Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Wii U be buying one?

So the Wii U.

Nintendo had promised that it would be for the core gamers and the press conference at E3 would be all about the games. However the truth turned out to be altogether different. 
Nintendo started strong by showing Pikmin 3 and followed that with New Super Mario Bros U, but things soon went downhill. First up was a lengthy demo of a game that many people have already played, Arkham City:Armoured Edition. Next we had yet more focus put on casual titles such as Wii Fit U and SiNG. Finally they then finished off by showing NintendoLand which, while a good way of demonstrating what you can do with the new controller, it wasn’t a game that the core wanted and to compound things right at the end Reggie told the audience that there was one more thing to come. Were we about to see a quick shot of a new Metroid game or perhaps another Zelda HD movie, no we just got a fireworks display from NintendoLand.

This was not exactly the showing that many were hoping for and indeed there was much criticism levelled at Nintendo directly after the conference ended and in the days since. What made it even worse was that during E3 itself Nintendo went on to show a number of interesting ‘core’ games such as Platinum’s new game Project P-100, Game and Wario and a great on-the-floor demo of Zombie U which could have easily replaced the Batman one shown during the conference. Here were a few games that Nintendo could have shown during the conference that may have tempered the fury a bit.

However the whole of E3 failed to demonstrate to me what Nintendo want to offer with the Wii U. A major message during the show seemed to be about allowing people to keep playing games when someone wants to use the TV–a novel goal, but not necessarily a problem that plagues many people. It may be the case in the East that people only have the one TV and there is a constant battle over who does what on it, but in the West people generally have multiple TVs in their homes so this fails to be a problem. Added to that if the system is meant to be about enticing ‘core’ gamers back to the fold, what do they care about this issue. They certainly are not battling to use the TV. Come on, they are gamers; they either live on their own or in their parents basement. I jest, but seriously if you are a gamer then you will already have some form of setup that will allow you to continue gaming when the main TV is in use.  So this message doesn’t resonate with them.
The other message Nintendo seemed to be championing again was that the Wii U is perfect for the ‘casual’ audience who bought a Wii. A large part of the press conference was devoted to this message, but does this audience want a new system or was the Wii the only console they ever needed. Or indeed have they moved on, perhaps to mobile/tablet gaming. There is also the question as to whether they even know that this is an entirely new console. Much hilarity ensured after CNN posted a story claiming that the Wii U was just a periphery to the Wii. If a major news organisation can’t even tell what the Wii U is, how are consumer supposed to?

The whole thing was a bit of a mess, but I do have a bit of sympathy with Nintendo, even though I thought they blew a great opportunity to sell the Wii U to gamers. What else could Nintendo do with regards to a new console? They find themselves in a tough position. Microsoft and Sony are no doubt going to announce new consoles next year with good money on Microsoft, at least, having a new console on the market by Christmas 2013. This leaves Nintendo with a small window in which to operate. As I see it there are two options open to them. They either try and emulate the success of the Wii and appeal to the casual market, hoping that lightning strikes twice; or they release a system that is much more powerful and aimed at ‘core’ gamers, hoping that they can recapture a similar market share they had back in the 90s. Both options carry risks. As I’ve already mentioned it is debatable whether the ‘casual’ market Nintendo managed to tap into last time around still exists having flocked to mobile and Facebook gaming, although I continue to doubt claims that everyone is happy playing throwaway 5 minute trash on their phones. As for the ‘core’, the last time Nintendo tried to appeal to this market with the GameCube they had limited success, and coming off the back of the Wii they would have to work ten times as hard to convince those who own a 360 or PS3 that the Wii U is where they should be putting their money, especially with successors to both consoles just around the corner. Third party support would be hard to garner and if this kind of gambit failed, it could leave the company in serious financial difficulty. 

In the end it seems that Nintendo has tried to chart a path between the two and while this means that they haven’t really sacrificed anything when it comes to getting the ‘casuals’ invested again, the ‘hardcore’ it seems remain totally unconvinced that the Wii U is anything other than an HD Wii.

Partick Klepek said something that really chimed with my on one of the Giantbomb E3 podcasts. He likened Nintendo’s position to that of Sega when they were in the midst of releasing the Dreamcast and I can really see the similarities. We know how the Dreamcast turned out for Sega and I hope that the same doesn’t happen to Nintendo for although they have a great suite of IPs that would no doubt look great on Microsoft and Sony’s consoles, I can’t help thinking that Nintendo wouldn’t be the same company if they just made games. Making new hardware and innovating in that area drives the gaming side forward. Without those desires to innovate prelevant within the company, I think their gaming output would suffer and then they really would be just like Sega.

Nintendo stands at a crossroads with the Wii U and they need to decide which road they are going to travel down, because right now they want to go both left and right and when you try to do that, you invariably end up crashing into the ditch. 

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