Opinion: Four Reasons Why The Wii U Is Struggling

With sales far below expectations and key industry figures now raising concerns, Nintendo’s Wii U platform appears to be struggling commercially. Considering various factors surrounding the console’s first few months, Mark Butler takes a look at four things that are to blame.

Despite a considerable degree of excitement leading up to its launch, the Wii U has not taken off in the way that Nintendo would have hoped.

At the end of January sales forecasts for the console were slashed by 27 per cent, with unit totals far below projected targets in all major territories. To make matters worse, Activision’s CEO has now felt the need to express public disappointment at the console’s commercial performance.

Having enjoyed remarkable success in the hardware market last generation with the astonishing, record-breaking sales of the Wii and DS, why is Nintendo’s new piece of kit struggling to find its feet?

Well, there are a number of key reasons. Reasons like…

 

The lack of system-selling exclusives

So far, there has been a conspicuous absence of must-have titles that are only available on the Wii U.

As our resident Nintendo expert Jonathan Szafran noted in his launch article, there were initially some great exclusives on the console: with ZombiU a surprisingly gripping survival-horror; New Super Mario Bros. U a colourful and creative platformer; and Nintendo Land a veritable ‘best of’ of classic Nintendo characters.

Since then however, it’s been highly sparse on the exclusive front, with major coups such as Bayonetta 2 still a long way off and – just a few days ago – Ubisoft dropping a colossal bombshell by revealing that hotly-anticipated platformer Rayman Legends will no longer be a Wii U exclusive – with the title’s release on the system delayed by a shocking 7 months as a result.

The simple truth is that there are very few headline games out on the Wii U that aren’t already available elsewhere. And without a new 3D Mario or Zelda title, red-hot sequel or head-turning original IP, there’s little to persuade people to part with their money.

In fact, pretty much all of the current and future big-name releases on the Wii U are also available on other platforms. Which brings us onto…

 

Failure to appeal to hardcore gamers

It’s no secret that Nintendo – despite winning over the casual market in recent years – have long been aiming the Wii U at hardcore gamers, with the scooping up of Bayonetta 2 and the effort dedicated to scoring ports of games like Assassin’s Creed III, Arkham City, Black Ops II and Mass Effect 3 something of a bold statement to that effect.

But such a strategy seems doomed to fail when so many of those hardcore experiences are launching simultaneously on other systems or – in the case of Arkham City, Mass Effect 3 and the like – have actually been out for a very long time on said systems.

Indeed, sales of these multi-platform titles and ports have strikingly failed to make an impression on the charts, while the likes of EA and Capcom have now started to rule out late ports of major games for ‘business reasons’.

The fact that Wii U titles accounted for a jaw-droppingly meagre 1.6 per cent of all retail sales in the UK this January – with just 34,000 software units sold – is powerful evidence that hardcore gamers are simply not buying into Nintendo’s consoles. Literally.

The Wii U’s original line-up is, and has been, largely dominated by cutesy platformers and puzzlers. So with virtually no hardcore exclusives currently out on the Wii U, and hardly any in sight, why should someone with a PS3, Xbox360 or PC fork out a substantial amount of money for a Wii U when they can play pretty much all of its shooters, scrappers and action-adventures on their existing consoles?

And speaking of substantial amounts of money…

 

Failure to connect with casual gamers

Nintendo have been hugely successful at attracting so-called casual gamers into buying their hardware in recent years, with the astronomical sales success of the Wii and the DS largely thanks to those devices winning an unprecedentedly wide and diverse audience.

But it’s easy to overlook the part that simple retail price played in that success. The Wii launched for a very reasonable $250; the DS for a remarkably low $150. And those retail prices promptly went even lower over time, as you might expect. To those who may not be dedicated and experienced gamers, such pricing was an invaluable way of convincing them to get involved – transforming those devices from expensive and inaccessible hardware into the realm of impulse-buy gadgets and toys.

The Wii U, meanwhile, has launched at a much more hefty price of $300-350, and substantially more in other territories; which instantly takes it out of that ‘impulse buy’ category and into a much more aloof and serious technological bracket – particularly at a time when retail sales of electronics generally are struggling, and your average member of the public is tightening the purse strings.

From a marketing point of view, it’s also fair to say that Nintendo haven’t really advertised the Wii U effectively to joe public. In fact, this problem is so disastrous that a recent Eurogamer investigation into the Wii U sales debacle learned from a senior retail boss that: “the challenge, to some extent, is getting across that the Wii U is a totally new console and not just a touch-screen addition to the existing Wii”.

In other words, many of those casual gamers and existing Wii customers don’t even realise that the Wii U is a whole new console. It just hasn’t registered on their radar.

And even if it has, it’s worth bearing in mind that it simply won’t bowl people over in the way that the Wii managed. Nintendo’s last console was something of a revolution in home entertainment with its motion control focus – a fun and seemingly futuristic novelty that convinced millions of people, who previously had zero interest in games, to invest in its charms.

The Wii U, by contrast, has a touch-screen interface on its gamepad which is remarkably similar to the smartphones and tablets that many people have already owned for years. It simply does not have the attention-grabbing novelty that its predecessor had.

And since we’re talking about novelty…

 

More new consoles are on their way

Initially, the way in which Nintendo beat their competitors to the punch in the next-gen race seemed like a smart move. But now it’s increasingly looking like folly.

With 2013 being such a strong year for game releases on existing consoles and platforms, and the new PlayStation and Xbox – not to mention intriguing innovations including Steambox and Ouya – just around the corner, countless gamers are looking at the situation and thinking they might as well hold off until those other future devices are available.

This thinking is no doubt partly driven by widespread concerns that the Wii U isn’t really a ‘true’ next-gen console, with major doubts being raised by fans and industry insiders alike about its hardware specs and potential.

In a landscape where people are expecting even bigger leaps forward in graphics and technical achievements, many look at the Wii U and see only a slightly sharper version of what they have now – leading them to conclude that the new consoles coming up later this year and beyond could offer so much more.

 



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