The writing is on the wall for the Wii U, as recent reports have suggested that Nintendo will cease production on the console sometime this year. Although Nintendo has patently denied these rumors, the Wii U’s days are undoubtedly numbered, to the point where it can confidently be declared a massive failure. As of December 31, 2015, the Wii U had sold 12.6 million units worldwide, making it the company’s slowest-selling console ever. With Nintendo’s next console, codenamed the NX, rumored to be launching in late 2016 at the earliest, the sun is quickly setting on the Wii U — a console with some good ideas and fantastic games that ultimately couldn’t make much of an impact at retail. The following are the most significant reasons for the Wii U’s failure.
10. Poor Launch Lineup
Nintendo hobbled the Wii U right out of the gate by launching it in November 2012 with little in the way of “must-have” software. While titles such as New Super Mario Bros. U and ZombiU stood out as worthy purchases, most of the other titles available at launch were a mix of previous generation ports and gimmicky software focused on mini-games. While the original Wii didn’t have the most inspiring launch games either, it did have a system-seller in the form of Wii Sports, something that the Wii U lacked.
To be fair, most new consoles don’t have many good games right at the start but the Wii U got things doubly wrong by not having enough games to draw in the hardcore crowd or a compelling piece of cross-generational software to help sell the system’s features to the masses, which contributed to the console getting off on the wrong foot.
9. Half-Hearted Online
Nintendo still clings to the idea that a gaming console should just be about games, but this is an outdated view that has hurt the Wii U’s appeal across the board. Consumers want consoles to play games, this much is true, but they also want them to do a myriad of other entertainment-related tasks such as playing movies or streaming music from their PCs; essentially, they want them to function as a media hub for their living room.
It’s true that the Wii U offers most of the more popular entertainment apps such as Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube, but they don’t run as well as they do on the PS4 or Xbox One. In addition, online connectivity has become incredibly important in the console space and while the Wii U offers the best online infrastructure of any Nintendo console to date, that’s really not saying much when it feels like a step back even from the PS3 and Xbox 360’s online offerings.
8. Too Expensive For What It Offers
While the Wii U’s $299 price point is about $100 less than what the Xbox One and PS4 currently sell for, this price advantage ends up being a moot point when you consider how little value that $100 difference is actually worth. The Wii U’s price is heavily inflated by the console’s gamepad and once you factor in the purchase of an additional hard drive (practically a necessity given the Wii U’s paltry 32 GB pack-in), the real price of the Wii U is much more in line with the cost of a PS4 or Xbox One, which is a problem when it is so heavily-outclassed by those machines in terms of graphical horsepower and system features.
7. Nintendo Got Cocky
Prior to the Wii U’s launch, Nintendo was riding high on the enormous commercial success of the Wii and naturally assumed that its successor would continue that success. Unfortunately, the gaming industry is rife with examples of companies being undone by overconfidence (Sony’s mishandling of the PlayStation 3 being a prime example) and something similar happened with Nintendo and the Wii U. Nintendo hedged their bets on consumers being drawn to the Wii U based on name recognition and the console’s new tablet controller, but that complacency made them overlook the fact that the Wii was successful primarily because of its novelty and low price. Instead of predicting what consumers would want out of a Wii successor, Nintendo told them what they wanted and this decision ultimately backfired.
6. Released At The Wrong Time
The closest analog to what went wrong with the Wii U is the situation that Sega experienced with the Dreamcast back in 1999 (you can read all about that console’s misfortunes here). Like the Dreamcast, the Wii U is a system with some good ideas and some fantastic games that was released at absolutely the wrong time. The Dreamcast was released in-between the PlayStation/N64 and PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generations and didn’t really fall in line with either. It was more powerful and feature-rich than the consoles that came before it, but couldn’t compete with the capabilities of the consoles that were released soon after it.
The Wii U is a victim of the same problem, as even though it was released only a year before the PS4 and Xbox One, it feels like it’s part of a different generation entirely due to the differences in specs and features. Like the Dreamcast, the Wii U is destined to attain a cult following for what it did right, but a cult following simply isn’t as impressive as being successful.
5. The Wii’s Reputation
One issue that Nintendo surely wasn’t counting on in their struggle to convince consumers to purchase a Wii U is that the reputation of their previous console would ultimately hurt it. The Wii was incredibly popular with the casual gaming market, which led to a feeling of betrayal among Nintendo’s core audience. So when it came time to purchase Nintendo’s next console, many of these fans decided against supporting to the Wii U after being burned by the Wii.
Unfortunately, this put Nintendo in an awkward position of trying to service core gamers with the Wii U, which hurt the console’s casual appeal in the process, as the very gimmicks that made the Wii such a success — namely, motion controls — were abandoned in favor of the tablet controller (more on that later). Nintendo tried to service two separate gaming markets with the Wii U but ended up not being able to please either of them.
4. Underpowered Hardware
Nintendo has often marched to the beat of their own drum when it comes to the technical power of their hardware, a strategy that proved effective for the Wii but ultimately hurt the Wii U. The problem with the Wii U from a hardware perspective is that it was a generation behind where it should have been. The console was marginally more powerful than the PS3 and Xbox 360, which was a problem when it came out six to seven years after those systems first hit the market.
With the PS4 and Xbox One releasing a year after the Wii U, this created a situation where games just couldn’t be ported over to the Wii U without being severely compromised because of how far behind Nintendo’s console was in terms of graphical output compared to Sony and Microsoft’s machines. And as we’ve seen countless times in the past, making it difficult for third-party developers to port games to their consoles is something Nintendo excels at …
3. Terrible Third Party Support
While the Wii U is a treasure trove of fantastic games made by Nintendo, it’s a barren wasteland when it comes to pretty much anything else. Like many Nintendo consoles before it, the Wii U failed to attract much in the way of support from third-party developers, which is practically a death sentence in the console market. It’s a shame too because Nintendo actually did a decent job of locking up support early on in the Wii U’s lifespan, with major publisher Ubisoft in particular pledging support and exclusive titles for the system.
Unfortunately, third-party support dried up pretty quickly once it became clear that only Nintendo-made games were selling on the Wii U, with former exclusives like Rayman Legends being ported to other systems in a bid to increase sales. The Wii U’s low install base practically guaranteed that most games would struggle to hit even one million units sold, let alone the multiple millions in sales often needed for a game to break even.
2. The Tablet Controller
Where to even begin with this misstep? Rather than continue with the motion controls that made the Wii so successful, Nintendo tried to tap into the increasingly popular mobile and tablet gaming markets with the Wii U’s tablet controller. While a well-meaning idea, the Wii U Gamepad ended up hampering the console’s appeal from the start by being technologically inferior to leading tablets of the time — a problem that has only gotten worse in the years since the Wii U’s initial release.
The other big problem is that Nintendo never figured out what to do with the Gamepad, releasing only a few notable titles over the console’s lifecycle that truly take advantage of its capabilities. Even legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyomoto has publicly admitted that his company dropped the ball with the Wii U Gamepad, which only proves how instrumental it was to the system’s failure. However, when it comes to the reasons behind the Wii U’s failure, one issue reigns supreme …
1. The Name
While the failure of the Wii U is a multi-faceted, complex issue, it can also largely be attributed to one simple mistake on Nintendo’s part – the name. Simply put, the decision to call the console “Wii U” was a terrible move that cost Nintendo dearly. The main problem with the name is that it led to massive confusion among consumers as to what the Wii U actually was — was it just an upgrade to the Wii? A full-on successor? The Wii U’s messaging was never clear enough and this led to many consumers passing on it.
The Wii U name is so bad that in 2014, former head of Nintendo’s indie program Dan Adelman claimed that it cut the Wii U’s potential sales in half and referred to the name as “abysmal.” If ever there was a console that proves how important clear and concise branding is, it’s the Wii U.