How Can The Wii U Attract Casual Gamers?
Last week, I published an article explaining why I thought the Wii U was in a good competitive position in the upcoming console generation (check it out here). A large part of this argument was based on the fact that the Wii U would appeal to casual gamers, but that’s a pretty big assumption on my part. Nintendo may have appealed to casual gamers with the Wii, but there is no guarantee their success will be replicated. It’s been 6 years since the WIi was released, and six years is an eternity in terms of technology and pop culture. Will the Wii U be able to catch on with the masses as its predecessor did? I think so, and this is why.
The Power Of Familiarity
The modern gaming controller is a monstrosity. You may love your dual stick controller, but think about how it looks to someone who hasn’t played games before. The device contains two joysticks (each of which also functions as a clickable button), a d-pad, four face buttons, four shoulder buttons, a start button, a select button, and a home button. The number of possible inputs is downright ludicrous. All of this is necessary for the style of gaming we’ve become accustomed to, but the dual stick controller is a huge barrier to new gamers. Hand a non-gamer a X-Box controller in a game of Call of Duty, and odds are they’ll walk into walls for an hour straight.
The Wii-Remote is a brilliant alternative to the standard controller. Instead of looking like a game controller, the Wii-Remote looks like something more familiar, a TV remote. Because of this familiar form, the Wii-Remote is instantly accessible to gamers of any skill level. Anyone who picks up a Wii-mote will instinctively point it at the screen, and from there, its pointer and motion capabilities are incredibly intuitive. Many people think the Wii was successful because people really liked motion controls, but I don’t think that’s the case. The Wii was successful because it made gaming easy and accessible for everyone. People didn’t necessarily want to play games with flicks and gestures, they just wanted something they could pick up and play without a huge learning curve.
Nintendo’s strategy is similar this time around. While the Gamepad has all of the inputs a core gamer is accustomed to, its form will inevitably remind casual gamers of an iPad which itself is based off of the iPhone. iPads, iPhones, and other smart devices have become so prevalent in our daily lives that even people who have never played games will feel comfortable with Nintendo’s new controller. The Gamepad is a smart blend of something familiar to hardcore gamers, a dual stick controller, and something familiar to casual gamers, a tablet. With the Gamepad, Nintendo can slowly lead new gamers from simple touch based games to more complex experiences.
Shock and Awe? Not So Much.
It’s easy to forget just how revolutionary the Wii Remote was. Since the original NES, all game controllers have evolved along a similar path. They gradually grew in complexity along with the software they were designed for. Fighting games and more complex platformers demanded extra face and shoulder buttons, 3D platformers demanded analog sticks, shooters demanded another analog stick and more shoulder inputs, etc. By the time the PS2 came around, all controllers had evolved into a similar form. Even the Gamecube controller with all of its oddities was not very dissimilar to the Dualshock 2 controller. The idea of a major gaming company using a very un-controller like device as the centerpiece of their new console was shocking. Gamers formed strong opinions, both positive and negative, while those who had never played games cast a curious glance towards the Wii.
Things have changed now. The Wii U’s Gamepad was not a surprise. While they may not have predicted the exact direction Nintendo would take, everyone expected Nintendo to show off unconventional controller. Perhaps this is part of the reason that the excitement over the Wii U seems lesser than the hype surrounding the Wii. It’s hard to surprise people who are already expecting a surprise. The Wii was disruptive. The Wii U is now par for the course. The Wii U isn’t as novel as the Wii, but it may not have to be.
The Wii And The iPad
Two major changes have happened since last generation. First off is the Wii and the DS. Nintendo’s consoles pushed gaming’s borders far beyond the typical 16-34 year old male demographic. People who had never even thought about owning a video game console began playing, and new genres were created. Suddenly, gaming wasn’t just about Grand Theft Auto, Halo, and Zelda. Gaming was also about Wii Sports, Just Dance, Brain Age, and Scribblenauts.
Another important change to the gaming landscape is the rise of iOS and Droid games. Like the Wii, the iPhone, Droid, and iPad have brought millions of new gamers into the market. There are around 110 smartphone users in the US right now, and this number is growing rapidly. This figure doesn’t include devices like the iPod touch or iPad. It’s hard to say how many of these smart device owners are playing games, but based on the growing size of the iOS and Droid gaming markets, the number is easily in the ten millions in the US alone. Some see this rise in mobile gaming as a threat to traditional gaming, but it could be an opportunity instead.
Converting The Angry Bird Fans
It’s hard to imagine that Nintendo hasn’t designed the Wii U with the mobile market in mind. This market is an incredibly fertile territory for console makers. These people are gamers. They play games regularly and are therefore more likely to purchase a gaming console than someone who has never played games at all. Gaming is already a part of their lives and they don’t have to be sold on the fact that gaming is a fun and worthwhile use of time.
What better way to appeal to gamers who are used to playing on a touchscreen than with a touchscreen? Pure mobile gamers are unlikely to see a PS3 controller and want to try it out. On the contrary, I think a mobile gamer who sees a Wii U Gamepad at a friend’s house or an in store demo will be curious to try it out. Once they pick it up, they’ll feel instantly at home with the Gamepad. They’ll try it out and think “oh, this is just like my phone. I can use this.”
Getting gamers to try out the Wii U is the easy part. The harder part is getting gamers who are accustomed to paying 10 dollars or less for a game to suddenly start buying games at $60 a pop. How does Nintendo do that?
Wii Sports and Nintendo Land
So far, we haven’t had any indication of whether or not the Wii U will have any sort of pack in title, but Nintendo would have to be utterly insane to not include a pack in title with the Wii. Wii Sports was absolutely crucial to the success of the Wii, and it’s tough to believe that Nintendo is going to ignore that success.
Wii Sports was arguably the most effective system seller in gaming’s history. People tried out Wii Sports in stores or a friend’s house and they wanted to go out and buy a Wii. More importantly, people who tried out Wii Sports enthusiastically recommended the title to their friends and insisted that they needed to try it. Nintendo needs Nintendo Land to do the same as Wii Sports and more.
Nintendo Land is going to have to convince mobile gamers that console gaming is something that is worth spending money on. Can Nintendo Land do this? It’s hard to say without playing the game, but the potential is there. The games presented look fun and provide a nice bridge from simplistic touch based games like Takamaru’s Ninja Castle to more complex games like Lugi’s mansion. The Wii U’s focus on local multiplayer will be very enticing to gamers who are accustomed to single player iOS titles. Smartphones are naturally ill suited to providing a multiplayer experience, and I think this is the key advantage that Nintendo will focus on. Wii U games may cost more money than iOS games, but they provide a social experience that simple isn’t possible on smart devices.
Another key advantage is the depth of console experiences. Even more casual titles like Wario Ware Smooth Moves tend to offer a lot more depth than the average iOS game. in this regard, Nintento Land’s overall presentation will be important. Nintendo Land will have to provide a richer overall experience than mobile gamers are accustomed to, and it won’t accomplish this with the same bare bones approach they used with Wii Sports. Nintendo Land will have to give gamers a reason to come back to their favorite attractions time and time again.
Perhaps most importantly, Nintendo Land is going to have to be a showcase for Nintendo’s online interface. Nintendo’s Miiverse is trying to create a social experience and amusement parks are known for the throngs of people who attend them. This is no happy coincidence. The Miiverse will be a key factor in the Wii U’s overall success, and it will be a key factor in convincing mobile gamers that gaming on Wii U is a significant improvement over the apps they’re used to. Nintendo Land will have to be the showcase for how an integrated social network will make gaming better.
Along with drawing in new customers from the mobile sector, Nintendo is going to have to keep the customers that they had gained with the Wii. Despite what you may read on message boards, I think that casual gamers were mostly satisfied with the Wii. Hardcore gamers are reasonably upset that Wii U software support has dried up while the PS3 and 360 are going strong, and they’ve likely felt disappointed by the overall lack of third party support on the Wii. Nintendo has a tough road ahead of them if they hope to regain the trust of the traditional hardcore gamer.
With casual gamers, the situation is different. Those gamers didn’t buy the Wii expecting to purchase a new game every month. Many people bought the Wii, purchased five or so games over the course of a few years, played some Wii Sports and Mrario Kart with their friends, and were content with their purchase. Casual gamers who drifted into Sony and Microsoft’s waters likely found that the HD console makers didn’t offer enough content to keep them engaged. That’s my take on the situation, and the early success, or lack there of, for the Wii U will tell the whole story.
To Sum Things Up
That, in a nutshell, is Nintendo’s objective for their coming console in regards to casual gamers. Nintendo’s core strategy has not deviated from the days of the Wii. They’re aiming to use the familiar as a trojan horse for the new. They want gamers to pick up a Gamepad expecting an iOS experience, but find that consoles can offer much more. They want gamers to see that games like Nintendo Land and Sing offer a social experience that can’t be matched on other consoles or smart devices. They want gamers to conclude that games like Scribblenauts Unlimited and New Super Mario Bros U offer more than iOS games can. They want them to see that Wii Fit should be a part of their daily lives. In short, they need to convince people that gaming is a worthwhile investment.
Ok, But Why Should I Care?
This whole article has been focused on how Nintendo will be able to court casual gamers. That’s great if for developers or a Nintendo stock holder, but what does that mean to hardcore gamers like you? To put it simply, a market is either expanding or it is dying. If the gaming industry can’t continually bring in new customers, then the gaming industry will contract, budgets will be reduced, publishers will close, and so on. Any fan of gaming in general should be rooting for Nintendo to succeed, just as they should be rooting for Sony and Microsoft to succeed. Nintendo’s success is good for the industry as a whole, but that’s a story for another time.
What Do You Think?
My voice is just one of many on the internet. Hopefully, I’ve provided an interesting perspective for you to think about, but I don’t claim to be the absolute authority on the gaming industry. What do you think? Will the Wii U attract casual gamers? Can Nintendo draw in gamers from the mobile market? Should this matter be important to hardcore gamers? Let me know what you think in the comments section.