Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Analysis: The Wii U Launch Part 1 Media and Consumer Criticism

In November of 2012, Nintendo launched the Wii U, its first high definition home video game console.  The primary message of Nintendo's marketing campaigns and expo presentations focused on the asymmetric gameplay capabilities permitted by the new tablet controller, the Wii U GamePad.  Despite the excitement surrounding Nintendo's famous franchises making the leap into HD, the console launch has been somewhat marred by customer confusion, cumbersome system software, and a lack of exciting games.  Originally Nintendo stated that the console "launch window" would run from November of 2012 through March of 2013, and now that March 2013 has come and gone, this series of articles is being written as one Nintendo fan's thoughts on what went right with the launch and what went wrong.

Nintendo originally announced the Wii U in 2011.  The console had to be re-introduced at E3 2012 due to widespread confusion over what the system actually was.  The naming convention ("Wii U" versus "Wii 2" or a different name altogether) as well as Nintendo's focus on the GamePad peripheral made consumers and media alike claim the new system was not a new system at all but instead an add-on for the original Wii.  Most recently at the 2013 PAX East expo, Nintendo handed out what have been deemed as "absurd" and "embarrassing" flyers promoting its latest console over its previous one (source Kotaku: http://goo.gl/xiDW7).  This just further proves the identity crisis Nintendo has caused for itself.  Focusing more on the hardware and not just the controller or branding the system a little differently could have helped this substantially before it happened, but it is what it is.

Getting past the identity issues leads many people to a frequent complaint against Nintendo from non-fans of their products.  Nintendo is often accused of focusing on gimmick controllers and not bleeding edge hardware.  I have never had an issue with this (though I heartily dislike motion controlled Zelda), but people are frequently confused by new input devices.  Nintendo's GamePad (pictured) is actually very close to what Nintendo has done with the DS/3DS hardware in terms of gameplay concepts.  They provide asymmetric ways to interact with game worlds.  Many developers have yet to fully capitalize on what is available, but flashes of brilliance can be found in games like ZombiU and Lego City Undercover (to be further addressed in future installments of this series).  Nintendo's famous game designer Shigeru Miyamoto has spoken at length about two screen capabilities, and the company has pushed for this ever since they provided capabilities to connect Game Boy systems to the Nintendo GameCube years ago (Miyamoto interviews with Wired and CNN respectively: http://goo.gl/9ZMCS, http://goo.gl/CW423).  I tend to agree with the legend, let's give developers time to make the tablet sing.

From a sales perspective, the numbers match the criticism detailed above.  The system is constantly selling lower than the 3DS, Sony Playstation Vita, and Playstation 3 in Japan, while in Europe and the United States Microsoft's XBOX 360 is dominating it.  European retailers tried a price cut to stimulate sales to no avail (source My Nintendo News: http://goo.gl/WsN9U).  Quite frankly the price is not terrible, but the software needs to be better.  Several games have missed the launch window, and a large portion of the games that made launch are lackluster ports missing DLC or games that have been available on other consoles for months.  The software will be there eventually, but it is not there yet.

Over the next several installments of this series I will be digging into the hardware itself, the system software, and the current game library (both digital and retail).  Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with the analysis in the comments.

- Scott

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