This piece notes some of the reasons that the Wii U's recent woes should and should not alarm you. Perhaps alarm is too much hyperbole. I should say that the system's woes should at the very least concern you, especially if you're banking on Nintendo to do well this console generation. I am not saying that the Wii U is going to fail, nor am I saying it will succeed. I am simply noting reasons why some may or may not be worried about the system's future.
Let's appease all of the Negative Nancys first:
- January's abysmal U.K. Wii U retail performance
The United Kingdom is but a small portion of Nintendo's market, but the idea that only 34,000 units of software (that includes Nintendo Land Wii U bundles) were sold and the system only clutched a pithy 1.6% of the U.K. market last month is absolutely sobering.
One can take this with some optimism or total pessimism. January is generally an empty month for most platforms, especially a new one such as the Wii U, so it's no wonder the system sold so low. A pessimist could see the numbers and say that Nintendo has lost the U.K., and no one wants the Wii U. The situation is going to look less and less hopeful as the months of no new Wii U releases roll on. Whatever side you are on, it is difficult to say that the sales and market presence of the Wii U are looking good right now. This only gives publishers more reason not to allocate any resources to Wii U projects. Then again, perhaps they were already planning that before the system even came out.
- Lack of retail presence between December and March
How is a system supposed to carry launch momentum when there are an overwhelming lack of retail games released for a quarter of the year? The delay of Rayman Legends was a huge blow for any possible chance of the Wii U moving out of mediocre sales and starting to gain some traction. You can read my thoughts on that mess here.
It's almost a self-fulling prophecy. Publishers say the Wii U's sales are weak, but that's because there are no games being released for it by them or Nintendo. Maybe had Ubisoft released Rayman Legends when it was due out and third-parties had games lined up for the system to fill in the empty Q1 2013 time period, the Wii U would have had more momentum. Wii U owners would take note of games during an empty release period because they have had nothing new to play for months.
It's not entirely third-parties' fault either. Nintendo has had nothing in this quarter, and that has harmed the system's momentum considerably. If people supposedly buy Nintendo hardware for Nintendo software, no wonder so few purchased systems last month. February is only going to get worse sales-wise.
- Western third-party support is anemic
I never figured Nintendo would ever get proper third-party support from Western developers. The majority of the West seems focused more on high end graphics than innovation, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just an attitude that Nintendo does not share. How many times have we heard weak excuses for not developing for the Wii U because the developer couldn't think of a proper use of the Wii U GamePad? If you ever expected decent Western third-party support in retail channels for the Wii U, then you were setting yourself up for severe disappointment.
If the news from the D.I.C.E. summit that more developers were talking about cancelling Wii U games than making them holds any water (it's not difficult to believe, sadly), then the system's hope for any kind of relevancy in terms of Western support is already irrevocably damaged. Somehow, someway, the Wii U third-party situation is already worse than what was found on the Wii. That is absolutely pitiful.
What about EA? When even they won't even announce the new Madden, a series that is basically a given on every home console, on the Wii U, then something is most definitely wrong here. What happened to that "unprecedented partnership"? Did Nintendo really shun EA's Origin online system (and for good reason) that EA is now absolutely bitter about it?
Then again, Nintendo, perhaps, could be the only console manufacturer that could hold up its own hardware with its own software. Their IPs are just that popular. As things are going now in the West, they might just have to.
Enough negativity. Let's look at reasons you shouldn't bother worrying about the Wii U's current struggles.
+ Nintendo's blockbusters have yet to come out
This is an important one, and one that most likely outshines plenty of the negatives. The truth of the matter is that the most significant titles for the Wii U have yet to be released. We received news of a flurry of them via last month's Nintendo Direct. There was the new 3D action Mario game, a new Mario Kart, two Zelda announcements, Yarn Yoshi, and more. If Nintendo can release these titles in a steady stream, sales are sure to bounce back. That's what any system needs-- a steady stream of software to keep interest in a system up and sales continuing. I don't believe just one game will sell a given system. It might do that for hardcore fans of a given franchise or genre, but it doesn't work with the majority of people.
New Super Mario Bros. U did not have a 50 million+ user base to get sales from like the Wii game did. That title launched with a user base of zero, so it's no wonder the title is not lighting sales charts the world over on fire. There could also be fatigue from the NSMB line of games. After all, New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS had only come out a few months earlier. It's easy to say that New Super Mario Bros. U was not the system-seller Nintendo was thinking it would be. However, with Nintendo's promised lineup of games, it seems easy to say that the Wii U's fortunes will turn around.
+ Price drop, bundles, and new colors are always options.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata stood firmly against the idea of a price drop for the Wii U so soon. After all, the platform is selling for a loss as is. However, if push comes to shove, lowering the price for the Wii U is always an option on the table. It worked quite well for the Nintendo 3DS, but it's important to note that this was not the only reason for the one struggling handheld's success. The 3DS's price drop was strategically done at a time where some of the bigger titles for the system were set to be released. I'm referring to titles like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, and Mario Kart 7. If Nintendo can wait to drop the price of the Wii U when the heavy hitters like the new 3D Mario, Mario Kart, and Wind Waker remake release, then at least for a good while the system can do well.
On the subject of bundles and new colors, these two concepts sometimes work and sometimes don't. The recently announced ZombiU bundle that comes with a retail copy of the game, a digital copy of Nintendo Land, and a Pro Controller will actually save buyers money compared to if they bought all of the individual items separately. Bundles like this, especially if they have Mario in them or some killer game, could possibly do Nintendo and their currently struggling system a bit well, too.
+ Indie developers are still supporting the system, and finding success.
If big publishers are hesitant (and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy) to release games on the Wii U, then independent developers are ready and willing. While the pickings are limited right now, there is plenty to look forward to on the Nintendo eShop. Two Tribes has Toki Tori 2 in the pipeline, Gajin Games has Bit.Trip Runner 2 racing onto the shop, Renegade Kid is currently busy tinkering with Mutant Mudds Deluxe, and there are many other titles coming or at least hinted at coming.
Considering that Nintendo is allowing these studios much greater leeway than they did on WiiWare, such as allowing free patches and the ability to perform their own sales and price points, the Wii U eShop is an attractive choice for indie developers. I, for one, cannot wait to see what other indie titles will be coming to the system throughout the platform's life. If it's anything like the 3DS eShop, we're going to be very spoiled.
+ This system has had little to no marketing.
You might read this reason and wonder how little to no marketing can possibly be a good thing. That's simple. A reason why the Wii U isn't selling to potential, causing Nintendo to slash the forecast of how many Wii Us they plan to sell, is that a lot of people either don't know about or simply don't understand what the Wii U is. You can give me some anecdotal evidence on how your best friend's imaginary grandparents know all about the system and don't want it, but it stands to reason that Nintendo is suffering the same issues that they had with the 3DS.
With the 3DS, there was much confusion regarding whether or not the handheld was the successor the the Nintendo DS, or if it was simply a revision. I think many people think the Wii U is just a peripheral to the original Wii. It doesn't help that: 1) The North American ads did nothing to mention the Wii U was not just the controller, and 2) The name is so darned similar to the Wii.
Then there's the amount of advertising for the system. Right now, at least in the United States, there are no ads at all for the system. Even in the holiday season, comparing the number of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ads to the Wii U's was no contest. The Wii U was blown away in television time. In fact, the ad campaign was no marketing blitz like most new platforms have. I believe that when new releases come out Nintendo should, if money allows, market the games on a broad array of channels. Focus not just on the TV Land, Nickolodeon and TLC crowds, but also the sports channels, Adult Swim, and programs that expand the scope of who Nintendo is going after with the Wii U.
What are your thoughts on this piece? Again, I am not saying that the Wii U is going to fail, nor am I saying it will succeed. I am simply noting reasons why some may or may not be worried about the system's future. Note your opinions in the comments section.