Wednesday’s Wii U Direct presentation was certainly exciting for Wii U owners, and probably encouraging to some potential Wii U owners who were a bit hesitant to hop on board until they saw what was in store down the line. After all, that was one of Nintendo’s express missions for the presentation: to inform fans about what’s coming to the system in the future, not just in the first half of this year. In that sense, it did its job well. But it’s important to note what Wii U Direct won’t achieve for the system – recognition by the general public as a must-have gaming device.
At the same time, the timing of these latest announcements seems to serve as an obvious reactionary measure against recent reports regarding the new Xbox and PlayStation successors’ specs and upcoming reveals later this spring. Regardless of the face Nintendo seems to be putting up, it seems clear that they don’t believe Wii U has established the advantageous position they were hoping for against the competition and are desperate to correct its reputation as soon as possible.
A big part of Nintendo’s rise to fame was their connection with the everyday person – not just the hardcore gaming enthusiast who can dedicate several hours a day to their hobby, but the families, young people, and working class folks who don’t see gaming as a way of life but rather as a means of entertaining their children, bringing their families together to play, or taking a load off after a long day at work.
These kinds of players need games that they can fit into their daily grind, not games that require large time investments and that require gamers to keep close track of their progress to jump back into the game. It’s the reason why games like Super Mario Bros., Wii Sports, and Just Dance have established such strong footholds and are so recognizable among the so-called “casual” crowd – they know how to be “accessible” to their audience, not just through the pick-up-and-play simplicity of their gameplay but through how easy it is to carve out time to sit back and have fun with them.
That doesn’t mean these games necessarily have to be easy. Anyone who’s tried to make it all the way through the original Super Mario Bros. can tell you that it took a lot of practice and improvement to avoid getting a Game Over. It just means that there isn’t a steep learning curve, even if there’s a steep challenge curve.
So far, Wii U’s offered a New Super Mario Bros. game and the brand-new Nintendo Land to aim at this kind of gamer. And, so far, these games are the two main experiences keeping Wii U afloat – they’re the two best-selling games on Wii U by a rather considerable margin. Wii Fit U is coming within the first half of this year. These games will likely be long-term sales-drivers… but what else will Nintendo do to prove that it’s got a lot to offer to the “casual” player? Wii Party sold well, but it didn’t sell systems, so it seems unlikely that its sequel will do much better. Games like Wii Sports, which was teased at E3 2011 but never officially announced, are still MIA.
Nintendo seems to expect that simply throwing out a new fitness game, more controller gimmick mini-games, and a new Mario will be enough to get people who bought a Wii to buy a Wii U. Judging by the steep drop-off in its adoption rate, it seems pretty clear that that won’t work. These potential customers need to be convinced by something that Nintendo simply hasn’t done before, something that will inspire them to realize that their current Wii experiences like Wii Fit, Wii Sports, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii have truly and definitively been surpassed.
To put it another way – the casuals are pickier than people give them credit for. They need to feel that what Wii U is offering to them is truly next-gen, not just an HD update.
There’s a popular notion that Wii had a terrible software attach rate, and that everyone who bought the system for Wii Sports never bought anything else. This actually isn’t true – there were over eight games sold for every Wii system, and many of those games sold to people who bought into Wii Sports and were curious to see what else Nintendo had to offer. All it takes is that one game that drives the general population to shell out a couple hundred bucks to see what all the fuss is about – and Wii U still hasn’t seen its ace in the hole, not even at Wii U Direct.
Yoshi Wii U is probably pretty fun, but its emphasis on its cutesy art style isn’t likely to have widespread appeal. Wind Waker Wii U is a good choice for an encore release because it’s no longer available on any current Nintendo platforms, but it’s unlikely that it’ll make enough waves to sustain Wii U long-term or sell it to anyone who didn’t already go for it on GameCube. Monolith’s game looks gorgeous and seems like it’ll be a hit with the Xenoblade crowd… which honestly isn’t that big a group (though I’m sure they make excellent software customers).
3D Mario? Mario Kart? Zelda Wii U ? Smash Bros.? We know they’ll all be great. That Mr. Iwata saw fit to remind us that these games – all of which we already knew about – are coming, while apologizing profusely that he has nothing to show for them at the present time, does well to reassure us that we’ll have a lot to watch out for at E3, but it doesn’t really tell fans waiting to see what’s in the works for Wii U anything they didn’t already know. Not that that’s a bad thing. Nintendo needs to save something for E3. But until we actually see these games and get the chance to size them up firsthand, it’s hard to say whether they’ll be enough to get people excited – and not just people in the gaming enthusiast world, but people outside it.
Nintendo knows that one of the biggest criticisms of Wii U has been that there’s no clear roadmap for where it’s headed after the launch period. They know that Sony and Microsoft will be aiming to one-up them with their own next-gen systems, and so they also know that they need to position themselves as having a lot to look forward to before people become fixated on what the competition has to offer.
Did they succeed at that? I’m not sure yet – as someone who already owns a Wii U, I’m pretty pleased, but I can’t speak for non-owners. We’ll know in the coming weeks and months what history will remember.