Nintendo can’t keep up


Zack Hardy, Writer

This winter, Nintendo’s stock fell 17 percent. This drop immediately followed a press release by Nintendo stating that the company’s Wii U console will not meet the $9 million in predicted sales and after a re-evaluation. Nintendo stated that the Wii U will not reach even a third of that number. This $336 million loss for Nintendo leaves the tech world wondering what went wrong? Every time a company creates a new product, they are taking a gamble; a gamble that the product will sell well and, if it doesn’t, that their mistake won’t cost too much in time or capital. The bigger a company is, the bigger the gamble they make. Nintendo’s Wii U gamble had three major problems: a lack of technological innovation, an overestimation of their new, casual audience and a lack of games.

Before the Wii was released in 2006, Nintendo competed directly with both Microsoft and Sony for control of “core” gamers, or gamers who play a variety of different games and buy a new game at least every month, if not once a week. The consoles released by Nintendo before the Wii included the GameCube and the Nintendo 64 (N64) which had classic controls: the use of a joystick to move a character around and a variety of different buttons which perform different actions. The Wii marked a major shift for the company. The controls used motion sensors instead of more traditional controls previously used in the N64 and GameCube, and those being used by their competitors. These motion sensor controls were significantly easier for adults and children to use. Instead of having to pay attention to three or four different buttons or joysticks, you just had to move your controller and the character on the television would mirror your movements. The games released with the Wii weren’t made with gamers in mind. They were generally sports or racing games, which are used primarily by groups of people rather than individuals. The advent of the Wii was an attempt to make gaming social. For years, there was a stereotype of the anti-social gamer. The Wii wished to combat this stereotype by using new controls and games which could be played alone, but would be more fun when played with a group. The Wii would be the first “family” console. The technique worked. The Wii was a staggering success for Nintendo, quickly becoming the most popular Christmas item for 2006, and a new audience for video games was born.

Nintendo had touched on an untapped market. However, this new market of “casual” gamers provided new challenges. These new gamers were not going to midnight openings of their favorite games (they often had children at home) and they weren’t going to buy a new console just because their favorite brand was putting one out (with their reduced expendable income). Video games were not their main hobby and unlike “hardcore” gamers, they did not feel the need to buy a game every month or even every year. This new audience of 2006 was today’s target market for Wii U, but these consumers need a multitude of reasons to be convinced the console they currently have at home should be replaced. For them, the Wii U is not different enough from the Wii to justify shelling out $300.

The Wii U allows the gamers to use controllers from the original Wii, but also includes a new controller with a touch screen. The new controller, known as the Wii-U GamePad also has analog controls, or the more traditional ‘A’, and ‘B’ buttons and joysticks. Instead of making it easier for individuals to understand video game controls, the GamePad requires the player to pay attention to two different screens to play. The controls are unwieldy and frustrating, forcing a gamer to split his attention. Nintendo tried to integrate touch pad technology to make a more interesting game experience, but it ended up being a confusing and complicated mess.

The Wii U also had to compete with the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 (PS4), when both consoles were released last year. These two competitors broke records with their sale numbers late last year, partially because of the release of launch titles that continued existing franchises. The Xbox One had 97 games at the time the console was released, and the PS4 had close to 200. The Wii-U, on the other hand, had only 23-26 when the console was released, and now has about 200.

Another way to sell a specific video game console is by selling games that are only offered on one console, games known as exclusive titles. The exclusive games offered on the Wii U are generally geared towards children, featuring favorite characters like “Donkey Kong,” “Mario” and Legend of Zelda’s “Link.” Many of today’s children did not grow up with these classic characters, but instead used mobile phones for their gaming. When the parents of these children can choose between buying a $300 console (plus games) or buying a $3 game for iPhone, it’s not much of a choice at all.

Nintendo has admitted the Wii U was an economic failure and stated they wish to cut their losses and move on. They may be coming out with another innovative console within the next two years. However, their current business model is failing. A number of different tech journalists and business analysts say the best strategic move for Nintendo is to license their copyright characters for smartphone and tablet games. Remaking games like the original “Super Mario Bros” for the Android Play store would not only allow “casual” gamers who don’t own Nintendo consoles to have access to the games of their childhood, but would introduce these characters to a brand new audience. From Nintendo’s point of view, licensing characters to other corporations would be considered a failure. They would be relinquishing control over the last vestige of the 1980‘s and 1990’s Nintendo. Nintendo has existed for more than a hundred years, but times are changing. At the moment, it seems like Nintendo is not keeping up.

 Zack Hardy can be reached via email at [email protected]

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