It seem’s not even Nintendo, once king’s of video game marketing, can’t even figure out what to do with the Wii U. When the below flyer appears at PAX, it seem’s Nintendo really aren’t sure what to do, or to what extent people even know about their latest console.
Their ‘Why Wii U?’ flyer goes to great lengths to establish just what the Wii U does that the Wii didn’t. Giving a laundry list of features designed to highlight just how versatile Nintendo’s console is, it still can’t drag itself away from the Wii. Nintendo here appear to be using the Wii as a crutch with which to springboard the Wii U from. The problem is, ask any non-gamer if they have heard of the Wii U. The majority will likely say ‘No’, I bet you can even find some gamers who don’t know anything about it.
One big glaring problem is in the name, a big contributer to why some people may not even know this is a new console, and not just a new peripheral, and they could be forgiven. A mother looking at one of these may just see the Wii branding and not even comprehend what the U stands for, or what it implies. Names like ‘Super Wii’ have been mentioned in the past as possible names for this console, and whilst not great, that still carries connotations of something bigger and better. Something that ‘Wii U’ does not, it just adds further confusion to a much bigger problem.
When the Wii came out in 2006 it was impossible to buy for months after release. This was one of the biggest console launches of all time and seemed to absolutely pummel the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in terms of sales at the time. Why? It appealed to the mass market, something the rival consoles couldn’t do given the amount of tech inside them pushing up the price. Nintendo went for cheaper components and much less flashy graphics in an attempt to drive costs down and ultimately deliver a console that was affordable and fun. They also re-invented the traditional control input with the Wii Remote, something that was arguably copied by Sony and Microsoft with their Move and Kinect devices.
This led to the Wii being a hit that no one expected, adopted by hardcore gamers, and casual gamers alike. Even people who had never picked up a game in their life where enjoying the Wii. It was a smash for Nintendo, elevating them back up there with gaming elite for Hardware, not just Software, something that had been missing for a while.
One big reason the Wii did so well was, in my humble opinion, that they had their marketing pretty much spot on. Nintendo knew they couldn’t compete with Microsoft and Sony in terms of pure horsepower, so had to find another way. They did, and that was to engage with a whole new demographic, a demographic that didn’t know their Lara Croft from their Mario. It worked. So it’s becoming obvious by now that lightening didn’t strike twice. Let’s look at why.
See the fundamental difference between the Wii advertising, and the Wii U advertising? All of the Wii U marketing images are along these lines. The biggest difference being obvious, the majority of the Wii marketing didn’t even show the console. This time Nintendo are going out of their way to show it off. I can forgive as though the big feature this time is once again a fancy controller, it’s nowhere near as user friendly or ‘core’ friendly as the Wii, on first appearances anyway, appears to be. The controller is great, it looks good (if a little on the cheap side), it feels good to hold and the screen is great, but, does a 65 year old who doesn’t care that their fancy high end console graphics can now be played ‘off-tv’, want this? No, probably not.
You can see the difference in the television advertising too. Let’s look at a Wii advert.
Sure it’s a bit cheesy, but its message is clear, the Wii is fun and meant to be played with others, it’s a family affair, and it gets you up of the couch. There’s nothing clever here, just some good honest fun. It works, and the Wii sold a lot. Now we look at a Wii U advert.
Just like their advertising in print media, there’s a massive difference. With the Wii advert, there was not one explanation of its features, we garner all we need to know from watching a family just having fun, therefore, not so subtly we know that if we get one, we will too be having fun in stupid jumpers. The Wii U advert feels the need to rattle of a laundry list of features that in some ways are the exact polar opposite of what made the Wii so popular. Don’t want to get up off the couch? Don’t. Girlfriend or Spouse annoying you? Continue to ignore her by switching to viewing your game on the controller. Want to play games already released on other consoles and done better? The Wii U is the console for you.
In reality, there’s nothing wrong with this, at all. Nintendo have gone a different direction. They had a taste of the core market with the Wii, it worked out great, they kept the functionality in the Wii U but added better processors, more RAM, a better graphics chip, all to compete with the Playstation 3 or the Xbox 360. Wait though, did they? Or is it to compete with the Playstation 4 and the inevitable Xbox 720 (codenamed Durango currently). This is just one of the many problems the Wii U faces. This could have been Nintendo striking first, they could have put in the tech to match what they though Microsoft and Sony would bring to the table, but they were scared of the cost. They were scared consumers wouldn’t take to this. So they played it safe. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this. The Wii U is a competent console able to easily compete with Sony and Microsoft’s current gen offerings.
So what happens in 2014? Sony’s Playstation 4 will be out, Microsoft’s new console will more than likely be out, and the Wii U, already out for well over a year, will be outdated. Regie Fils-Aime, the enigmatic President of Nintendo’s American stronghold, famously promised that history wouldn’t repeat itself with the Wii U, that this generation, they wouldn’t be outgunned and that they would be able to compete. Unfortunately, this just isn’t going to be the case. He was clearly talking about this next console generation cycle. The argument of whether the Wii U is ‘next-gen’ or not is kind of moot for me. When talking about the next-gen of consoles, for me, we’re talking about a console cycle, and the Wii U is definitely the start of a new cycle.
Kotaku has revealed that in a Q&A with Epic Co-Founder Mark Rein that Unreal Engine 4 will not be available for the Wii U developers. Kotaku flat out asked Rein if the Wii U would be getting UE4.
“Hahaha no.” Rein said, with expert comedic timing. The room erupted with laughter. As the laughs died down, Rein continued: “I mean, sorry, it’s not really a correct answer. We’re not… we have Unreal Engine 3 for the Wii U. Right? And Unreal Engine 3 is powering all kinds of amazing games, still lots of games are being made with Unreal Engine 3. We announced today about a new Unreal Engine 3 license. Unreal Engine 3 doesn’t disappear because of Unreal Engine 4. But our goal for Unreal Engine 4 console-wise is next-gen consoles. That’s really what our energies are focused on. If you want to make a Wii U game, we have Unreal Engine 3, and it’s powering some of the best games on the Wii U already.
At first glance you might think this is ok. After all, as Rein says, the Unreal Engine 3 is extremely competent and a lot of developers will choose to continue using it for a good couple of years. What about after that though? Eventually developers will move on from the UE3 and onto the much more powerful UE4. It’s an inevitibility.
This means that the Wii U will not be getting any potential new Bioshock games, no Devil May Cry games, want to play Borderlands 3? Unlikely. These are just 3 examples of games that will not be appearing on the Wii U. Unless of course the developers remake them using Unreal Engine 3, which, in this day in age due to time constraints as well as pressure on budgets, is extremely unlikely. Unfortunately this is just the first blow for the Wii U and its future games library.
“We right now don’t have support for the Wii U in the Frostbite engine,”
Patrick Bach, Battlefield 4 lead producer, told Eurogamer at GDC 2013.
“It’s about, where do you put your focus? And the Wii U is not a part of our focus right now.”
He is referring of course to the Frostbite 3 Engine, which Battlefield 4 will run on. The engine look’s great, but it looks as though Nintendo’s console won’t be getting it. This is a massive blow for the console as some of the biggest upcoming games will be using this technology, aside from just Battlefield 4. Bioware, developers of one of this generations biggest franchises Mass Effect, as well as the Dragon Age series, has confirmed that their upcoming RPG’s will run Frostbite 3. This means that despite Mass Effect 3 making a launch appearance on the Wii U, no further titles in the massively popular franchise will make an appearance.
This means Nintendo may have to rely on sub-par ports or spin off’s, as it did with the Wii, and, this is by no means a bad thing, they will also have to rely on their own stable of household names. The house that Mario built will once again call upon its most famous of moustached plumbers (sorry Luigi) once again, probably good old Link and the ever troublesome Zelda, we might even get a new IP thrown in for good measure. Nintendo has always relied on its mascots to sell consoles, and why shouldn’t they. Every Zelda game has been pretty much brilliant. Mario’s platformers are always solid and Mario Kart is still the king of fun multiplayer games. These franchises alone will ship hundreds of thousands, if not millions of consoles for Nintendo. As with the Wii though, if the third party games aren’t there, people will look elsewhere, and if, as rumoured, the Playstation 4 can come in at under the £300 mark, Nintendo no longer have that big price advantage (barring more sudden price drops) they had that helped make the Wii so popular.
Will the Wii U continue on its self inflicted downward spiral? Or will it suddenly start gaining more attention like its smaller brethren, the 3DS? MCV is reporting that sales have increased 125% since the reduction in RRP, so maybe it’s just a case of finding that sweet spot in price. Nintendo has a bigger problem though, as we’ve covered, they have no idea how to market the console. Is it for hardcore gamers? It can certainly compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360, and has some proper games on it like Arkham City, and Mass Effect 3, but if it can’t release the next Arkham game, or Mass Effect 4, where does it stand? Is it for casual gamers? Possibly, there still seems to be an abundance of party games, and with the ability to use Wii remotes for some games, there’s some crossover potential. Nintendo can’t seem to pick a side. To coin an old adage, they want to eat cake, but have cake…or something to do with cake. The bottom line is, Nintendo want both sides of the coin and whilst I may be proven wrong, I don’t think it’s possible. Nintendo need to embrace one side of the fence and do what they’re good at. With the Wii U, it looks like once again, they’re going to be left behind in the console race, and with Valve releasing their Steam Box soon, it’s going to have something else to compete with for people’s television screens.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section.