Nintendo Wii U – console or marketing failure?

In January 2017, Nintendo announced the end of production for the Wii U. How did a company with such a legacy and a dedicated fanbase manage to sell only 15 million consoles? Only the Virtual Boy was probably worse. The Wii, the predecessor of the Wii U, reached over one hundred million recipients and became the winner of the seventh generation of consoles, although the manufacturer never wanted to participate in any arms race. We don’t want to call the Wii U a failure – on the contrary – we think the system has delivered some really great games that we’re happy to be playing on Nintendo Switch today, as almost all of them have been updated. But let’s go back to June 2011, to Los Angeles.

Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, presents a completely new console – a combination of a tablet and a gamepad. The gathered journalists wonder about the company’s new gadget. “Is this another add-on for the Wii controller?” – they asked. Nintendo devoted most of the conference time to the GamePad. Finally, the curtain came down and the audience’s enthusiasm faded just as quickly. It is still unclear whether we are talking about a new console or a peripheral for the Wii. “We focused our attention on the console, which was met with incomprehension“- Satoru Iwata admitted that evening in an interview with the Evening Standard. Nintendo’s president, who died in 2015, took responsibility for the Wii U’s commercial failure. He even reduced his salary.

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AMD 7-series graphics chips and a multi-core processor from IBM (the company also produced integrated circuits for the GameCube) sparked the public’s imagination when it became clear that the Wii U was the official successor to the Wii. Unfortunately, these reports have been verified by the developers themselves. It turns out that running games on two displays greatly burdens the console’s resources, causing games from third-party studios to suffer from performance drops and screen tearing. The gamepad equipped with a touch screen generated an image with a resolution of 480 pixels. The performance disproportionality was observed while playing in ZombiU, a game from Ubisoft that deals with a zombie epidemic, with Permadeath mode. It was praised for its attempt at innovative storytelling, but was quickly forgotten. Once again, the only reasons to buy the console were games produced at Nintendo Studios.

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Nintendo’s management may have quickly realized that the Wii U had no chance of repeating the success of the Wii. The plumbing company was able to tap into a new segment of players, the so-called casual players. With the Wii U there was never a doubt of this magnitude. Equipping the console with a GamePad that poorly imitates the functions of a tablet was a wrong decision. In addition, most third-party studios did not use the tool one hundred percent. Only engineers who work at Nintendo on a daily basis can do this. With the Wii U, it appears that the console manufacturer is making another attempt to take on Sony and Microsoft. Meanwhile, this is how Michael Pachter summed up Nintendo’s moves in the face of the console’s premiere – “Again, their next generation is the current generation“It’s hard to disagree.” The problem with the Wii U’s marketing was misreading players’ needs. At the same time, the Apple iPad made its world debut, and games began to appear on it as well, much cheaper than Nintendo’s new console.

In practical terms, this meant that the company’s fierce constituency, die-hard Mario and Zelda fanatics, connected with the Wii U. One of the most interesting games on offer early in the Wii’s run on the market was New Super Mario Bros. U. And soon after, Super Mario 3D World. Years later, we can confidently say that the Wii U console was the setting for one character – a mustachioed plumber. Interest in the device increased when the amazing game Mario Kart 8 premiered. “These tracks in the game are amazing, literally every single one of them– Gary Penn, the man behind the original Grand Theft Auto, has made no secret of his enthusiasm for the game. He also stated that “Pikmin 3 is the best game he has ever played” – another proof among many that the games from the parent company are the best on Nintendo consoles. There were a couple of exceptions when games from outside studios were of lower quality. Platinum Games is the creator of the amazing Bayonetta 2 and the hit game The Wonderful 101. Dedicated versions of Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition and Resident Evil: Revelations appeared on the Wii U. However, it was not enough, and a significant decline in console sales discouraged publishers.

The Wii U hit the market at the wrong time. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 did well, and the PS4 and XONE were soon to come. Developers were already busy taming dev kits for the new consoles, so the Wii U was quickly becoming obsolete. “The Wii U’s development kit was more complex than its predecessors” – explained Byron Atkinson-Jones from the independent studio Xiotex. Thus, the number of third-party games was much less than expected. A strange situation occurred. In the Wii days, many publishers were happy to publish their games on the Wii, but due to technical limitations, they often resembled licensed games more than full ports.. Simply put, no one was buying a Wii U, even though the components were better. There has also been no news of a new game in Master Miyamota’s Legend of Zelda series for a very long time. To sweeten the deal, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD were released, which, while very good, are currently fetching astronomical sums in online auctions. Hopefully Nintendo will eventually release it on Switch.

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The Nintendo Wii U launched at a bad time, with poor marketing and poor support from third-party publishers. The console’s marketing lacked the reach and WOW impact that accompanied the Wii’s advertising campaign. Wiilot was very clear in his message and quickly gained enthusiasts. It was connected to television, plus it provided movement. The simplest methods are the most effective. From the beginning, the Wii U seemed like something too unusual and complex for the average user. Hardcore gamers who loved Nintendo games raved about the console, and many of them still own it today. The farewell title turned out to be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where we saw an interesting analogy. Just as Nintendo was ending support for the GameCube, Twilight Princess was released and launched as a launch title for the Wii. Call of the Wild said goodbye to the Wii U and hello to the Switch, which continues to be a money-making machine for the company. Fortunately for Nintendo, the little 3DS pulled that wagon through the tough times for the Wii U.

Therefore, the answer to the question in the title of the text – the error lies on both sides. Incorrect marketing combined with poor architecture. Independent developers resented Nintendo for the arduous process of releasing their games on the eShop. Additionally, the Wii U did not support the Unity engine, an essential tool for many startup teams. However, throughout this history, which has undoubtedly not been easy for Nintendo, the company has achieved success. During the console’s lifetime, its manufacturer introduced amiibo figures, which sold tens of millions of copies. Ironically, the Nintendo Wii U did not become more expensive after these few years. There is still a group of people playing it. It has put out some really excellent products, and the GamePad is an interesting form of control. Games like Splatoon confirm this. It seems that more and more people appreciate the capabilities of the Wii U and the message that Nintendo wanted to give us. Unfortunately, it is too late for that day.

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