E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is right around the corner, being held in LA from June 5 through June 7, and all eyes will be on Nintendo and its “next generation” console, the Wii U. There are high expectations for Nintendo’s Wii U, which was announced shortly prior to last year’s E3, because of how well their previous console, the Wii, did.
The Wii, released in late 2006, has moved 95.85 million units globally as of March 31, 2012. Numbers-wise and profit-wise, the Wii was more successful than Microsoft’s and Sony’s console offerings, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. A large factor behind its success was its innovative motion controller, which was eventually copied by Microsoft with its Kinect and Sony with its Move. Another factor had to be how accessible and appealing the console was to non-gamers. With its motion controls, the Wii broke down some of the perceived complexity that kept non-gamers away. At the same time, social networking through Facebook and on an iPhone or iPod had taken off and the Wii offered a logical entry point into the console realm. This was accompanied by games that catered to a casual crowd such as Zumba along with Nintendo’s usual repertoire of first party characters and games.
It should come as no surprise that the Wii’s successor will have high expectations to match its predecessor’s success. However, a recent survey showed demand for the new console to be low. 75% of polled current gamers were not interested in the new console and 64% of polled gamers who owned a Wii were not interested in the new console. Is the Wii U too little and too late or can Nintendo turn this around at E3 2012?
What Did the Wii Do Wrong?
It’s interesting to look at what the Wii didn’t do that made it a failure despite its high sales. Many “hardcore” gamers despise the Wii and talk about how it just sits in their living room without being turned on.
I hate to be the person saying this because graphics should not matter as much as gameplay, but the Wii dropped the ball here. Compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360 with their HD graphics (sure, some of it is upscaled from less than 720p), the Wii looked plain inferior on HDTVs. Playing Skyward Sword on a HDTV looked pretty good, but I could not help but think “what if this was in HD?” Here are some pictures of what Twilight Princess could look like upscaled for HD. Of course, HD graphics would be more than just upscaling the existing assets. A more powerful system would have more processing power for better textures, improved lighting, and other physics to bring the world to life as long as developers don’t fall into the Square Enix Final Fantasy XIII trap: amazing character models but dead, static environments. There were some third party gems that were more robust because of the lower graphics: Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story come to mind.
Let’s face it, most of the hardcore gamers only bought a Wii for Nintendo’s suite of first party titles. All of the other games, particularly because of the graphics issue, were better being bought for a PS3 or Xbox 360. Also, the motion controller on the Wii made it harder for developers to port games to the Wii. Motion controls often felt tacked on, which reinforced players’ feelings that motion controls are just a gimmick. Games needed to be developed with the Wii and motion controls in mind first, but this often made it impossible to port the game to the PS3 or Xbox 360 afterward since the graphics and effects wouldn’t look as nice on those consoles and motion controls would have to be rethought.
3. Lack of a Centralized Online System
Friend codes. Really? That about sums this up. I, as are many others, aren’t huge into online play, but neglecting a good part of the video game community who do play online isn’t any wiser. Friend codes are a huge pain to use and the Wii did not offer any robust online network like Xbox Live or PSN.
4. Lack of Common Functionality
A surprise to many came when the Wii, although using a DVD drive for games, would not play DVD movies. While Nintendo argued that most households already had a dedicated DVD player and did not need this functionality, for the casual crowd, operating just one device for both games and movies is convenient.
Ah, the double-edged sword that Sony’s PSP also faced. Some may view Homebrew in a positive light since it allows added functionality on the system, for example, being able to play DVD movies. However, it also opened the door to pirated games whether it’s run on a burned disc or through USB. There are some legitimate uses such as playing games that would never make a domestic release, but many use it in lieu of buying games. Sure, not every pirated game would have converted to a sale and some pirated goods do convert to a sale after the consumer had a chance to sample it, but in the end, Nintendo had to put more efforts into curbing homebrew through multiple updates that ended up being circumvented by dedicated hackers.
Once manufacturers figured out how big and popular the Wii had gotten, the amount of accessories exploded. Some were plain ridiculous such as a plastic tennis racket to hold your Wiimote in to make it appear like you’re playing tennis. In the same vein, Nintendo had a wheel accessory for Mario Kart, which I found useless. Other games came with their own accessories like Zumba with its belt. Then, later in the console’s life cycle, came Wii Motion Plus, which was mandatory for some games.
What Is the Wii U Doing?
The Wii U should be addressing this with HD graphics and a “next generation” processor. There is some controversy about whether or not the Wii U will be able to keep up with Microsoft’s and Sony’s next generation offerings. To date, both Microsoft and Sony have been tight lipped about their next consoles and most believe we won’t be seeing anything about their next generation console at this year’s E3. At best, we should have news from both of them at TGS in September and this should give us a better idea of where the Wii U stands. In any event, it seems current gen graphics have reached a saturation point where the marginal return on graphics is too high. Consumers won’t notice improved graphics as much as prior generations.
Nintendo has already partnered with third party developers, knowing this has been their weak point in generations past. However, Nintendo has tried this strategy before with the Wii and many of the AAA titles from the Xbox 360 and PS3 will be ported to the Wii U at a later date. Once again, the Wii U is going with an unconventional controller scheme like its predecessor. It will make use of the existing Wiimotes but also have a dedicated tablet-like device with its own screen. Many compare this to the Gamecube with Gameboy Advanced connectivity although the tablet controller will come with each console, so developers will be able to count on every Wii U owner having it when choosing what mechanics to put into their games. Unfortunately, so far, it is only possible to use one of these tablet controllers per Wii U, which severely limits the possibilities. Nintendo has stated they are looking into this, but has made no announcement. Once again developers will run into problems with porting games among the consoles unless the next Xbox and PlayStation have motion controls. The PlayStation may also be able to use the connectivity between its PlayStation Vita portable and its next console to have a similar set up as Nintendo’s Wii U, but developers won’t be able to count on everyone having a Vita when thinking about what mechanics to have.
3. Lack of a Centralized Online System
Reports say the Wii U will have a more robust online system similar to Xbox Live and PSN. My only concern is that this will be Nintendo’s first try at this. Sure, they’ve probably learned a lot by observing what Xbox Live and PSN have done right and wrong over the years, but that doesn’t always translate into the best system. Sony will have learned from its mistakes come next generation, particularly in security and not having enough RAM for crossgame functionality, and Microsoft will be fine tuning its Xbox Live.
4. Lack of Common Functionality
If the initial reports are to be believed, it looks like this problem will be repeated with the Wii U. Rumors speculate the Wii U will use a mini-Blu-Ray disc, which is similar to what happened with the Gamecube using mini-DVD discs. It’s probably safe to say the Wii U will not be playing Blu-Ray movies. One way Nintendo got around this issue was by teaming up with Netflix on the Wii and I’m positive Nintendo will do something similar for the Wii U. With the cloud and video streaming becoming more and more popular, this may not be as big of a hit against Nintendo. Some may still want to be able to watch physical discs though. Sony and Microsoft may provide a solution to that although some rumors show them moving toward cloud gaming without media discs. We’ll know more as we get closer to the announcement of these next generation consoles. Update (5/30/2012): According to the Wall Street Journal, Sony will not be going with a 100% digital distribution network for its next console. Thank the lords.
Without a doubt, every console maker has been wrestling with this problem. Some speculate the move to cloud gaming is a result of this as well as an effort to curb the used game market. However, one thing is certain: where there’s a will, there’s a way. The PlayStation 3 remained unhackable for a long period of time, but it eventually got opened up by George Hotz in early 2010, a little over three years after the console’s release. Nintendo will hopefully be paying extra attention to securing both their console and their online network.
Well, I guess it is a sort of non-issue. Every console will have their accessories, whether it’s for Rockband or Dance Dance Revolution. Sony was no better last generation with its re-release of the Dual Shock 3 and later with Move. Microsoft expanded its console with Kinect. To me, there just seemed to be an excess amount of cheap, gimmicky accessories to house a Wiimote in. Before anyone asks, I do not have a Move controller for my PlayStation 3 and have no intention of ever owning one unless there is a game I desperately want that requires it. For the Wii, I only got Motion Plus when Skyward Sword released and I ended up buying the Collector’s Edition for the Wiimote with built in Motion Plus.
So Can the Wii U Succeed?
While Nintendo is addressing many of the issues that plagued the Wii with its Wii U, many gamers are skeptical of buying it. They are probably afraid of being burned again like I am and are waiting to see what Sony and Microsoft unleash. Also, the casual gamers are in no rush to get the latest and greatest console; especially since many are fine with their Wii, barely played their Wii, or content with gaming on their smartphone.
Despite this, I do believe Nintendo can turn this around. As they learned with their Nintendo 3DS, what really counts is having the software to back up the console. Nintendo will have to go into E3 and TGS with their guns blazing, showing off a good amount of launch titles and near term titles that really display the console’s strong suits. It needs to be more than just a console with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports. Highlight the experience that no other console can provide and show long term dedication to this experience. The Wii highlighted the experience really well prior to launch, but failed to sustain it – having a Zelda game ready at launch was equally helpful, but not always feasible.
The Wii U definitely has promise, as seen with the Zelda HD tech demo from last year’s E3, which may have cannibalized sales of Skyward Sword. I’m personally a sucker for The Legend of Zelda and Super Smash Brothers, so there is a good chance I’ll end up owning a Wii U somewhere down the line. However, without that Zelda game at launch, I will definitely not be lining up to buy a Wii U on zero day. As always, it’s up to Nintendo to turn this around and show why the Wii U is a worthy successor to its Wii. It may not have the same hype as the Wii at launch, but it could be successful in the long run.