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The Wii U Sold Poorly Because Its Games Lineup Was Bad

by on October 30, 2015
 

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The news of the day is that Nintendo is sending out development kits which supposedly are more powerful than the PS4.  If these rumors are true, then the extra power would certainly be appreciated.  However, this power alone isn’t going to save Nintendo’s next console.  The biggest problem with the Wii U was not its hardware, it was that Nintendo put out the weakest lineup of software they ever had.

When the Wii U was launching, Nintendo proudly proclaimed that for the first time since the N64, there would be a Mario game at launch.  Nintendo apparently forgot what made games like Super Mario Bros, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 a big deal.  Those games were industry leading efforts that pushed their genre and the industry forward.  New Super Mario Bros U. was a fun but unremarkable Mario game.  Super Mario 64 was a game unlike anything you’d played before.  New Super Mario Bros U. was a game exactly like what you’d played just two years before.  Hardly something that would motivate anybody but the most loyal Nintendo fans to plunk down hundreds of dollars.

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It most certainly does not print money.

This became a pattern for Nintendo.  The bulk of the Big N’s output on the Wii U was composed of technically competent and well crafted sequels that failed to move their franchises forward in any meaningful way.  Super Smash Bros. was a basic fighting game sequel with a few engine tweaks, new characters, and an online mode that’s gone from terrible to mediocre.  Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze added nothing beyond Cranky Kong and Dixie.  Super Mario 3D World took its cues from its 3DS predecessor adding multiplayer at the cost of a step backwards in level design from the brilliant Super Mario Galaxy.  Mario Kart 8’s antigravity sequences were a fun but ultimately minor addition.

it’s not that these games weren’t fun.  I’ve spent countless hours playing Smash 4, and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is great example of strong level design.  These titles have the fun factor, but not the WOW factor.  They are quality games, but don’t offer anything truly new that makes you NEED them.  By the time Nintendo got around to releasing genuinely novel games like Splatoon and Mario Maker, the market had already passed judgement on the Wii U.

If you looked up “phoned in” in the dictionary…

On the pure casual front, Nintendo was even worse.  In the Wii generation, Nintendo created two franchises that launched them into the stratosphere.  Surely creating worthy follow ups to these titles would be a top priority for Nintendo… Nah.  Nintendo re-released Wii Sports with HD graphics and online play as if those things were really important to the Wii Sports fanbase.  Somehow, a free pack-in title became a $40 game.  To complete this profoundly imbecilic mishandling of the franchise, Nintendo initially released the game as an ala carte downloadable title to ensure that no casual gamer strolling through Wal-Mart accidently found out there was a new Wii Sports game.

Wii Fit didn’t fair much better.  The game’s selling point was a pedometer.  In terms of gameplay, Nintendo added about 18 minigames (most of which were similar activities in the dance category).  People were willing to buy a Wii for Wii Fit.  Asking those same people to drop $400 on a mild upgrade was pretty dumb.

You say the casuals left Nintendo?  Of course they did when this was the crap they were putting out.  

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Unprecedented is one word for it…

Third party support was weak on the Wii U.  The Wii U’s hardware definitely deterred third party developers, but even the similarly weak Wii had significantly better support.  Developers tried early on to get in on the Wii, and even late in the Wii’s life, games like Epic Mickery, De Blob, Goldeneye, and Just Dance found success on the Wii U.  If Nintendo’s Wii U titles were good enough to build a strong install base, third party support would have been far greater.

In the end, the Wii U’s lineup was quite similar to the Gamecube.  It was a system that was supported mainly by sequels to popular Nintendo franchises.  As these sequels were not as good as the ones found on Gamecube, the Wii U sold even less.

I imagine many of the people reading this article are those who enjoyed both the Wii U and the Gamecube.  I did too, with the Gamecube being my favorite console ever.  That being said, Nintendo cannot survive in the long term appealing to only their biggest fans.  The best way to expand their audience is to provide new, exciting, and legitimately innovative titles.  Without these, all the giga flops in the world won’t turn Nintendo around.  

 

Justin Weinblatt is a longtime Nintendo fan, educator, and amateur comedian.  He really hopes you found his article to be thoughtful, even if you disagree.  He has self esteem issues which would be alleviated if you’re follow him on twitter @gotgameJustin 

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  • Casey
    November 1, 2015 at 2:56 AM

    I have to say I find a lot of this info to be a little unfounded. It’s not even a contest comparing the Wii U first party lineup to Xbox or Playstation, as they are still waiting on more heavy hitters (Xbox JUST got its first major one).

    You’re also leaving out a lot of big guns for Wii U, Bayonetta 2, Wonderful 101, Captain Toad, etc. I can disagree with your opinions on the games you did mention, but those rules still apply to the first party support of the competition.

    The Wii U had a problem, but it wasn’t with Nintendo. The problem was that third parties didn’t give it their A game when they made content in the first place. EA got mad at Nintendo because their games weren’t selling well on the system, but they made shoddy ports of all their games (Mass Effect 3 without season pass dlc, Madden 13 being a reskin despite new engine on other consoles, the only competent game EA did on the system was Need For Speed Most Wanted). They blame Nintendo for hardware sales when hardware would have sold better had EA not made crap ports.

    There were some solid third party attempts, Ubisoft tried to hang in there with Assassins Creed and Splinter Cell, plus ZombiU, as well as Capcom with a few gems as well. Konami for some reason didn’t even bother to release a game on the platform.

    Either way, Nintendo wasn’t at fault for the system, it was a bad third party lineup and misplaced blame. I mean, Xbox One has mostly remasters, Forza, Sunset Overdrive and Halo 5. Playstation has better first party support but a lot of that is similar as they wait for Uncharted 4 and their new IPs.

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    • November 1, 2015 at 4:25 PM

      Nintendo was absolutely at fault for the system’s failure. Ultimately, third parties are not responsible for the success of a system. As I addressed in the article, it’s Nintendo’s job to build the install base.

      As I think I described well in the article, Nintendo’s efforts on the system were not the kinds of games that would build an install base. There were a lot of fun games, but nothing to really drive an install base. There was nothing cutting edge and nothing truly amazing. Good stuff for the Nintendo faithful, but nothing that would make people buy the system. For example, you mention Captain Toad. A fun game? Yes. Something that would really help build an install base? Not so much…

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      • Casey
        November 1, 2015 at 11:51 PM

        So what built the install base for the PlayStation 4? Wii sold better than PS3 and Xbox 360, so there was an install base. Wii U sold out at launch, and it had a lot of big names for its launch lineup (Mario, Ninja Gaiden, Assassins Creed, Mass Effect, etc).

        For your logic to make sense, you have to prove that PS4 and Xbox One did something better to make an install base.

        Captain Toad came out way after launch, so obviously that wasn’t a game built for the install base.

        Install base is made from having a solid selection to choose from. Wii U unfortunately was not given any quality third party support. It’s kind of like the Vita, the difference is Nintendo actually cared about the system and made good games (Sony hardly even acknowledges the Vita, let alone give it AAA development).

        What Microsoft published game at launch helped establish an install base? Nothing! It was because it was new graphics, more power, and new ways to experience the same third party games we could play on the previous generation. Microsoft and Sony didn’t do anything to make an install base except say “new console”.

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        • November 2, 2015 at 3:07 PM

          First off, let’s not pretend the Wii U’s launch lineup was great. Ninja Gaiden? Come on, that was a port of a poorly received title. Mass Effect 3 was a full price release of a year old game that was more expensive than the whole trilogy on other systems. Not what I’d call big names.

          And did it sell out at launch? Sort of. But selling out during the holiday season isn’t exactly a huge accomplishment. By mid January you could very easily find one if you wanted.

          As for Captain Toad, you brought that one up, not me.

          My logic is not dependent on the XBox One or PS4, because the circumstances of each were different. Sony and Microsoft already appealed to traditional gamers, the kind that will buy a console for the next call of duty, fifa, madden etc. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s success has come from trying to expand the audience. The Wii and DS sold because Nintendo of novel experiences. So, they needed to continue that to have success.

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          • Casey
            November 3, 2015 at 12:05 AM

            I brought up Captain Toad for a different reason and you responded to it about something else. As for Mass Effect, yes, it was full price, but the game was only months old and the trilogy was not released for a few months after. The nail in the coffin was that EA spoke out and said they weren’t going to give it the remaining dlc (which was still unreleased for other platforms at the time). As mentioned, EA sabotaged themselves by doing poor ports of their games, and that had nothing to do with Nintendo.

            Ninja Gaiden 3 was originally poorly received, yes, but Nintendo did improve it, enough to the point where there was demand of Razor’s Edge on other platforms. My point wasn’t about the game quality but the launch lineup in general and the names attached. There was FIFA, there was madden (both reskins), there was mass effect, there was Mario, there was Nintendo Land (showing off the gamepad), there was ZombiU (an original title that had a following), there was assassins creed, Sonic racing, etc. There were big names in the launch, and though the competition had relatively similar releases, they had poor first party titles for a while. Xbox just had Forza really unless you count Killer Instinct and Ryse, and PS4 had just Killzone until Infamous came out (because we all know how Knack worked out for them). You’re right, they didn’t have to expand their audience, but they didn’t do anything at launch to change it. Nintendo didn’t pull a Wii sports, but they innovated and found a new way for us to experience games. The problem was that many people were turned away from it due to poor explanation (either from lack of proper research or from ignorant retail associates). I mean Wii U is still the only fully backwards compatible system, even Xbox One won’t have that for a long time (if ever).

            The problem wasn’t Nintendo’s lack of a solid library, it was that the adoption rate was low because the people that were informed were seeing EA make piss poor ports, and the people that weren’t aware didn’t know there was a difference between the Wii and the Wii U. People to this day still don’t know there is a new Wii. This is partially because the name use was perhaps too confusing to consumers (double edged sword of using brand recognition), but you can’t say Nintendo didn’t try. They even sent Wii users messages to check out the console.

            I’m not saying you’re wrong that the Wii U failed at launch, I’m just saying you’re blaming the wrong thing. Most people agree that Nintendo has the strongest first party lineup, but everyone agrees that their third party lineup is poor, and companies like EA did that to themselves.


  • November 3, 2015 at 7:48 AM

    No, Mass Effect trilogy actually came out on the PS3 and 360 a few weeks before special edition launched at full price on Wii U. Ninja Gaiden was poorly received in all its forms. They released it as a quick cash grab on PS60, but it’d be hard to say there was demand.The other games you mentioned (save Zombi U) were ports that were on XBox 360 and PS3. Even if they were perfect ports, there was no reason to buy a new console for one, especially if you were already a PS360 fan who would be more keen on waiting for PS4 or XBox One.

    PS4 and XBox One didn’t do anything to change their audience because they didn’t need to. The number of people who would buy a new console for the next GTA, COD, etc are more numerous than the people that would buy a system for the next Mario and Smash.

    You’re talking about people recognizing the Wii U is different, but again I’d say look at the software. If you were a casual consumer, and you saw New Super Mario Bros U, is that going to communicate the difference? And for those that do know the difference is that going to make you want a Wii U? Tropical Freeze? Mario 3D World? Mario Kart 8? Smash U? Aside from Nintendo Land, Nintendo didn’t release games that highlighted or used the system’s features.

    As for third party support, that’s a function of first party support. Ignoring EA, which seems to be a grudge, we saw companies like WB Interactive, Ubisoft, and Activision making, if not perfect, decent ports, and even a few exclusive games. But, as Nintendo couldn’t build an install base, it stopped making sense to invest much in Wii U ports.

    You’re saying that the Wii U has the strongest first party support, and from a gamer’s perspective (particularly a Nintendo fan), I’d agree with you. However, from a marketing perspective, it is abysmal. Nothing to appeal to the kinds of gamers who made the Wii a success, nothing to reach outside Nintendo’s base demographics, and nothing to demonstrate why the Wii U hardware was special. Nintendo’s games were designed for a niche market, and the system sold to a niche market.

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    • Casey
      November 3, 2015 at 3:36 PM

      Regarding Mass Effect, I apologize, I was basing the release off the PS3 release (which DID release after Special edition on the Wii U). Xbox 360 was November 6th, Wii U was November 13th, PS3 was December 4th. As for Ninja Gaiden, the original release has a 59 average metacritic while Razors edge has a much improved 69 average. No, it wasn’t perfect, but it’s fact that it was a notable improvement.

      As for EA, yes, it is a grudge. They blamed Nintendo for their games not selling well when they did terrible ports. All the other companies actually did good ports (Arkham City may not have been worth the price tag compared to the game of the year edition, but it was a solid port with extra content). Other companies did solid work as well. EA was the only one that put in no effort and they blamed Nintendo for their terrible attempts of games not selling, so they stopped developing for the system and made false claims to insult the system (it can totally handle frostbite engine, they just wanted to sling some mud).

      As for me, I bought the Wii as for the next Smash Bros because I care about that way more than the next Call of Duty, which the Wii U also had two before Advanced Warfare not being released for it, both actually solid versions of the games (and released simultaneously). New Super Mario Bros. U may not have gained the casual consumer, but it did sell pretty well (even before it was bundled). Mario is an easy million seller, mainly because he is iconic to audiences worldwide. The game may not pull gta or cod numbers, but it was definitely a success.

      The Wii U may not have used all the features Nintendo Land showed in other first party games, but all the games you mentioned did use the strong feature of Off TV play, which none of the other platforms have a perfect option for. That is a feature of the system that you are ignoring. Aside from that, Kirby used the touch screen just fine, Wind Waker showed the valuable feature of inventory management, splatoon uses the screen to show a map for keeping track of progress (and some people prefer the motion controls), and even Mario Kart has a motion control option. Smash bros did use the gamepad for designing custom levels as well with more flexibility than Brawl had. It may not be a full innovative package like Nintendo Land, but these games do use the features of the system in ways that make a lot of sense.

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      • November 3, 2015 at 4:18 PM

        Like you said, New Super Mario Bros U sold well, but it didn’t sell COD or GTA numbers. And Nintendo NEEDED it to. This was the biggest title they released for their new console. It NEEDED to be something special that would convince people they needed a new system, in the same way Super Mario 64 or Wii Sports was. But it wasn’t. It was a fun Mario title. Nothing more, and nothing less.

        And like I say in the article, that’s the story of the Wii U. Quality games that were simply not ambitious enough to push the system beyond Nintendo’s core fanbase. You mention things like off TV play, gyro aiming, inventory management, and motion controls (which were already in the Wii version of Mario Kart), as ways that Nintendo innovated this generation. Do you think that these advancements were enough to justify a 300 dollar purchase to the average consumer? Maybe you do. I don’t, and that’s the point I was making.

        Of course, marketing and other aspects come into it, but I think the lack of compelling software from Nintendo was the biggest reason the Wii U didn’t succeed. That’s not to say there were no good games, but simply that there were no games that would convince people to throw 300 dollars on the table.

        Anyway, even if you disagree, I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

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        • Casey
          November 5, 2015 at 1:25 AM

          Well there really wasn’t a way that any gimmick or game could do what you’re asking. Wii did motion controls, and the Wii U gamepad introduced great new ways to play games, but there wasn’t anything new that Nintendo could have done with it to expand the audience. If you could make a game that would do what you suggest, what would it be? Even if Zelda Wii U were a launch title, how does it apply to the logic you’re providing of expanding the audience outside of the core Nintendo fanbase?

          Yea, New Super Mario Bros U wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was still a fine game for a launch. Is it worth buying the console? No. But no launch game usually is (Wii Sports being the only exception as that actually was THE only game for many Wii buyers). Most people buy game consoles for games coming down the pipeline.

          I still feel that lack of third party support was not Nintendo’s fault. Sega went up against EA with the Dreamcast and died after 18 months. Wii U at least got EA games, but they were mostly terrible attempts, and when they left, many publishers slowly dropped out. Nintendo could’ve sold 10 million consoles in launch day, but if a publisher doesn’t put in proper effort and their game doesn’t sell, then that’s still on them, not the console maker.

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          • November 5, 2015 at 3:00 PM

            As I’m not a developer, it’s a bit unfair to ask me what kind of game I would make. But for a couple of ideas, they could have really done a lot with local co-op. I believe I did do an article about this near the Wii U’s launch, but I can’t locate it atm. For starters though, expanding either Metroid Blast or Zelda Adventure into full fledged games would have been amazing. A stealth game that allows you to use the gamepad to manipulate spy cameras. A co-op Zelda style game that allowed players to explore a castle together and work in different rooms to solve puzzles.

            As for how that ties into expanding the audience, that’s simple. People pay attention to novel things. That’s why Splatoon and Super Mario Maker helped move systems more than almost any other Wii U titles. They were new experiences, and people paid attention.

            If the Wii U sold 10 million copies on launch day publishers would definitely develop more content, which is why the Wii saw much stronger support than the Wii U. There is no guarantee these games would sell well, but there is a far better chance. It is hardly a coincidence that multiplatform titles are almost universally selling better on the PS4. More consoles generally mean more sales.


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