Wii-U-black

After the launch of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One late last year, 2014 will be the first year of the entire “New Console Generation,” and while a lot of the discussion recently has focused on whether Sony or Microsoft’s machine is performing better, there are still plenty of people who want to speak up about the Nintendo Wii U. Unfortunately, the majority of that news coverage isn’t what you would call positive. In the twelve months since its release in November 2012, the Wii U sold over 4.3 million units worldwide. While that might seem like a lot, the anticipated goal set by Nintendo called for selling 9 million units by the end of this fiscal year, March 2014. With the shiny new consoles that just launched cornering public attention and publicity, the future seems dark for the Wii U. In fact, since I started writing this article, Nintendo has official announced changes to their projected sales, which are much lower than their initial estimates. However, as the original Wii proved, one can never count out Nintendo, which is why I’d like to take a look at how the Wii U has done so far, where its main issues lie, and what lies ahead.

Last week, Eurogamer posted an interview with an unidentified developer who was present at the first unveiling of Nintendo’s newest console and was among the first to work with it. His (or her) account is a very interesting look at some of the behind the scenes work that goes into game creation, and I would recommend you give it a read. It does, however, bring to light several real problems that the Wii U, and Nintendo overall, is currently facing. The first comes from the hardware being used in the new console, which is considerably less powerful than its contemporaries. In a market that is constantly striving to raise the bar in every aspect of presentation and gameplay, this means that the Wii U faces an uphill battle when trying to compete for attention on multi-platform games. A bigger problem than just raw power, though, is the software that Nintendo’s console runs off of. While I do not claim to be any sort of programming expert, from what I’ve been able to gather, testing and implementing code for the Wii U took significantly longer than for other consoles (which, if you’ll allow me to go off topic, is very similar to complaints that were heard initially about the Playstation 3). These unwieldy tools caused a lot of delays during the development process, and hurt the overall final product. Perhaps the biggest issue pointed out by the interview is difficulty in communication between the developer in question and Nintendo. Long delays for question translation, late implementation of certain features, and what appeared to be a dismissive attitude from Nintendo all made for a frustrating work environment for this developer.

Crysis3WiiU

In my opinion, that last point, the communication trouble between with other developers, is the single biggest problem that Nintendo has struggled with recently. For fans of the company, there is never any question as to the quality of internal franchises like Mario and Zelda; those games will always impress and be a blast to play. However, the original Wii showed us that many third party developers struggled to harness the full potential of the such a vastly different console, which introduced a vicious cycle for Nintendo versions of multi-platform games. In spite of the increase in time and energy to make a Wii version of a game, that version would often under perform comparatively, saleswise. This would lead to less attention being put on upcoming third party titles, which in turn gave even fewer incentives for Wii owners to buy. This cycle seems to have carried over to the current generation, and has caused plenty of controversy already. Last year EA made headlines after it announced (and then unannounced) that it would not be supporting the Wii U in the future. Coming from one of the largest software companies in the industry, this is a fairly damaging statement. Reviews of the newest graphics engines, like the Frostbite 3 engine being used by Bioware for its Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, indicated that the Wii U would have trouble running these engines, if it could handle them at all. The loss of all these hotly anticipated titles is certainly disappointing for Nintendo fans, and it seems like the Wii U will struggle heavily when it comes to competing with the PS4 and Xbox One.

With all of the people crying out that this is the end for Nintendo and that they should back out of console manufacturing (for the millionth time), the fact remains that the Wii U isn’tin fact, in direct competition with the PS4 amd Xbox One. When releasing the first Wii, Nintendo asserted on multiple occasions that they didn’t view themselves as being in the same market as their competitors. The sales numbers certainly backed up that claim, as a large portion of Wii purchases were made by the so-called “casual audience”, much more so than its contemporaries. By offering something that no one had seen before, they were able to create an entire new audience. In an interview last October, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata reinforced this position, saying “When we talk about Nintendo we cannot ignore (former president) Hiroshi Yamauchi who just recently passed away. He always said that if you have failure, you don’t need to be too concerned. You always have good things and bad, and this reflects the history of Nintendo. If you do the same thing as others, it will wear you out. Nintendo is not good at competing so we always have to challenge [the status quo] by making something new, rather than competing in an existing market.” Now, the Wii U is a very different beast than its predecessor, and its clear that it’s tablet-style controller hasn’t caught on in the same way the Wiimote did. However, to condemn the console since it won’t host Mass Effect 4 or have the best version of Call of Duty seems to be missing the point a bit.

Pokemon Miiverse drawing

Enough with the conjecture, let me tell you how my experience with the console has been. I was a relatively early adopter of the system, picking one up last March. Since then, I’ve put plenty of time into the system, playing games, browsing the eShop, and taking advantage of all the features the console offers. Everything a gamer would expect to be in a next-gen system are present and accounted for, and stands up to it compatriots well enough. True, Nintendo’s inexperience with online multiplayer still shows, and signing up friends is still more cumbersome than it could be. However, the Wii U, just like its predecessors, promotes in-person multiplayer over digital connection, and these features are far more polished and compelling. More than once, I found myself playing with a group of friends until the wee hours of the morning, chasing each other in Nintendo Land or getting in everyone’s way in New Super Mario Bros. Outside of Rock Band sessions, I’ve never had that much fun playing with someone in person on a Sony or Microsoft console, and nothing I’ve seen from their latest offerings make me think that anything has changed. Probably the biggest surprise to me, though, is how much I’ve enjoyed the Miiverse service. Scrolling through the different game boards, looking at what people have written and drawn, gives a real sense of community, even among complete strangers. I’ve seen people answering questions, giving tips to new players, and just sharing in their common love of games. It’s something that I’ve never seen integrated into a console before, but it feels like a natural evolution, one that will probably be emulated by future console generations.

Looking forward, what will make or break the Wii U, as is always the case in our industry, are the games. For the first 12 months, the software lineup for the console has been sparse, to say the least. While there have been several high-profile titles, both from third parties and from Nintendo itself, the Wii U’s library still doesn’t offer as much as I would like. Luckily, this is one of the brightest aspects in my analysis, as there are plenty of exciting titles on the horizon. With new entries in Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and more, Nintendo fans should not be disappointed this year. And while EA may be passing up the Wii U, exclusive third party titles, most notably Bayonetta 2 and the enticingly mysterious X, mean that there is still some interest from outside Nintendo itself. It remains to be seen how that mindset might change throughout the year, but in my opinion, this is where Nintendo should get a bit creative. The company has an enormous backlog of games and characters that have been untouched for years. If the first-party teams are too busy to touch them, I think that its high time that talent be brought in from the outside. It’s not exactly an unprecedented move; Retro managed to revitalize both the Metroid and Donkey Kong Country franchises, Capcom has done great work on handheld Zelda games, and the next Super Smash Bros. is under the helm of Namco Bandai. Its been far too long since we’ve heard from Ness, Captain Falcon, and Star Fox. All fantasizing aside, I believe that this is one of the keys that Nintendo needs to strive for: listen to their fans, take advantage of their brand loyalty, and continue to make great games. I know that I’ll be eagerly waiting to see what’s next in the pipeline.

x-monolith

I’d like to hear from all of you. Is Nintendo doomed, or is this slump just temporary? What games or franchises would you like to see from them next? Please share all of you thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below.

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12 Comments

  • Robert

    “… the fact remains that the Wii U isn’t, in fact, in direct competition with the PS4 amd Xbox One.” First of all I think your article is fine and gives a good advice and hope to how the Wii U can pick up, but that sentence above… man, that is what I believe to be the number one reason why Nintendo and the Wii U is selling so badly. The Wii U IS in direct competition to the other two, it is a video game console as the other two are. Stop swallowing that BS about Nintendo not competing, that is pure arrogance and it is killing the company. That the Wii U has different features, yes I agree, same as the Xbox One has different features, and the PS4 has different features, and almost every kind of product you can think of tries to differenciate it self from competing ones. So please, for the millionth time, STOP saying that Nintendo is not competing with Sony and Microsoft!

    • Matt

      @Robert, I agree with you these people swallowing all the nonsense about WiiU not competing with the almighty ps4 and 1 ? how stupid ive seen better graphics on wiiu than ps4 so far and that is FINAL in my mind i bought ps4 with rivals and knack because i liked my WiiU version of mostwanted and loved Mario3Dworld let me tell you WiiU graphics demolish ps4’s and i mean demolish in terms of multiplat 3rd party games they are about even considering Sony pay for more attention on their versions ect….so the odd nicer texture on AC4 and Ghosts was a given other than this WiiU graphics are better…….so for the love of god i do not understand this ps4 and 1 are in some sort of different league its just rubbish all 3 are dx11 comparable none are dx12 so calm down.

      WiiU so far has developers say it can do dx11 graphics at max shadow of eternals showed you this,Shinen is using 4k/8k textures something no ps4 game can claim and this is also at 1080p/60fps,Almost all the top tier indie games are dx11 comparable,WiiU has the most Full HD 60fps games,WiiU has so much more and actually enhances your living room unlike ps4 ie why i sold ps4 and kept wiiu.

    • @Robert,

      “So please, for the millionth time, STOP saying that Nintendo is not competing with Sony and Microsoft!”

      Agreed. Unfortunately, this mindset will haunt Nintendo this generation. They got away with it somewhat last generation since the Wii tapped into the casual market so well. Unfortunately, they didn’t really sell the idea that the Wii U is any different from the Wii, so they’re losing out on the casual market this time, and the decision to “not want to compete” with Sony/Microsoft is hurting them with more traditional gamer groups.

    • @Robert,

      I understand what you’re saying about them both being video game consoles. However, I feel like what people purchase a Nintendo console for is not the same thing they purchase a Playstation or Xbox for. Its like with movies; people go to see Action movies for different reasons then they go to see Horror movies. That’s not to say that people can’t like both, or that a movie can’t have a little of both genres. Similarly, the Wii U offers a very different experience than its counterparts. I’m just a little worried that, by focusing on competing with the PS4 and the Xbox 1, Nintendo will try to emulate them. I don’t think that is the right strategy for them.

  • rjo

    amen to that robert, it’s true despite saying arrogantly where not in direct competition with the ps4 and xox 1 is pure arrogance and out of touch,they need the same bloody hell publishers,developers that make games for the other two (ps4 and xbo1).
    the one thing that i knew this machine isn’t next-gen is their controller tablet, have you seen more than one of these being used on the wii-u??? offcourse not,since A: it doesn’t pack the horsepower needed to run the damn screen(s) hence EA and mostly dice seeing early on the wii-u would NEVER be able to compete against the competitors who had 8 gb of ram and what not compared to the paltry 2gb which is just shy 512 more than the 360 i say 512 since the os on the wii-u uses up 1gb of ram leaving only 1gb effective for developers to use and that is compared to a ps3/360 after nearly 5+ yrs the best they can do?? it shows on every aspect from the wii-u they simply are out of touch and dismissing that hardware is not relevant well the sales of both the ps4 and xbox 1 show otherwise,only thing they can do is sit this one out otherwise it’s game over for nintendo cause when the wii-u’s plug is pulled nintendo will never be trusted by consumers ever again for a home console.

    • @rjo,

      I’m not so sure that, even if the Wii U fails, its the end of Nintendo consoles. People said similar things about the Gamecube, and then the Wii came and was a huge success. Even if it didn’t age as well as its counterparts, the Wii also showed that a less powerful console can still sell well, if it has software that is enticing enough and is marketed correctly. So far, the Wii U has had terrible marketing, but that could still be changed at this point.

  • Matt

    All ps4 has is the best marketing and knows how to lie to its fans on how powerful it is jaguar cores x86 tech is weak there is a reason Nasa dont use x86 and use power pc you know.

    • crytek

      Ms and Sony where smart. They know gamers don’t know tech. Ram is actually very cheap these days even go Dr ram since it is used to make up for chip sales.

      Game wise most indies are using core 01, it has the largest cache. Basically the system is roughly on par with the ps4 and xbone. The ps4 is be slowed down by smaller bits of interlocking data in a similar way the ps4 fell short yet coming out of the first year of development they can almost be superior.

      The amd cores are very unimpressive and are not going to see a real boost from studying it. Yet the power pc coding will yield some serious results over time. We have a ps3 like issue where we are simply not using the tech at hand and it still can run many of the multi platform games yet the effort is simply lacking.

      It may be true that the ps4 and xbone offer a easier way to work WITHOUT coding for a Gpgpu yet the tech is closer to what the true future of chip design will be. Efficient chips for gaming only are what we are looking at here. The is a reason why 8k textures are supported, tessellation, complex computer shaders are supported.

      So the industry is betting late on this box. They see Mario kart 8 they see smash and are basically saying gamers won’t be able to see the power of this system because they don’t know tech. Also note that sony also had similar problems when communication broke down on how to use the spu. About two years later bam differed rendering was shown.

      Crytek is about as close as we get to understanding the wiiu tech. The extra ram and cores are best used as multi media features in the other boxes, not in game. The wiiu is actually the sweet spot tech wise. Development is just moving slowly.

      It is very much like a ps3 that is easier to program due to a single core being better along with the gpu. If Nintendo knew gamers would have laid down their intelligence for more ram and a better video card that would lead to better 3rd party results then maybe they would have done that.

      We all know the support is by choice. The 3ds supports none of their ports. Yet people are running to support that.

      • @crytek,

        I agree, when the 3ds came out, there were plenty of naysayers who claimed that it would fail after it didn’t sell as well for the first year. It just shows that fortunes can change very quickly.

        Thanks for all of those tech details, I didn’t know a lot of that.

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