When it comes to consoles, Nintendo just hasn’t been able to find their footing this past generation. Despite strong initial sales, the system was a flop. And if the Wii U sales continue to struggle, it may see the same premature fate. But when it comes to portables, sales skyrocket and stay strong, as is the case with the Nintendo 3DS. So it begs the question: Why does Nintendo have such a difficult time emulating the success of their handhelds to their consoles?
CEO Satoru Iwata blames the disappointing sale on Nintendo’s lax marketing efforts. Which bears a bit of truth as many gamers perceived the Wii U as merely an accessory that complimented the regular Wii or an upgraded Wii, not as an entirely new console. More over, Nintendo failed to communicate the value properties of the Wii U and how it would benefit consumers. Even at rock bottom price cuts haven’t helped invigorate sakes. But there’s more to the story that Nintendo just can’t seem to admit to themselves. And that simple truth is this: in spite of Nintendo strong innovations, they don’t produce content that attract steady consumers.
This is the same enigma that plagued the Wii. Nintendo failed to produce content that connected with the mass appeal (hardcore gamers or the casual crowd who suddenly an interest in the Wii and gaming). Make no mistake about it, from a pure financial perspective, the Wii was a success and dominated sales charts for many years. During this same time, the Gameboy Advance and DS sales were rock solid without cannibalizing each other. Today, that dynamic isn’t happening with the Wii U and 3DS. While console numbers were phenomenal, actual games sales were a different story.
The generation that grew up on a steady stream of Mario games and other Nintendo icons is becoming older. And as gamings has evolved, they’ve have embraced other icons from different platforms from Halo’s Master Chief, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, and so on. As that spectrum grows and fragments in itself, Nintendo’s relevance in the market becomes that much more challenged. Nintendo shows unwavering commitment to their content, even to this day. There’s no denying that Nintendo produces stellar titles like clockwork. But the reality is that Nintendo can no longer rely on the financial success of Mario and Zelda titles.
Putting out the Wii U was extremely pre-mature given their poor standing in the market. Most likely, Nintendo’s aim was to capitalize on the success of the Wii. And Nintendo knew where their shortcomings were. What they didn’t anticipate was alienating themselves further from hardcore gamers and casual users which we’re seeing now with disastrous Wii U sales. Given where the console war is headed, the Wii U appears to have already lost. Even 3rd party publishers are keeping the WiiU on hold. Compared against the competition: Wii U is underspeced, 3rd party support is minimal, and the games still lack the mass appeal addressed earlier. Let’s be clear: the problem isn’t Nintendo’s games but the platform on which those games are produced. If Nintendo wants to stay ahead of the pack, they need to play to their strengths more, and that’s handhelds.
Let’s play devils’ advocate. Instead of throwing more capital and resources in a losing war, Nintendo could bow out of the console race and redirect focus to the handheld space and develop games on other platforms be it console and / or mobile. That may seem blasphemous to many hardcore fans. But no one would have predicted ever seeing Sonic the Hedgehog exclusively on a Nintendo console either. This sort of transition would allow their games to reach an even larger audience. Additionally, dedicating more assets to the mobile / digital space could lead way to more innovations Nintendo is known for. Not only could Nintendo extend their control of the handheld market; they could start dabbling with other mobile devices / partners. The possibilities for expansion in the mobile market are endless and fits some areas of Nintendo’s wheelhouse.
Obviously, Nintendo is not leaving the console market anytime soon, nor should they. The original Wii is still selling at a somewhat moderate rate, believe or not. And despite the Wii U’s failings, I have no doubt Nintendo has another console in the works to stay current with the competition. I do fear however that if Nintendo doesn’t find it’s footing in this coming generation, they really could be forced in a position where it only make sense for them to get out the race. Sometimes, that’s the only way to stay in play. Just look at Sega.