2013 has been a bit of a mare for the Wii U thus far. There's certainly a lot to look forward to, especially from the summer onwards, but Nintendo's new console has spectacularly failed to set the retail world alight. Following news that the brand new device only attracted a 1.6% market share in terms of January software sales, one of its most important exclusives has jumped ship and retailers are up in arms. A destructive culture of doomsaying has sprung up around the Wii U over the last few months, both from gamers, pundits and even us hacks.
I've always tried to play devil's advocate, but there's no smoke without fire. Unfortunately, much of this negativity is well deserved. Nintendo have made a fair few compromises to release in time for Christmas, while there's a huge amount of work ahead for the venerable manufacturer if they plan to compete with the next generation of Microsoft and Sony machines (not to mention those pesky tablets). So rather than dwelling on problems and having a good old moan, let's take a look at some constructive ways that Ninty can capitalise on the next few months.
Let's deal with the big issue straight away. We've received numerous comments from readers who'd consider buying a Wii U if it was cheaper, while UK retailers suggest that manufacturer-led price cut would be a quick and easy way of netting some impulse sales. It's a win-win solution at face value, but things are rather more complicated than that.
Slashing prices so soon after launch is a last-ditch measure, and one that sours a company's relationship with their early adopters for a considerable length of time. What's more, weighty manufacturing costs for the Gamepad mean that Nintendo are already selling at a slight loss, and only start to see a profit when consumers buy their first game. There's very little room for them to manoeuvre (retailers are already given plenty of freedom), while UK prices are artificially inflated compared to other territories thanks to our whopping 20% VAT. It's also a gamble with investors and third-party partners, because the mere mention of a price cut within the first six months is usually seen as a public admission of failure. For the record, Nintendo's stock prices fell by 12% when they slashed the 3DS down to size.
It worked for the 3DS after several nervous months, and perhaps Nintendo could get away with a price cut if they also brought out a new 'super premium' hardware edition with vastly increased onboard storage, along with a wider range of game/peripheral bundles to absorb the lost revenue.
But for now, the best thing they could do is to cut the RRP of Wii U games. £49.99 is too much for a standard edition boxed game. Far too much. To the point of being genuinely insulting. Just £10 off that would be enough to up their attach rate and net them extra profit, while the eShop would probably receive much brisker sales.
Advertise The Damn Thing
On the occasions where I leave my fortress of solitude and take my chances in the outside world, I frequently meet any number of people who have absolutely no idea what the Wii U is. Some don't even know that it exists. Nintendo's British marketing campaign has been nothing short of disastrous... not just because their TV spots were obnoxiously patronising, but because you'll rarely see them. The hype train (such as it was) also left the station far too late, scant days before the console actually released.
Here's a tip for you, Nintendo: market your new device and its games, show off loads of gameplay, and make the most of unique exclusives like The Wonderful 101 to sell the system. Let's see the Wii U on buses and billboards, the telly and on-demand players. Just show the games to people, rather than dwelling on those and poorly-acted families.
Advertising doesn't just mean TV spots and posters, though. The Wii toured up and down the country to rally support, while the Wii U seems content to occasionally tuck itself into the far corner of the Eurogamer Expo and Gadget Show Xmas. Even Kinect, which is a harder sell than the Wii U, managed to drum up massive early sales by setting up shop near Drury lane and inviting people to swing by and try it out for a month. Get the word out, and let people try it.
Nintendo also needs to engage the fanbase in a two-way process. Nintendo Direct presentations may be all well and good, but Microsoft and especially Sony have done a fantastic job at interacting with their audience through blog comments, podcasts, shows and social networks. Talk back. Create a community. Then flog them more stuff.
Make The Most Of MiiVerse
The Wii U's social features are one of the most exciting innovations that it brings to the table, but even Satoru Iwata recently admitted that it was tough to explain. I've already explained how exciting MiiVerse is in a previous article, but personally, I feel that it wouldn't be too hard to sell its potential for finding new friends.
All Nintendo needs to do is release an advert containing some edited footage of a player accessing MiiVerse from a game, checking a conversation on one of their posts, then adding the commenter as a friend, accompanied by a tagline that reads "Making Friends Has Never Been Easier" or "Wii Are All Connected." Or something. Come on, this is just off the top of my head. We can iterate on this. With social networking more important than ever, Nintendo could definitely give their secret killer app a little more attention.
Accelerate The eShop
The Wii U needs more games. Soon. We all know this, as do retailers and Nintendo themselves, but the problem is that most of the heavy hitters are still deep in development and months from release. There's nothing Nintendo can do about that, but they absolutely can work on increasing the number of titles they put out on the virtual marketplace.
Their deal with Unity means that a massive stable of compatible games is just waiting to spring into action. Unity is one of the most popular engines out there, especially with smaller boutique developers, and Nintendo needs to do their best to make it as easy and profitable as possible for developers to get onto the platform. Ninty will also have to coax many more developers to support or even favour the eShop, perhaps providing some nifty incentives, multi-game deals, lower update costs or bigger cuts compared to XBLA, PSN or Steam, while also tasking some of their internal studios to start making smaller projects for the service.
More demos would be nice. Oh, and bring the Virtual Console forward if at all possible, for all legacy platforms - even including the Wii
Nintendo and Apple might appear to be deadly rivals, but the recent release of Pokedex 3D on the app store suggests that Nintendo might be willing to turn an enemy into an opportunity. Releasing companion apps and inexpensive yet polished tie-in games for Wii U titles will be an easy way to raise a little money in the short term, but in the long run, it's another form of advertising. If, say, Nintendo were to reveal a Metroid game, perhaps it could be prefaced by a neat little platforming prequel on iOS (and maybe the 3DS eShop too) that gets players excited about the core franchise and the console. If it provided in-game bonuses like the magnificent Dead Space iOS, so much the better. With Microsoft and third-party publishers like EA willing to join what they can't beat, maybe it's time that Nintendo started to get in on the action.
You Can't Just Sit On Your Laurels
While I'm all for remaining positive, I'd also like to nix a few predictable comments in the bud. I frequently see optimistic Wii U owners countering claims of sluggish sales and major issues by saying that "everything will be fine when more games come out, give it time," and while I personally feel that much of the negativity is needless and destructive, it's also dangerous to remain in denial. The games industry is a much more brutal place than when the N64 or even the Wii released, with consoles no longer the ultimate must-have gadget for most consumers. Most kids bug their parents for an iPad or Nexus tab these days, not a new box to sit under the telly. Competition has also never been fiercer, while our wallets have rarely been emptier.
Nintendo's policy of relying on their big names to sell consoles might not fly this time, and brilliantly, they seem to know it. Any number of exciting collaborations are in the pipeline, but going forward, the Big N needs to maintain and sustain that momentum - all while ruthlessly attracting smaller developers onto the eShop and pushing the brand through good publicity - to compete with more powerful machines and avoid stagnating.
2013 is going to be a major year for the Wii U, not least because they've got a little breathing room until the next generation arrives. With luck, we'll see them turn an awkward launch into a major success, and a niche that promises unique gameplay and colourful visuals over raw graphical output. The future's bright, so long as Nintendo are willing to adapt and evolve, and I've got my fingers crossed.