I was listening to a podcast the other day in which some intellectuals and critics were talking about the merits of new games on the market. One of the participants mentioned a Wii game and was quickly met with, “Wait, someone still plays the Wii?” Queue raucous laughter. It was a throwaway joke, but think for a moment about the people you know that own a Wii. Do they play it? Do they play it often? Of the 10 or so folks I know that own a Wii, I can think of one who has probably played it in the last month and none that play the system regularly.
The big problem with the Wii, at least from a market longevity standpoint, is that it relies heavily on people who don’t play games. The Wii’s brilliance - making controls intuitive and easy-to-use - is also its great downfall. Hardcore gamers can’t get the games they want on the Wii because of its simplified structure and underwhelming technical specs. Casual gamers get the games they want, they just get them in lower quantities. To be fair, the Wii continues to sell well, but where will Nintendo turn for sales when the Wii has hit its market saturation point?
Nintendo is counting on Wii U, the console the company unveiled at E3 earlier this week. I’m here to tell you that the Wii U won’t cut it. In fact, I think the Wii U is going to flop and flop hard. If you want to gauge consumer excitement about the Wii U, just watch Nintendo’s announcement video, which I’ve embedded below. Gamers are among the most ravenous fans in the world. Show them something they like and you will hear roars of glee, whistles, and thunderous applause. When Reggie Fils-Aime unveiled the Wii U controller, the room was subdued, filling the air with what could generously be called tepid applause. I know exactly how the people in that room felt because I felt it too. The only thing going through my mind was “What the hell is that?”
This wasn’t the same what-the-hell moment I had when Nintendo announced the Wii. The moment I saw the Wii, I got it. I saw its potential. It was different from anything I expected, but I knew that it would be great for casuals and non-gamers. The Wii U, on the other hand, is mind-bogglingly out of touch. It mangles the Wii’s simplicity, adding layers of complexity under the guise of ease-of-use. It misses the technical mark by a mile and trashes the Wii’s fantastic social appeal. In short, it has all of the drawbacks Nintendo so deftly avoided when creating the original Wii and doesn’t offer enough to entice new buyers.
Just so everyone understands, Wii U will require you to buy another console. This is not an upgrade for the Wii; this is a new console - backwards compatible with Wii accessories - with a new, gigantic controller. Obviously the first concern is cost. Nothing has been announced, but I’m willing to bet that controller won’t come cheap. I’m going to throw out a theoretical $99 pricetag. Even if Nintendo can get the price down to $70, that’s still too high for a piece that will almost definitely need to be replaced at some point. The first thought I had when I saw the controller on the ground for a golf game was, “Well, that thing’s getting stepped on.” Then there’s the durability of the touchscreen to consider, the stylus to potentially lose - this will be an expensive system to own.
The Wii U’s biggest flaw is that it flips the social gaming of the Wii on its head. The Wii was great because it allowed casual players and gamers to sit down and enjoy simple games together. The Wii U encourages players to slip away into their own worlds, pulling the game off the TV and onto a handheld device when someone else comes into the room. This might have been a cool concept in reverse for a portable device - playing your 3DS on the big screen - but the Wii U controller isn’t truly portable. The controller has no processing power - all of that work is done on the console and then streamed to the controller - so the player is tethered to the console for that private playing experience. As it currently stands, only one of these Wii U controllers can be used on a system at a time, further removing the player that has one from the rest of the room.
True to form, Nintendo seems to have half-assed the technical specs on the Wii U. The touchscreen controller is not multitouch, the console has no Blu-Ray support, the controller has no rendering capabilities. The graphical capabilities are certainly better than the Wii, but the only thing we’ve seen so far is video footage from the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of games playing on a Wii U. That’s right, none of the hi-res footage from E3 was actually rendered by the Wii U. Nintendo said the games will look at least as good as current generation consoles. I would certainly hope so. Those consoles are six years old.
Though there is some enthusiasm at E3 for the Wii U, investors remain unimpressed. Nintendo stock dropped ten percent in the past two days, down to the lowest point it has been since before the Wii launched. I think investors can see the Wii U for what it is - a dressed up, expensive version of the company’s existing console that doesn’t give consumers a compelling reason to purchase. Welcome to the next Gamecube era.