What Went Wrong with the Wii U?
Thinking about the Wii U is kind of weird for me. For one thing, I am one of the seemingly few people in the world that actually liked the Wii U, as is. Sure, it had issues (like any system), but overall, I really liked it! Unfortunately, it failed spectacularly, and a lot of its failures are, in my opinion, completely Nintendo's own fault.
Over the years, especially with the release and success of the Switch, this subject has been talked about ad nauseam. There are a lot of talking points about how and why the Wii U failed, some I agree with while others I feel are misplaced. However, I don't really want to talk too much about those; after all, they've already been beaten into the ground.
I could be wrong, but there are several factors that I believe doomed the Wii U that I don't really see getting much discussion, which is why I am finally getting around to writing about this; or rewriting I should say as this is actually my 3rd attempt to tackle this subject.
Let me just be clear here, this is not meant to be an end all be all explanation behind the Wii U's failure; there are several factors I will not be discussing because I believe those factors have already been discussed repeatedly. This is simply meant to be some factors that I think were just as detrimental as long droughts, bad advertising, not understanding the Internet and fair use (YouTube) and so on, without touching on those factors.
Before I go any further, please bear with me while I give some context to what I am about to write:
First and foremost, this is all just opinion and speculation on my part; I have no hard 'proof' of anything. These opinions are based on my own personal first-hand experience, conversations I've had directly with others (either in person or online in some form), and a slew of things I've seen over the years online in the forms of articles, announcements, and online user chatter. When it comes to things like online chatter, I have always been skeptical because there is always so much room for error due to misinformation, as well as people, forgive the expression, talking out of their asses.
In other words, I DO realize that just because someone says something doesn't mean they actually mean it.
However, when you hear or read the same things over and over again, by different people in different situations, the idea at least begins to resonate more and more. Hopefully that will make more sense as I go on and context is provided.
The second thing to keep in mind is that most of what I plan to write is based on my own memory; over the years I've seen many things, but I never kept a journal or record of any kind (why would I?). I've done my best to research various points and will continue to do so. However, because of the nature of the Internet, some bits of information are harder to track down than others. The old saying is that once something is out there on the Internet it's there forever, and while this is mostly true, it's not actually 100% accurate. Even with sites like archive.org it's sometimes very difficult to find older information (some sites actually block archive.org from scraping their site).
This means that you will have to either take me for my word, or not, and that is completely up to you.
Finally, while it can be easy to ask why it matters since the Wii U is long dead, and its successor, the Switch, is already out and a smash hit. Well, for one thing, it's always interesting to study history, and learning from history is the best way to prevent mistakes from happening again. For another thing, as much as I DO enjoy the Switch, I think it could have been better had Nintendo taken more time in its development process. There are a number of things that could have easily been improved had they waited just a year or two more to announce and release the Switch (better/cheaper processsor, various Joy-Con issues, the Dock scratching the screen, etc).
So with all that said, let's get to this.
Oh boy, this is going to be a doozy. The Wii U's Gamepad was its main 'gimmick' and probably its biggest flaw, at least with how it was ultimately treated by Nintendo themselves. (BTW, there is NOTHING wrong with a 'gimmick', as long as that gimmick is good; for example, 'The Force' is the main gimmick of Star Wars.)
Before I get into this, let me just say that I liked the Gamepad. I thought it felt fine and was comfortable to use and hold, I enjoyed games that utilized both screens (the Gamepad screen and the TV), as few as those were, and I loved being able to play non-dual screen games on the Gamepad itself, freeing up the TV. I thought this was great!
That said, I can understand how and why others did not care for that. To see why I believe the Gamepad did not go over well, let me break this down into some basic sections.
From what I understand, the original idea for the Wii U and its Gamepad was to bring a DS styled dual screen experience to a home console. This could have been great if they had followed through with THIS idea, however, Nintendo failed to properly do so.
One of the best uses to show this, from Nintendo specifically, was their game Nintendoland. And honestly, this WAS a great game! It was comparable to the Wii's Wii Sports title. Quick multiplayer and single player games that show off the system's main gimmick. But the first problem here was that unlike with the Wii and Wii Sports, this was NOT the 'pack-in' game it should have been.
The second problem here, in terms of the 'implementation' of the main gimmick, is that very few games actually utilized it; there are only a handful of games that actually utilize and require both screens. Could you imagine the DS being the hit it was if very few games, let's say 10% or so, actually used both screens? Meaning 90% or so of games only used one screen period, and NOT the touch screen?
Now, the other 'use' for the Gamepad was to play non-dual screen games without needing the TV; you can play a Wii U game while someone else watches something on the TV. This is a great feature for some (like me). But utterly useless for others, possibly the vast majority of gamers. From my viewpoint, my opinion if you will, for the vast majority of gamers, if they are going to play a console game, they want it on their TV.
Something else to consider is that from my research, the Wii U's Gamepad added about $100 to the system's price tag. Where do I get this you may ask? Well, Nintendo briefly toyed with the idea of synching two Gamepads to one Wii U system, with Gamepads being sold not just with the system itself, but separately as well.
This idea was ultimately abandoned, with (as far as I know) no games being supported for two Gamepads. But from what I understand, they DID still sell Gamepads separately in Japan. The price for the standalone Gamepad in Japan, from Yen converted to the US Dollar, was about $100 (US). And since Nintendo pretty much never sells any hardware for less than some profit, I think it's reasonable to assume that the Gamepad packed with the system accounts for about $100 of the retail value.
One last thing to add to this aspect of the Wii U is that the Gamepad wasn't actually needed for anything outside of the small specific selection of games that required either both screens, or the touch screen itself (like Mario Maker, which didn't need both screens but DID require the touch screen for editing).
Outside of those specific game selections, there is not a single part of the Wii U's system that could not be navigated and used with a simple Wii Remote, or Wii Remote with a classic controller plugged in. And in my experience with the games I've played, all games I can think of could be played using a classic controller (again, outside of games that actually required the Gamepad).
Solution Not Taken
Since the Wii U never fully 'required' the Gamepad, Nintendo absolutely should have offered a version of their console that removed the Gamepad and added a Pro Controller. With this setup, the price could have been reduced by $50 while at the same time appealing more to those who never liked the look and/or feel of the Gamepad (the Gamepad cost roughly $100 which would be subtracted, while the Pro Controller cost $50 which would then be added).
This would have put the base system at $250 instead of $300, and the deluxe version at $300 instead of $350, and provided a more traditional gaming experience for those who didn't want the gimmick.
Before I move on to other aspects that I believe added to the Wii U's failure, I just want to explain why I feel that doing this one thing would have improved sales of the Wii U. It boils down to two things, both of which are simple observation.
First is that I cannot count how many times I heard or read (in person/online) someone saying that had the Wii U been cheaper and more 'traditional', they would have bought one as a secondary console. Now, as I said before, I DO take this kind of chatter with a massive grain of salt. But when you see the same basic idea being repeated over and over by different people in different situations, it's hard to ignore.
Second, comparisons to another similar situation; the X-Box One. When the X-Box One was first announced, and then released, criticism was strong about its requirement for the Kinect 2.0, and the sales reflected that criticism. Both companies, at least initially, took a very similar hard-lined stance of these controversial peripherals; the 'Gamepad/Kinect' are integral and so integrated that they cannot be removed.
After poor sales however, Microsoft backpaddled like crazy, releasing a 'Kinectless X-Box One', making sure 'Kinect Required' games were properly packaged, and the sales improved. Now, I do realize that the sales didn't explode or anything, and that there were other criticisms towards the X-Box One, but the Kinect WAS a source of displeasure with audiences, and sales DID improve once it was removed.
I firmly believe that had Nintendo followed Microsoft's example, the Wii U would have done better. I don't believe the Wii U would have even been a 'hit'; it was never going to live up to the success of the Wii. But it would have done better than history shows.
Oh, and a redesign of the Wii U's 'Pro Controller' would have been nice, but I guess that's just my own personal preference talking...
Now because I have already gone on pretty long here, I'm going to try (and fail) to skim over some other aspects that I feel helped the Wii U fail outside of the commonly discussed, aspects that are (in my opinion) 100% Nintendo's own fault.
Failure To Squash Rumors and Speculation
I don't know how much this actually hurt the Wii U; the writing was already on the wall to some degree (mostly because of the Gamepad situation I already described). But I do think it hurt nonetheless.
In early 2015, Nintendo made the mistake of talking about their next system, the then named NX, without giving any context or (truly) addressing concerns by consumers. The 'NX' name drop happened out of nowhere and probably shouldn't have been a big deal. However, the Internet exploded with chatter and speculation to the point where many people were just SURE that Nintendo's next console was being released within a year or so, making the Wii U obsolete.
From that moment, to late 2016 when the Switch was officially announced, anyone who didn't already own a Wii U felt they had no reason to get one, due to the NX being 'right around the corner'. This is yet another case where I read/heard the same thing over and over again; "I'd love to play [this game], but with the NX coming out soon, what's the point getting a Wii U now?"
And again, I know that they could have been full of it, but it's hard to not take notice when the same thing gets spouted over and over again...
(For the record, I am aware of a handful of articles/interviews where someone from Nintendo kind of mildly addressed this, but outside of going over them one by one, my overall opinion is that the few words they gave addressing the NX were lackluster at best. They didn't do nearly enough, in my opinion, to truly squash the idea that the NX was launching soon.)
I know that Nintendo did fast track the Switch because of the Wii U's failure, which in my opinion not only hurt the Wii U, but the Switch itself (I like the Switch, and it's doing well, but it COULD have been better with more development time IMO). But had Nintendo put more effort into improving the health of the Wii U, and squashing the persistent rumors that the NX was going to be out soon, the Wii U could have done better.
Exclusives Gone Multi-Platform
For this section I am talking about 1st party games. Nintendo can't really control what 3rd party developers do, outside of contracts and what not. But nothing is more important to a Nintendo system than Nintendo's own 1st party lineup. And what any Nintendo system needs more than any other single thing is a solid lineup of 1st party exclusives.
So, it seems kind of counter-productive when a game that should be exclusive to a system you are pushing goes to any other system.
First, we have Super Smash Bros. 4 which was cross developed for both the Wii U and the 3DS. In my opinion, this helped hurt not only the Wii U, but the game itself. First, the game was hurt because since they were trying to make the game mostly the same on both systems, with cross-functionality between the two, the weaker system takes priority; aka the 3DS version. I know for a fact that the Ice Climbers were originally supposed to be in the game but had to be cut because they didn't work right on the 3DS. And this makes me wonder, what else got scrapped from the Wii U version because the 3DS couldn't handle it?
This cross-development hurt the Wii U specifically because the 3DS was already a hot system; if you already owned a 3DS, but not a Wii U (which is/was true for a lot of gamers), why would you buy a Wii U? The answer is you wouldn't; you'd simply buy the 3DS version, meaning the Wii U just became less appealing.
On top of that, the 3DS version released about a MONTH ahead of the Wii U version! This makes a stupid decision flat out insane! I could ignore the dual release a little if the Wii U version came first; at least then the most die-hard Smash fans would have at least thought about buying a Wii U just so they can get their hands on the game sooner (which WOULD have happened). But if the game had been exclusive to the Wii U, well, that's called a 'system seller' for a reason.
After Smash, other exclusives gone multi-platform are games like Mario Maker and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For Mario Maker, it could be argued that the Switch was already right around the corner, and the Wii U was already dead, so why not? But to me, this is yet another example of Nintendo's failure to give their fanbase a reason to buy their system; Mario Maker itself would have sold better, IMO, if Nintendo had been more pro-active with the Wii U early on.
Then there is Breath of the Wild; the decision to not only fast track the Switch, but also divert the development of this game to launch with the Switch again not only hurt the sales of the Wii U but the game itself. Had Nintendo not derailed the original development, the game could have launched on Wii U even sooner (probably at least a year sooner), being YET ANOTHER potential system seller. Plus, from what I understand, the original idea for the game was going to be a pinnacle example of what the Wii U and its Gamepad was suppose to deliver.
So far I have had a really hard time finding the details that were originally given when the new 'Zelda' title was announced, but I do remember members of the development team talking about how the Gamepad was going to be used to enhance the game, though no real details were given (as far as I can remember). I for one would really love to see how that was going to work...
Another noteworthy aspect of this is that, unless I am mistaken, going multi-platform with Breath of the Wild makes the Wii U the second Nintendo system ever to NOT have an exclusive (for its lifecycle) Zelda game; the first being the VIRTUAL BOY. Every other system had at least one (for its lifecycle) exclusive Zelda title.
Outside of the three releases I just mentioned, releases that should have been system sellers, let's not forget about the other franchises that were either botched by poor handling or ignored all together.
First up is Star Fox: Zero. I never played this game myself, as I have actually never played a Star Fox game (that franchise just never appealed to me), but I have seen, read and heard VERY little positivity toward this title. Now, I do give Nintendo credit for taking one of their bigger franchises and attempting to provide that dual screen experience the Wii U was supposed to provide in the first place. Unfortunately, from everything I've read and heard, it had a tremendous learning curve that was frustrating as hell to get use to, causing many to just give up; maybe it's a good thing after all that Breath of the Wild wasn't given this dual screen experience, but I'd still liked to have seen it for myself.
Next up is Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival. Now, before you try and dismiss the Animal Crossing franchise, keep in mind that sales wise it's not far behind the Smash Bros. series. The 4 current mainline games in the Animal Crossing series, on 4 systems, have sold about 30 million copies worldwide. The 4 previous Smash games, on 5 systems (not including the Switch version) have sold about 40 million copies. If you take away the 3DS version of Smash 4, they've sold about the same amount of copies. Animal Crossing has a vast and dedicated fanbase and mainline Animal Crossing games SELL systems.
The mainline Animal Crossing games have released between 3 and 4 years apart from each other, on a new system, with the last (New Leaf) releasing November of 2012 in Japan. The next entry should have released around 2015 or 2016 on Wii U, and what happened instead? E3 2015 we got the announcement of Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, an extremely dumbed down 'Mario Party' clone with almost no appeal to the vast majority of fans.
One last thing about Animal Crossing; if you think it's nitpicking when separating mainline games from the spinoffs like Happy Home Designer and Amiibo Festival, do YOU not consider Mario Party to be separate from the Super Mario games like Mario 64, World and Odyssey?
Finally the franchises that were flat out ignored all together on the Wii U like Metroid and Fire Emblem. I'm not going mention franchises that have just been ignored all together on all systems, like F-Zero, because that's not unique to the Wii U. And sure, this isn't an extensive list, but when you look at the bigger picture, it IS telling in my eyes.
I know it doesn't matter anymore; what's done is done. It's a part of history now. But it is interesting to me, thinking about what could have been. And honestly, a lot (not all) of Nintendo's problems, with the Wii U or in general, could be summed up with not paying close enough attention to what their customers, and potential customers, are saying and/or want.
Had Nintendo paid closer attention to what people were saying and at least considered selling a Wii U system with a Pro Controller instead of a Gamepad, and treated their franchises a little better, could the Wii U have been spared its failure? And more importantly, are they going to make this same type of mistake again?
To be honest, I'm not totally convinced on that last question. In a time when most gamers seem to be done with most 'motion control' gimmicks, Nintendo does seem to be failing to learn from their past mistakes. Of course, that is a completely different discussion.
If you have stuck around this long, thank you! Do you agree or disagree with anything I've said? Please feel free to leave a comment bellow!