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GotGame Truth Machine: Firing Iwara Will Not Help The Wii U

by on January 21, 2014
 

Nintendo has announced some pretty drastic cuts to their Wii U forecasts,  and now it is time for everyone on the internet to play April 1st CEO.  Everybody wants to talk about what they would change if they were in charge of Nintendo and how they would make the Wii U a rousing success.

One of the most popular ideas for turning things around is a change of management.  In particular, many pundits and shareholders are calling for CEO Satoru Iwata to be fired.  While it makes sense to have the buck stop with the CEO, firing Iwata will not do anything positive for the Wii U.  Unless Nintendo wants to completely give up on the Wii U, they have little choice but to continue on their current path.  There isn’t a lot of room for change with the Wii U.

Ticking Clock

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Nintendo essentially has until January 1st of next year to pull the Wii U out of its funk.  In today’s market, hype is everything.  Companies, not just gaming companies, have been bludgeoning consumers with one idea.  You need the newest thing.  You need to get the newest phone the moment it is released, you need to see the hot new movie the day it comes out, you need to watch the newest TV series before you’re ostracized in the office, and you need to buy the newest game the moment it comes out.  In fact, buying games when they release is not good enough.  You actually have to buy the games BEFORE they come out.  Preorders for games now start as much as a year before a game comes out which is freaking insane.

In this type of environment, changing public opinion is damn hard.  The media is going to be talking about the next thing soon and your window of opportunity is small.  Nintendo squandered a year’s headstart, but they still have some hope.  Software droughts after new hardware is released is inevitable, and the PS4 and XBox One will suffer from it.  Nintendo has one last chance to dazzle before the XBox One and PS4 can really settle into a groove.  If Nintendo can’t sell at least 8 million units this calender year, the system is going to cater exclusively to devoted Nintendo fans.

What will make the Wii U sell?  There are three factors that effect games sales.  Hardware, software, and marketing.  Seems simple enough, right?  So, how much control does Nintendo have over these factors?

Hardware

The Wii U hardware is what the Wii U hardware is.  It’s a system whose power is a bit above last generation (which Nintendo’s software has shown) and far below current generation.  While people will continually argue about power until the end of time (there are still people debating the merits of the Genesis vs the SNES), the important thing is the games.  Any gamer with eyes can easily see where the Wii U stands in this regard.

Controllers are also hardware, and I still genuinely believe that the Gamepad is a great idea.  Bringing touch based interfaces popularized on smart phones to high quality software seems to be a recipe for success.  Furthermore, any gamer who has played Meteos, Kid Icarus Uprising, Kirby Canvas Curse, Nintendo Land, The World Ends With You, or Ghost Trick can tell you that motion controls can bring a lot to more traditional games.

Anyone suggesting that Nintendo drop the Gamepad to lower costs is simply an idiot.  The last thing Nintendo needs to do is fragment their fanbase further.  Games like Zombi U, Super Mario 3D World, Wii Fit U, and Rayman Legends would need some pretty massive patching to work on the Wii U, the entire OS would need to be redone, Miiverse wouldn’t work, and games like Nintendo Land or Game and Wario would be entirely unplayable.  Having some games that work with the Gamepad and some without is a recipe for confusion on a console that already has enough confusion regarding its controls.

Even if the Gamepad was dropped, what would motivate one to buy a Wii U?  It would be an XBox 360 with Nintendo games.  That may sound like an attractive prospect to Nintendo’s most loyal fans, but it will ensure that the Wii U remains a niche product.  The Wii U is what the Wii U is.  It’s not going to become more powerful, and it’s not going to change controllers.  Any changes will be minor.  Nintendo has to ride with what they have.

Software

Software would be the first area most people would look to for improvement.  Having great hardware doesn’t matter without software to back it up.  The Vita is an incredible piece of hardware, but its software is lacking, so its sales are lacking.

Like I said, I believe the Gamepad is a great idea.  If used correctly, it could be a tool that truly enhances online communication, eases new players into a new world, and puts a spin on traditional gaming genres.  I believe, and others will disagree, that input is more important to an experience than visuals, and this is the best gaming input device on the market right now.

The problem with Nintendo reacting to their situation with software is their time predicament.  Good software takes time and great software takes even more time.  Nintendo can certainly shift around their resources or hire more staff, but no amount of effort, no matter how intense, is going to create system selling software in time for next Christmas.  The Wii U has some great titles in development, but nothing that shows off why the Gamepad is a revolutionary new controller worth buying a console for.

The point is that if the Wii U has a savior in development, it is already being developed.  An idea that starts now is not going to be playable in time to save the Wii U.  Software sells hardware, and this is why Nintendo is locked into its current path.  Any software that will truly change things is already in the pipeline and can only be modified so much by this Christmas.  Hopefully, the games that we know to be in development (Bayonetta 2, X, Hyrule Warriors, Smash Bros, Mario Kart 8) will be launching in the first half of the year and Nintendo has some truly innovative stuff for the second half.

Marketing

The only thing that Nintendo can really change now is their marketing which admittedly needs a massive overhaul.  Nintendo needs to show off that the Wii U offers a new and unique experience that can’t be replicated on a Wii, a PS3, an XBox One, or an iPad.  So far, Nintendo has done a poor job of this.  The cornerstone of the Wii U’s holiday marketing was Super Mario 3D World.  Super Mario 3D World is an absolutely amazing game but a poor showcase for what makes the Wii U unique.  Super Mario 3D World and other games like it will draw Nintendo’s faithful gamers into the Wii U fold, but will not sell customers who don’t already have a soft spot for Nintendo.  If Nintendo wants a truly successful console, they need to show the Wii U’s capabilities.

Nintendo’s marketing team is in an odd place.  They need to show off the Wii U’s unique capabilities, but to do that, they need software that shows off the Wii U’s capabilities.  Sadly, that software is lacking.  The best showcases for the Wii U are Wii Party U, Wii Fit U (off TV play is a huge boon for this franchise), Game and Wario, and Nintendo Land.  Nintendo Land is undoubtedly the best showcase of the Wii U’s capabilities, but it’s a tricky game from a marketing perspective.  When you hear a title like “Wii Sports” and see the Wii Remote, you know exactly what to expect.  When you hear a title like Nintendo Land and see the Gamepad, you’re confused.

Nintendo needs to market these older games, which may seem counter-intuitive in a market obsessed with newness.  Unfortunately, the marketing department has to work with what they’re given.  These are the games that best show off the Wii U’s capabilities, so that’s what they need to focus on.  If new software comes along that better demonstrates the Wii U’s capabilities, they need to advertise that hard.  Nintendo has little flexibility on their price, but they can offer new bundles.  A bundle that includes a Wii Mote is a must at some point, as such a bundle will enable non-Wii owners to experience multiplayer out of the box.  A Wii U Basic bundle with a Wii Remote and Nunchuck would be a good start for Nintendo.

Ultimately, marketing is tied down by hardware and, more importantly, software.  A new ad campaign that draws inspiration from Nintendo’s Wii advertisements will help the Wii U, but only if those advertisements have the correct software to back them up.

Firing Iwata Only Makes Sense If Nintendo Gives Up On The Wii U

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There’s not much to be done about the Wii U in the short term, and if things don’t turn around in the short term, there is no long term.  Bringing in someone other than Iwata won’t enable Nintendo to change their course in a matter of months.  Furthermore, the Wii U is Iwata’s product.  Iwata’s reputation is intertwined with the Wii U’s fate, and to a lesser extent, an improvement in Wii U sales.  A new CEO might not feel as responsible for the future or either system.  He’ll have a built in excuse for several poor years of performance and will be able to focus on the coming generation.

Even in the best case scenario where Iwata’s successor is committed to the Wii U, a management shakeup during the Wii U’s last 12 months of opportunity offers little aside from an additional disruption.  Nintendo needs to change things fast, and a management change at this time is going to do little positive for the Wii U.

The only scenario where firing Iwata makes sense is if Nintendo is willing to give up on the Wii U entirely.  A new CEO wouldn’t have much power to change the Wii U’s trajectory, but they be able to influence Nintendo’s next consoles.  Introducing a new console in the near future would be a poor decision, but the 3DS is nearly 3 years old now.  The 3DS is unlikely to last as long as the original DS, so its successor will be most likely launch in about 2 years.  Now is the time for preparations to kick into high gear.  If Nintendo has lost confidence in Satoru Iwata to launch a new console, they’ll need to put someone new in place to handle their next handheld launch.  In doing so, Nintendo may have to mortgage the Wii U’s future for the sake of their next handheld.

Firing Iwata is akin to giving up on the Wii U.  Conversely, keeping Iwata in place shows commitment to the Wii U’s future.  In my opinion, the best course of action is to keep Iwata in place for one more year.  If the Wii U hasn’t rebounded by then, it is already too late, and Nintendo will need to make changes for the future.  In this case, as much as I like Satoru Iwata, his time will have come.  Please understand.

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  • Avatar of Ramon Aranda
    January 21, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    The hype has most certainly dwindled and the software support has been barren. I don’t mind so much that the Wii U isn’t as high-tech as the Xbox One or the PS4, as games built for the console look pretty damn good. However, third party support is terrible, as are the exclusive titles. Plus the marketing for the console was trash from the start.

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  • Aiddon
    January 21, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    Well…plus it’s impossible to fire Iwata. Japanese businesses tend to be structured in such a way that the Board and shareholders have pretty much no power over who the president is. The only person who can really fire the president is the president himself

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    • Avatar of Justin Weinblatt
      January 23, 2014 at 4:57 PM

      Fair enough. I’m not really an expert on Japanese corporate culture. I thought it was a situation similar to the US where a CEO almost always “steps down” but was in actuality pressured by shareholders. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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