendo will re-reveal their upcoming next generation console: the Wii U. Later this year, said console will more than likely be on store shelves and in people's homes. As the successor to the extremely successful Wii, the Wii U has large shoes fill in the sales and money departments. The big question that people are asking is this: Can the Wii U repeat the success of the Wii? Of course we don't know all of the features the Wii U has or what games kind of games it will eventually be known for, but one can make an educated guess on the subject, and that's exactly what I'm going to be doing.

Before discussing whether or not I believe the Wii U will be as successful as the Wii was, I want to take some time to go over why the Wii was as big of a success as it was. Following the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube, it looked like Nintendo's days as the best selling hardware company were over. Both consoles were outsold by massive amounts by the Playstation and Playstation 2, and if things didn't change, the Playstation 3 would have dominated again. Enter the Wii. Although much of the industry was skeptical about the Wii at first due to its untraditional controls and focus on games that would bring in people who weren't traditional gamers, it ended up defying the industry's expectations and went on to become Nintendo's best selling home console.

The reason the Wii became so successful was because of the things that made the industry doubt it at first. Let's start with the motion controls. After over twenty years of consoles that revolved around traditional controls, Nintendo introduced a console whose main selling point was the fact that it didn't have normal controls. Not only was there novelty in a completely new way of controlling games, but there was also the fact that the many people who were scared off by the complicated looking PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox controllers weren't scared off by the simple looking Wii Remote.

The fact that the Wii wouldn't scare off less traditional gamers allowed Nintendo to create games catered toward that group of gamers. It saw games such as Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Play, Wii Fit, and Wii Fit Plus released, which all sold tens of millions of copies. Along with these less traditional games, games that relied on less complicated controls like Mario Kart Wii, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Just Dance 1 and 2 also sold millions. Despite this angering the more traditional gamers and making them feel like Nintendo had forgotten about them, it made the Wii's sales skyrocket into record territories. Many of those more traditional gamers either didn't buy the Wii or ended up selling it in favor of the more traditional Playstation 3 or Xbox 360. Even though the Wii didn't have the support of the traditional gaming community, it still managed to become the best selling console of its generation because of less traditional, "casual" gamers.

The Wii was successful partially because of its
unique controller.

Now, can the Wii U repeat that success by either drawing in all of those casual gamers that bought the Wii or convincing the traditional gamers that the Wii U will have great, deep experiences? I have a feeling it's going to be difficult, but not impossible. Nintendo put themselves in a situation where a huge chunk of their sales now rely on the less reliable untraditional gamers, and it could possibly come back to bite them. A lot of these gamers now find their gaming fix on devices like the iPad and iPod, and the WiiU probably won't even be the only next generation console with an accessible controller and gaming selection. I can pretty much guarantee you that the next Xbox will have some kind of Kinect bundled in with it, giving Nintendo a worthy competitor when it comes to capturing the audience that bought the Wii.

There's also the issue that the Wii may have been a fad. Looking at sales, the new audience brought in with the Wii tended to only buy a few party games and fitness games and nothing else. Nintendo's president, Mr. Iwata, recently admitted that Nintendo couldn't get their new consumers to play games frequently and for long periods of time. This could be used as proof that the Wii was a fad to the casual gamers that bought it, and that specific audience won't buy its successor. However, Microsoft's Kinect proves that that still is an audience willing to buy home consoles as long as it has games and controls that interest them.

But does the Wii U have that kind of controller? I personally don't think so. Yes, the Wii U's controller is certainly unique and one of a kind, but it's nothing like the Wii Remote or Kinect. The Wii U's controller is basically a large DS touch screen or a less capable iPad with traditional controls thrown onto the side. While it's great for traditional gamers that felt abandoned by Nintendo this generation, I don't think it's something that will draw in the audience that loved the Wii Remote and Kinect. They'll see it as a traditional controller with a screen in the middle.

The Wii U's controller isn't as enticing as the Wii Remote was.

So if Nintendo can't rely on the audience the Wii attracted, what about bringing in the traditional gamers that felt Nintendo didn't cater to them with the Wii? Like I just mentioned, the more traditional controller is a good thing for this audience, but they also care about the games in general. If a console has a great controller, but it doesn't have games that interest them, they won't buy the console. I've talked about this in a previous article I wrote, but I'll touch on it again.

In order to sell the Wii U to the people who bought the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, Nintendo's going to need a satisfying online system and some great third party content alongside of their great first party content. With the information released about the Nintendo Network's Wii U functionalities, it seems like Nintendo is moving in the right direction with online. There is an issue with the third party games, though. Yes, the Wii U will be getting great third party games like Assassin's Creed 3 and Batman: Arkham City, but the problem with that is the fact that many of the gamers Nintendo is trying to attract with those games already have the aforementioned Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Even if the Wii U versions of these games are the best versions, gamers aren't going to spend a couple hundred dollars on a console to play games that they already have access to.

What Nintendo needs is exclusive third party content. It's going to be extremely difficuly in today's gaming environment where practically every major third party game is multiplatform, but I don't see any way Nintendo can attract traditional gamers without exclusive third party content. It could just be timed exclusive content or exclusive DLC, but Nintendo needs some form of third party content that can only be found on the Wii U.

Yet another adversity the Wii U may face comes in the form of the upcoming Playstation 4 and next Xbox. While we can't make an exact assumption of how powerful the Wii U will be right now considering reports have been varying wildly over the past few months, we can say that if the Wii U is underpowered compared to Sony and Microsoft's next home consoles, the Wii U could very well possibly end up in the same situation as the Wii. If the Wii U is indeed underpowered compared to its next generation competitors, I don't think it would be as big of a gap as it was this generation, but it would still be there. In this scenario, the Wii U either wouldn't get major third party games, just like the Wii, or it would get gimped ports of said third party games. If that does end up being the situation next generation, then traditional gamers surely won't be interested in the Wii U.

So, can the Wii U do a repeat performance of the Wii? It's possible, but I think Nintendo would have to be extremely lucky. The casual gamers that bought the Wii probably won't be there in the same numbers they were this generation, just because Nintendo will have competitors for that audience that they didn't have with the Wii. Likewise, Nintendo it's going be necessary for Nintendo to have amazing third party content that's exclusive to the Wii U to convince the more traditional gamers to buy it. Simply having games like Assassin's Creed 3 won't be enough, especially since those kinds of games are going to be on consoles that the traditional gamer already owns.

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