Upon the announcement of the Wii U, there have been some stumbles made by Nintendo that have left folks scratching their heads. You know your new console announcement is off to a rough start when a fair amount of gamers (including yours truly) originally thought it was a new controller for the Wii.
Now that the next console cycle has been kicked off, there have been some striking comparisons I’ve noted between Nintendo today and Sega upon release of the Dreamcast. Is “The Big N” destined to leave the console race and become a third party developer like its former rival?
We start off our investigation by looking at how Nintendo and Sega went into their respective console generations. The Saturn console was considered a failure in which Sega responded with a strong marketing campaign for their final foray into hardware. Alternatively, the Wii was considered a major success thanks to the general public accepting motion controls and casual titles. This had lead into a questionably lackluster marketing campaign for the Wii U.
This lack of action by Nintendo was discussed by David Cole, founder and president of interactive entertainment market research firm DFC Intelligence.
“Going the way of Sega and only doing software is simply not the best route. But if they [Nintendo] are going to do hardware, they need to do some marketing for that hardware. Nintendo’s performance the last year was a disaster. It was almost like they rolled over and played dead with less than zero marketing for both the Wii U and the 3DSXL. I don’t understand what their thinking was but in an age when consumers are clamoring for portable / tablet hardware, it would seem to be a huge opportunity for Nintendo.”
Both the Wii U and Dreamcast kicked off their console cycles trying something different and ahead of their time. Sega introduced their system with a built-in modem that ended up being the stepping stone for current services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. The successor to the Wii pushes motion controls forward utilizing a touch screen controller which allows drawing sketches in messages and playing games without the need of a television. It’s worth noting also that the Dreamcast first introduced the concept of a screen being utilized in the controller (via memory card).
One comparison in particular, however, has me really spooked. Both consoles started off with strong sales upon launch yet experienced sharp declines shortly afterwards. In the case of the Wii U, this has been reflected through many consoles still remaining on store shelves by the end of December. Nintendo has recently boasted selling $30 million more within 6 weeks of launch than the Wii which certainly isn’t untrue. You have to consider placing an asterisk on that claim though since Wii supplies didn’t meet demand and were sold at a lower price point than its successor.
While the Dreamcast experienced the beginning of the end upon announcement of the PlayStation 2, signs point towards a very similar scenario happening for the Wii U. My own personal experience with fellow gamers in forums, article comments, and social media outlets lead me to believe many of them are holding out until the inevitable announcement of the next Microsoft and Sony consoles. I believe a lot of that stems from the stigma that Nintendo has been battling with for years now in that they haven’t grown with their core audience. In other words, folks in our generation and even younger are more inclined to play realistic and violent titles like Call of Duty as opposed to the cartoonish and kid-friendly Mario games.
So then, what happens if the Wii U ultimately ends up failing? What could Nintendo do next? According to Michael Pachter from GameTrailers.com, going down the same path Sega went simply isn’t an option.
“So long as [Satoru] Iwata is CEO, I don’t think there is a prayer that they allow their software to show up on third party platforms. If they are considering it, we’ll see Game Boy software on mobile phones first. If Nintendo decides to go the way of Sega, it will be because a new CEO takes them in that direction. I don’t see Iwata making a decision like that, it is not his nature.”
It’s widely known within industry circles that Iwata is indeed a stubborn and highly competitive person. That goes without saying being a businessman in his position. However, one has to be prepared for all possibilities. I’m under the belief that Nintendo could certainly bolster up sales through their software and the way they distribute it.
We are in an age where digital sales have only grown stronger each passing year. Whether it’s on your smartphone, home computer, or console, there is a platform available that makes it so a large list of games are available without having to get off of your couch.
Nintendo has been notorious for falling behind in terms of online features and yet their eShop on the Wii U has been met with a lot of positive feedback. They seemingly took some cues from Valve’s Steam platform by making the eShop more “developer friendly” which hooks in more support. That ease of use has also been transitioned over to the consumer’s end making it considerably easier to find what you’re looking for, download it, and play.
Knowing the culture of a company like Nintendo, failure simply isn’t an option for them. There would have to be a situation presented to them where there was no other alternative but go down the third party developer route. I believe that even if the Wii U were to not meet expectations, Nintendo would still bounce back with at least one more effort in the home console market. Sales for the 3DS have steadily improved since its so-so launch and I can see the same happening for the Wii U.
It’s hard for me to tell whether I’m a little jaded by the Nintendo mystique or actually being realistic in terms of the business world. One side of me says that they’re a company that focuses entirely on video games unlike mega corporations like Sony and Microsoft. The other side is throwing up his arms in a shrug-like motion spouting “C’mon, it’s Nintendo!”
For now, I’m just going to hold onto the notion that it would take something bigger than the Wii U failing for “The Big N” to fall. I mean, c’mon! Right?