It seems like one of the most popular pasttimes in the gaming community is predicting Nintendo’s doom. The Gamecube’s lack of third party support was a death sentence, the Wii’s train of low budget releases was a death march, the Wii U’s bad marketing was the end of the house of Mario. Nintendo has not fallen, and I don’t suspect it will anytime soon- it has such a different style and approach from the other console manufacturers that it can always carve out enough of a niche to survive.
That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t make some astonishingly boneheaded decisions sometimes. This is one of those times. The Wii U has been, as we noted, something of a mess. Throughout all that, 3DS sales have remained steady and successful… so of course Nintendo now feels a need to screw that up as well. Ben and I are pretty united in one message: Nintendo, get your head in the game.
Q: What are the failures of the Wii U up to this point?
The most obvious thing is that the marketing has been a disaster. A completely nonsense name set a bad first impression, confusing the public as to the very nature of the system. Even the enthusiast crowd was misled by early announcements- I myself remember walking away from the initial unveiling completely baffled as to whether it was a new console or just a new controller. Over the coming days, I kept my finger on the pulse and figured out what Nintendo was trying (clumsily) to tell us, but the audience at large never fully got the information.
Their ad campaigns didn’t help one iota, either- even months after release their own commercials were compelling viewers to “upgrade” to the Wii U, further reinforcing the belief that the Wii U is… well, an upgrade, rather than a replacement. It was also the same gamble as the Wii- make a system less powerful than your competitors hoping that you can get the initial burst of sales by being different, then keep third parties working on your system because they can’t ignore the install base. There were two glaring problems with this plan: first, they hadn’t done nearly as good of a job pitching their controller gimmick this time around, and two, third party developers had already been burned by terrible sales on the Wii. It’s great if you sell a lot of systems, but if you sell them to people who don’t tend to buy games… they’re not going to buy games. Seems fairly obvious to me, but hindsight is 20/20.
What you didn’t need hindsight to see was that even if the marketing hadn’t been a shitshow, the casual crowd that bought Wiis weren’t going to come out for another console launch. They barely played their Wiis- what need did they have for another system? So all Nintendo had left was the hardcore crowd, who they’d spent a hardware generation ignoring and who were well aware how massively weaker the system was to its competitors in terms of specs. MK8 is the only positive note this system has seen (financially), and I don’t think it will be enough to carry them.
Every time I bring out the Wii U for get-togethers, my friends and family have a great time. Whether it’s the colorful race tracks in Mario Kart 8 or the tense ghost-hunting in Nintendo Land, there’s just something about Nintendo’s games that captivates players young and old, skilled and clumsy. But after the controllers are powered off and my guests head home for the night, no one wants to bring the magic home for themselves. Nintendo’s marketing push was such an abysmal failure that no matter what games they throw down, no one wants to own their system.
Yes, the lack of third-party support isn’t doing the Wii U any favors, but what reasonable person expects publishers to continue putting resources in projects that no one buys? It launched with a pitiful number of worthwhile games, though the PS4 had an even smaller release day line-up and still managed to sell ludicrously well. The Wii U is cheaper, happens to be the only current-gen console that doesn’t charge for online access, and even built up quite the collection of interesting games over its two-year lifespan, but it just move any units.
Only marketing stands out as the one hole that sunk the whole ship. To this day, vast swaths of the public still think that the Wii U is just a gamepad accessory, or some half-step expansion. Nintendo prepared no elevator pitch, no convincing argument that this was, indeed, a brand-new device with better hardware and a unique control scheme. They’ve done very little to justify their gamepad’s existence; for many games, the pad just mirrors the image on the bigger screen, acts as a glorified inventory, or goes dark entirely.
Marketing aside, it just isn’t a pleasant console to use. It takes forever to boot, its online experience is more miserable than it ought to be, and it even locks your downloads to the device instead of your (practically useless) Nintendo Network account. More often than not, the Wii U is the console I leave unplugged while the PS4, PS3 and XB1 get all my attention. But most people won’t ever get to the stage where they find the day-to-day experience abrasive; the sales pitch has already failed, and no matter how much Nintendo flails, it will never get off the ground.
Q: How is this “New 3DS” announcement positioned to put the 3DS into that same mess?
A few weeks ago, I decided to bite the bullet and finally pick up a 3DS XL. My Vita’s received a fair amount of use for Persona 4 Golden (still the best game ever made) and various indie titles, but I couldn’t help but jealously glare at my friends as they went on all sorts of adventures with Nintendo’s faithful handheld. Before you even factor in the plethora of backwards-compatible DS games it can play, the 3DS library is filled with cult-classic behemoths and must-play titles in nearly every genre imaginable. Up until today, I’ve been very pleased with my purchase, pouring hours upon hours into Pokemon Y and… not much else. But I’ve been having a blast, and it takes a while to work through long RPGs.
Then Nintendo had to announce the “New 3DS,” which stomped all over my good feelings with iron-toed boots. It’s not uncommon for handhelds to go through hardware iterations where they get better batteries, brighter screens and a more appealing shell. It IS uncommon to add several new buttons (including a second analog stick), a faster processor for running games exclusive to that model, a smaller SD card slot that makes it impossible to transfer your saves or downloadable titles, and delineate this wildly different handheld by simply slapping “NEW” on the front of the name.
How could they be so bone-headed and make the exact same mistake twice? Why didn’t they just give it an entirely different name, since it’s essentially an entirely new generation of hardware? Why would they announce a handheld that won’t carry over any of your eShop games, ensuing people like me stop buying from their store entirely until the new model is out? Why would they change to a Micro SD slot when full-size SD cards worked just fine? Why are they effectively cutting Circle Pad Pro owners out of the loop entirely?
Nintendo’s raised a lot of why’s today, but most damningly, they seem ill-equipped or unwilling to answer any of our questions. Their inability to justify and market the changes they bring to the table is exactly why the Wii U is in hot water. Newcomers might end up grabbing the latest model because it’s positioned as the “NEW” one, but aside from holding the latest games for ransom, they have yet to make an enticing argument for why current owners should abandon their eShop purchases for a better screen and a stub of a second stick. In some ways, this seems to be positioning the “NEW” 3DS in an even worse position than the Wii U; instead of indifference, their middle finger to early adopters has generated animosity amongst the small crowd they still carry. That never ends well.
Even if this were called a new system- the “4DS” name Twitter users keep suggesting is idiotic, but not as market-destroyingly terrible as “New 3DS”- this handheld would already have a lot of issues. First off, it’s not a second analog stick- it’s a nub. Like the little eraser tips they used to jam in the middle of laptops before touchpads were a thing.
Two triggers on a handheld is a shitty idea- just ask a Vita user how comfortable that rear touch panel is. Doubling down on 3D right after abandoning it for the 2DS is bizarre. Having five handheld models (2DS, 3DS, 3DS XL, New 3DS, New 3DS XL) on the market at once is moronic. It’s not a substantial enough increase in capability to make any 3DS owners feel good about upgrading, but at least they’ll get screwed out of new releases if they don’t! Oh, but not very many, because no third party dev is stupid enough to cast aside the existing 3DS userbase to chase a slightly better performing title on a handheld no one wants.
People have been giving Sony shit for the way they’ve handled the PSP and Vita for years. It’s fair to say they haven’t been managed as well as the DS brand, but that doesn’t mean they’re badly done. You want to know what a badly done handheld looks like? Here ya go. Right here.
What the hell, Nintendo. Get it together.
Featured image taken by Wired.