So Nintendo have slashed their sales projections for the Wii U in 2014 by over two-thirds. To be honest, that's not particularly surprising; I certainly didn't think the Wii U would sell terribly well, mainly because Nintendo's strategy towards actually selling the things that they're making has been dumber than a bag of ham.
Iwata has also been talking completely out of his arse, suggesting that Nintendo hadn't predicted that they'd perform so poorly in Western markets. Now that statement is surprising, because Nintendo execs highlighted the US and Europe as problematic markets back at the start of 2013. Please understand won't cut it here; the fact is that Nintendo knew exactly what the problems were, they just didn't do anything about them.
"In particular, sales in the US and European markets in which we entered the year-end sales season with a hardware markdown were significantly lower than our original forecasts, with both hardware and software sales experiencing a huge gap from their targets," said Iwata.
"In addition, we did not assume at the beginning of the fiscal year that we would perform a markdown for the Wii U hardware in the US and European markets. This was also one of the reasons for lower sales and profit estimates."
It's difficult to take that seriously when we consider Iwata's report from April last year. Back then, the 3DS was on the upswing, but Nintendo had already identified that it needed to do more work in Europe especially, and the US. The Wii U, of course, was in dire straits after a hideous launch and Iwata noted that slow first-party releases, a lack of advertising, and no Wii Sports-esque killer app was drastically hurting the console. Fast forward almost a year, and nothing has changed.
Well, apart from Super Mario 3D World. Which Nintendo forgot to market properly, released on the same day as the goddamn PS4 and hid in an existing bundle instead of giving this magnificent game, this killer app that the Wii U had been waiting for, this wonderful family-oriented, multiplayer-friendly title, a headline bundle at a sensible price.
Thing is, it has always been this way. Nintendo aren't in any real danger of going under or suddenly imploding, certainly no more than Microsoft or Sony in any case. They're sitting on thrones made of cash overflowing from the ridiculous success of the Wii. After the delicious profitability of the NES and the SNES, it took them two console generations before they had another resounding win in terms of numbers in the Wii. It's not surprising that the Wii U is bombing hard.
What is worrying, though, is the fact that the Wii U is bombing harder than the Gamecube and the N64, and that its circumstances are significantly worse.
For starters, Nintendo isn't making first-party games like it used to. Where once was innovation, now we have rehashes. This was already evident on the Wii to a certain extent, but loads of people bought that console, so no-one really cared, and Nintendo executives were too busy swanning about in swimming pools filled with money to worry about cracks that were already starting to appear. It should be the easiest process for any of the big three console manufacturers if only because the legacy Nintendo have available to them to leverage is so much greater than those of their competitors. That Nintendo are struggling to capitalise upon several decades of backlog and beloved IPs is worrying. I bought an N64 and a Gamecube and a Wii because I absolutely couldn't be without them. They all had games I felt I had to own, plenty of them. I'm not sure I can say that about the Wii U yet.
The third-party situation is a disaster, especially if even half of the things talked about in the Digital Foundry article about the difficulties of developing for the platform and the awful turnaround in feedback are true. If Nintendo take a week to respond to simple development questions, if the global infrastructure of the company is so broken that basic queries can't be answered by continental branches, something is badly wrong. Nintendo need to make their presence bigger and better in the US and in Europe for the sake of developers, publishers, consumers, and most of all themselves.
But Nintendo have always been fairly rubbish at dealing with third-parties. The difference now, though, is that they no longer have companies like Rare to back them up. The world has moved on too, and Nintendo haven't moved with it. The developer in the aforementioned DF article mentions that trying to use examples from XBL and PSN to comprehend Nintendo's approach to networking before the Wii U released was useless because Nintendo execs never used those services.
We probed a little deeper and asked how certain scenarios might work with the Mii friends and networking, all the time referencing how Xbox Live and PSN achieve the same thing. At some point in this conversation we were informed that it was no good referencing Live and PSN as nobody in their development teams used those systems (!) so could we provide more detailed explanations for them? My only thought after this call was that they were struggling - badly - with the networking side as it was far more complicated than they anticipated. They were trying to play catch-up with the rival systems, but without the years of experience to back it up.
And here lies the Wii U's biggest issue: perception. It's a last-gen console releasing in next-gen climes, with obsolete tech and a price point above its station. It can't compete with the PS4 and the Xbox One because it doesn't have the raw power to attract the attention of the crowd eager for new boundaries and new possibilities, and that lack of power also makes next-gen third-party ports infeasible. It can't compete with the Xbox 360 or the PS3 or its predecessor because those battles have already been won, those systems are cheaper and boast outstanding games catalogues. Finally, the Wii U doesn't have the price point, the USP, or the games (still!/yet) to warrant a purchase as a second console, as the Wii did.
It is adrift in the No Man's Land between console generations, trapped in a hole Nintendo have been digging for some time. It can't be saved.
Roll on a new, ridiculously-specced, super-powerful Gamecube Mark II, I say!