Eurogamer have reported that Nintendo will cease production on the WiiU as of Friday 4th November, which will likely leave the console with a disappointing sales total of around 14 million. For context, that’s 15% of the sales of its golden child predecessor, the Wii.
Nintendo have since denied the rumour, but it comes fresh off the back of the company finally revealing the mystery project NX. Their next big hardware release, the Nintendo Switch, is a home console that you can take with you on the go.
Despite the exciting potential of the upcoming hardware, there is still the fear it may fall into all the same traps that held back the WiiU. Seeing the disappointing console lowered into its early grave shines fresh light on the Switch and its potential pitfalls, but if there’s one positive Nintendo can draw from the WiiU, it’s the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
So keeping that in mind, here are seven things we can learn from the demise of WiiU.
- Clear Marketing Message
Despite a general lack of significant interest in the WiiU, Nintendo managed to generate more hype for its successor than the Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer, arguably one of the most anticipated sequels of all time.
There was no shortage of engaged fans, ranging from a traditional demographic of game enthusiasts to the incredibly broad market carved out by the Wii and 3ds. This audience was absolutely accessible to the WiiU, but Nintendo failed to communicate the unique dual-screen selling point of the hardware and why anyone needed it. Even developers failed to implement it successfully in their games, and at the end of the console’s life cycle the only game to convince me of its purpose is Mario Maker, a game released three years after launch.
Put simply, nobody understood the point of the gamepad – including Nintendo.
The premise of the Switch seems to be much clearer, and the reveal trailer had a strong message; this is a console you can play traditionally at home or take with you and play on the go. If Nintendo can nail down that message and avoid confusing or diluting it, the Switch is already off to a better start than WiiU.
- Beating the Competition
One of the most important questions for many serious gamers is how powerful the new machine will be.
Early indications are promising, with a confirmed custom Nvidia Tegra processor, but the console will almost certainly be a significant downgrade from the upcoming Xbox Scorpio or Playstation 4 Pro. Both Sony and Microsoft made clear with their most recent hardware announcements that 4K technology would be the focus of their forthcoming upgrades.
Predictably, Nintendo have once again resisted competing directly with their closest console rivals on power and 4K technology, and have instead favoured diversification and innovation.
Whilst this strategy birthed the dual screen concept of the disappointing WiiU, it also lead them to the motion technology behind its hugely successful predecessor the Wii. Since the introduction of the N64 rumble pack, Nintendo have delivered some excellent hardware gimmicks and overall they have a pretty strong track record, recent exceptions aside. Conversely, the GameCube’s attempt to compete directly with its rivals on CPU was a complete flop.
So yes, it is absolutely acceptable for Nintendo to not to follow the crowd, as innovation has been their bread and butter for decades. The lesson from the WiiU is that this strategy only works if you can convince your audience that your gimmick is good enough to forego industry standards, in this case 4K HDR power.
- Healthy Price Point
When the Wii was released at just $250/£200, it immediately undercut competition significantly. The price proved to be acceptable for casual gamers or families as an entertainment centre, and was also low enough that hard-core gamers could pick it up as a second console without completely breaking the bank.
The WiiU came in higher, with its premium console priced only marginally less than the competition despite having very few games on offer at release. Without third party support, this meant that anyone hoping to play major AAA titles would have to fork out upwards of $700/£600 to have both the WiiU and a console capable of playing popular non-Nintendo releases.
Speaking at Nintendo’s semi-Annual Financial Results Briefing, the company’s President Tatsumi Kimishima stated that there were no plans to sell the Switch at a loss, which would suggest a high price point. The difference this time is that, given the console’s mid-cycle launch, competition is very different. Most serious gamers already have a next generation console in their living rooms, but Sony and Microsoft are still introducing new hardware with their 4K upgrades and VR peripherals, which are coming in at about £349/$399. Nintendo would benefit from pricing their new console competitively, and convince their target market that the Switch is more essential than 4K.
The latest rumours from Eurogamer sources suggest that the Switch will have a 720p capacitive multi-touch screen – which is the reactive technology in our smart phones and tablets. This is in contrast to the resistive touchscreen of the WiiU gamepad, which is designed for single-touch interactivity that is less precise.
The gamepad’s clunky screen was functional, but considering how many of us interact with more attractive, modern smart screens on a daily basis, it made the WiiU’s screen look instantly outdated. The Switch looks sleeker and more like the tablets we’re already used to, which would lend itself to portability. With Nintendo adamant that the screen is exclusively for use on the go, and not for dual-screen experiences, let’s hope these multi-touch rumours are true.
Okay, so it looks like they already have this one in the bag.
When the WiiU gamepad was first unveiled, one of the most confusing problems was the lack of portability. Seeing your favourite games jump from your TV into the small, foggy gamepad screen was a great novelty, but the dream fell apart once you wandered too far out of the room. Portable gaming was not the purpose of the second screen, but it successfully highlighted demand for that function.
Remote play already exists for the competition of course, whether you’re streaming to your phone or your dusty old Vita, but it is often a jumpy, interrupted experience. Since the handheld Switch screen IS the console, this is unlikely to be a problem and Nintendo might have found a genuine niche.
- Launch titles
If you saw early WiiU trailers and drooled over the ‘Zelda U’ footage, you may have been tempted to purchase there and then, knowing a brand new 3d Zelda game was in the works. Four years later we’re still waiting for Breath of the Wild, and will continue to even after console production has ceased.
WiiU did have some well-known titles, such as Fifa, Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, but it lacked any exclusive system sellers. New Super Mario Bros U and Nintendo Land were the only Nintendo games on offer, and neither justified the console’s $299/£249 price tag.
We don’t yet know what Switch games will be available for the March 2017 release window, but with Zelda Breath of the Wild still pencilled in for the same timeframe it seems likely this will coincide with the console launch. We also got a tease of a mystery 3D Mario game in the Switch trailer, which may point to another big title in the works. Brand new Mario and Zelda titles available at launch would put the Switch in a much stronger position, particularly if paired with a good collection of third party games.
- Third party support
Compared to its rivals, the WiiU had a severe lack of third party support. The combination of low sales and an underpowered CPU really turned off developers and limited the console’s available titles.
Nintendo have clearly already acknowledged the error here, with a notable effort to advertise intended third party support going forward. The Switch reveal trailer included footage from Skyrim remastered and an NBA 2k game, and this was followed by a long list of partners supposedly supporting the console.
Whilst this looks promising, very few games have actually been confirmed for the Switch. Even Bethesda and 2k couldn’t confirm an upcoming title, despite having worked with Nintendo on the trailer. In order to have the best chance of success, the Switch has to be developer friendly and offer players more than the standard Nintendo first party roster. If social media is any gauge, people really want to play Skyrim in the car.