Wii U rising: Ben and Andrew hash out what Nintendo has to do to rejoin the conversation
People aren’t talking about the Wii U anymore. The company showed a number of fun games in the expected franchises at E3, it offers backwards compatibility, the extra screen offers some interesting gameplay possibilities, and it’s the lowest priced “next”-generation console on the market. Whether or not we put the Wii U up against the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 as a true next-generation is an argument that may be better served some place else.
I was playing New Super Luigi U with my kids a few days ago, and the level design and challenge is top notch. Luigi’s adjusted jump and that little bob at the end changes how you interact with the world, and the game feels fresh again. I also greatly enjoyed Game and Wario, although some parts of that game were much better than others. I went back and played Zombi U, and remembered why I liked it so much.
It’s not a bad system, and in fact it’s the system I keep next to my bed, without a television, for a spot of gaming before bed while my wife reads. Being able to play console-quality games on that tablet-style controller is a great feature, and it’s definitely a selling point for families. There’s nothing wrong with a little Call of Duty before bed, especially if you can play it in bed.
So what does Nintendo have to do to get back in the conversation? How does the company get itself back into our dialog about games? A price cut or a better bundle would definitely help; the perception is that systems like the PlayStation 4 are much more powerful, for only $50 more. The Xbox One is $150 more, but it also comes with the new Kinect and a sexy suite of media functions. The Wii U has Netflix, and it loads slowly. Fighting on price is a great way to get back in the game, especially if Nintendo is going to position itself as the second system in your home.
So they have to work on the value proposition. Add a game. Cut the price a bit. Put some distance between the Wii U and the newer, more expensive consoles that may be delivering more bells and whistles than the average consumer needs. The value fight is always a good one, and I’d love to see Nintendo aggressive. Do you remember how the company kicked its ass into high gear with that 3DS price drop when sales were sluggish? Now the portable is doing great. Let’s see some more of that, please.
So Andrew, what would it take to get people talking about the Wii U again?
I want to see Nintendo fight. Nintendo is a very slow and thoughtful company. They know their customers, and they've been around the block a few times so they're hesitant to make any drastic moves until they're sure it's time.
What I want to see is Nintendo start fighting tooth and nail for exposure, because I think that's partially their problem. Nintendo has always let its games speak the loudest, but they're not releasing any games so Nintendo's essentially not speaking. Remember this snarky jab Sony took at Microsoft over the used games issue? Nintendo's had the same used games position as Sony for years. That should have been their viral ad. They should have been pounding Microsoft over that, and using that issue as a wedge for inserting Wii U into the gaming conversation.
If they must keep their stiff-upper-lip style then at the very least I hope they're planning a one-two punch of some sort around the holiday season. My gut feeling is that gamers haven't sworn off the Wii U. They don't dislike it. In fact, most people I talk to are intrigued by the system. They just don't have that extra push to get them to make the buy. I think Nintendo could push a lot of people over the edge with news of a small price cut to coincide with a surprise game announcement and the release of a highly anticipated title. Maybe Pikmin 3.
If there's one thing hardcore gamers hate, it's being left out of the zeitgeist. Right now, Nintendo isn't convincing people that they're missing something by not having a Wii U. They need one big, beautiful day when they can declare to the hardcore gaming audience, “This is what's happening on Wii U. Our shit is as perfect as it ever was. Get in here now or you're a chump.”
The Year of Luigi does not communicate this message. The question is whether or not Nintendo has the software up its sleeve to nail home that message. Do you think Nintendo has a strong enough game lineup for 2013-2014 to be able to crush the preconception that Wii U has no games?
What Nintendo does very well, and very profitably, is to sell their franchise titles to people who already like them. I'm a Nintendo fan, and I'm going to buy the new Mario Kart game, and it looked absolutely stunning at E3 running in high definition. I'm going to buy the new Mario game as well. I'm excited going back to Wind Waker in that game's high definition upgrade. The new Donkey Kong Country game looks and plays great.
The problem is that it's hard to really communicate anything about these games if you're not playing them. Do you like those series? You do? You're going to love these new games! It's high-quality stuff from very talented artists and designers, but that hype doesn't extend outside of Nintendo's bubble. If you're not already in the bag for these games, you don't care, and there's not much to be done to make you care. The company has games, it's just games that we expect and take for granted.
It would be great if Nintendo could really stress the neat things that screen can do, and help to push games around it. I think the Wii U version of Rayman Legends is going to be the best version; playing with a friend using the television and the tablet controller is a great time. I still play the Zombies mode of Black Ops 2 with friends in two player co-op. You only need one system and one copy of the game for a nice mini-LAN! Why don't they hype that sort of thing?
I think the secret is getting out of the Mario-festooned comfort zone, get some games that really do neat, social things with the controller, and make sure the games can't be replicated easily on any other system. You don't have to be the most powerful system on the block if you have games no one else can duplicate, and that speaks to players.
So let's wrap this up: If you could wave your hands and have one thing change about the Wii U, or a company decision you think could help turn things around, what would it be?
I won't claim to have any idea whether this would make any business sense, but personally I'd like to see Nintendo get more competitive with their game pricing. Right now, they are incredibly stubborn about not only propping up the AAA pricing model, but ensuring that their games never drop in price. It took years and years to start getting a few Nintendo Select titles at $20-30 on Wii.
I spent the last 4 years as a broke freelance writer, and missed out on almost all of Nintendo's first party games because of that policy. I'm not sure what Nintendo gains by ensuring that people like me can't play their 2-3 year old games by keeping the price frozen.
Beyond that, I'm not sure whether Nintendo is winning the cost argument these days with their games, and I think keeping their games stuck at $40-50 artificially restricts the Wii U audience. Charging $40 for Game and Wario is just too much. More and more it feels like Nintendo is getting stuck in the same vice that has been hurting middle tier publishers for the last five years. Nintendo's biggest games are still attracting customers, but are they still able to convince customers to drop $40-50 on mid-tier games like Game and Wario or Pikmin?
The pricing equation has changed, and if I had one wish it would be for Nintendo to do something, anything, to show that they're aware gamers can get thousands of games for a fraction of the price of a Wii U game on Steam, iOS, and through F2P titles. Because when I go to GameStop these days, I have a very difficult time convincing myself to pick up a Wii U game I'm unsure about instead of waiting and getting 10 games for the same price during the Steam Summer Sale. I suspect that a lot of consumers have a similar internal debate.
Nintendo tends to have this “ride out the storm, Nintendo is eternal” attitude to market fluctuations. So my one wish would be that they abandon that, and begin to recognize that the market has changed forever. The $60 party may be over, unless you're selling Mario and Zelda.