I put down SimCity as my Disappointment of 2013, and that's a pretty good shout given EA's complete failure to be able to launch an online experience (see also the embarrassment Battlefield 4). But in truth I lied. Nintendo have once again been the biggest disappointment by somehow pissing twelve months of competition-free shelf space up the wall, not delivering an improved user experience, and blithely continuing on in a spirit of denial and delusion as their house crumbles.
If he was the head of any other company, Iwata might well have been kicked out of the door several times over by now.
I keep trying to get excited for the Wii U. Every time a new Nintendo Direct comes out, old loyalties kick start my Nintendo hype engine and for the space of five minutes I'm suddenly fervently in favour of buying a Wii U. But every time I've gone to find a bundle and slap down some cash for Nintendo's curvier little white fun box, my enthusiasm has faltered at the last moment thanks to a slap in the face by principle and pragmatism.
Anyone who's been following our podcast series Game Buzz will know that we've spent a lot of the last eighteen months ragging on Nintendo over the Wii U with good reason. But there's been a progressive series of benchmarks as announcements have been made and games unveiled where I've basically said, Yeah, I reckon I'll get one when this game comes out.
First it was LEGO City Undercover, then Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101, and now I find myself staring into the brightly-lit Christmas abyss having almost bought a Wii U in the Amazon flash sale last week. But I didn't. A year on from the Wii U's release and I still can't bring myself to buy one, mainly because of Nintendo's rampant idiocy.
This has been a year that's seen another of the Big Three (console manufacturers, that is) make some spectacular blunders. Microsoft had a PR meltdown across several months, scoring countless own goals, and spouting more rubbish than a sewage pipe. They royally screwed the pooch on a number of occasions, directly pissing off consumers left, right, and centre by dropping massive speeches filled with execrable buzzwords about DRM and always-online. Then, in the face of massive backlash, they hauled their entire Xbox One campaign around, made several high-profile u-turns, got the damn thing out and still managed to sell 2 million consoles in eighteen days.
How? Well, there are three answers to that: They locked down the games, they told people about the games, and they acted to rectify their errors.
In a year where Nintendo have once again had no competition (excepting the past month), they've somehow managed to twiddle their thumbs and completely squander any promise we saw for the Wii U at the start of the year by failing to consolidate their position with strong releases, alienating third parties thanks to a first-party slate full of delays and gaps, and somehow, somehow managing to be even worse at communicating why anyone should buy a Wii U than they were last year.
The Wonderful 101 and Pikmin 3 were supposed to be launch titles. Instead they arrived in August with all of the pomp and circumstance of a rainy day in Skegness. Wind Waker HD is excellent, but it seems built far more oriented-towards nostalgia addicts than attracting a new audience and misses the point entirely: we want to see these IPs pushed creatively and we crave gaming experiences we can't get elsewhere. To that last point, nothing underlined Nintendo's abject failure to distinguish the Wii U from its predecessor than by bundling the console together with New Super Mario Bros. U.
And then there's New Super Mario 3D World, by all accounts an excellent game. So what did Nintendo do? Well, they put out one or two little adverts over here, and then decided to drop it on the same day as the PS4 launched in Europe. Without its own bundle. Their flagship game of the season -- a game that can be played locally with friends and family, a perfect Christmas accompaniment, you would have thought -- slipped into an existing bundle with one and a half other Mario games (don't even get me started on New Super Luigi U), and priced just below the PS4 at £300. Seriously? What the hell were you thinking Nintendo? How did that seem like a good idea? That the mediocre Knack outsold New Super Mario 3D World isn't surprising. But that the latter failed to register any impact on the charts at all most definitely is. And it could have been avoided.
Kenny Linder, of the now-defunct, Sony-owned studio BigBig, summed it up best in a rant on NeoGAF that's been edited now, but not before Nintendo Life posted the best bits:
Releasing [SM3DW] the same day as PS4 in UK/EU wasn’t wise. The frustrating thing was this game was probably ready to go in October. I think retail and the market will push Nintendo in a direction whether they like it or not. They MUST be in danger of losing shelf space at this point. Retail will have four major consoles (PS3/4, 360/One) plus 3DS/2DS to push which will all move units, and it looks like Mario can’t help even poor Wii U out. If it goes from shelves, it will be finished. I am still confident in my crazy mind that Wii U will not see another Christmas after this one. But that’s just me. The future games will just get moved/axed.
Releasing Mario on Friday was a really stupid thing to do, it could of come out weeks before that. I wonder if the same gamers who buy Nintendo home systems (150k of them in UK) are the same gamers that buy PS4/Xbox? That might explain lack of sales this week. Otherwise, nobody gives a s***. Also, I haven’t seen a single Mario 3D World advert on UK TV, whereas the other two (PS4 more so, especially last night, holy s***) are on all the time. They have failed to see what the market wants.
This came in the same week that former Naughty Dog and THQ man Jason Rubin called Nintendo "irrelevant" as a hardware manufacturer, though he conceded that the company is a "worldwide treasure". No matter how much diehard fans (and I've been there) might argue the point, the truth is plain to see: numbers don't lie, and Nintendo have utterly wasted the Wii U's supposed honeymoon period.
It makes no sense. They've had time, so that's not an excuse. The 3DS had to follow a wildly popular console and got off to a slow start, but Nintendo turned that around, so they can't use that to hide behind either. The simple fact is that Nintendo have made some catastrophic errors over the past eighteen months, and haven't actually faced up to them. Reggie Fils-Aime stated earlier in the month that ,“the way we’re going to be different [in 2013] is, we’re gonna certainly have a steadier pace of games – both for Wii U and for 3DS.
“The marketing activity is going to be constant throughout the entire year. You tease me a little bit that ‘boy the first half [of 2013] was a little quiet,’ and y’know what, you look back and it was. We’re not going to be making that same mistake in 2014.
“So the pace, the ongoing activity, touching the consumer [PHRASING! - Ed.], and messaging what we’re all about. That’s going to be a big difference next year.”
That all sounds wonderful, but it's the same drivel that got spouted heading into 2013. It stands to reason that Nintendo can't make things worse for the Wii U than they have been. Maybe. Reggie's appearance at VGX -- however risible we might consider Spike TV's annual omnishambles of hideous embarrassment to be, it does somehow collect a large viewing audience -- gave Nintendo a viewership far greater than any of their preaching-to-the-converted Nintendo Directs might. But they used it not for the announcement of a new Metroid game, or a brave new take on Zelda, or a Project Aces-developed Starfox game... they used it for Cranky Kong.
What are you doing Nintendo?!
And of course, we should remember that none of the above "solutions" from Reggie take into account two important sticking points: the Wii U's horrible performance in Europe and, more importantly, the abandonment of the console by third-parties.
The good first-party games will come in time, and anyone prophesying an imminent shift to being a software-only company is delusional themselves. The war chest won in the last generation by the Wii and the fact that 3DS consoles are flying off of the shelves means that Nintendo is hardly in dire straits just yet. But the Wii U as a console is a disaster from concept upwards, the GamePad an expensive experiment in gimmickry that continues to backfire. If Nintendo could find a way to admit that, remove the bulky controller and slash the console price accordingly, the Wii U would suddenly become a far more attractive proposition.
But they won't do that. They'll tread water and use floats made of 3DS revenue to keep from going under, all the while brushing off problems with a giant shield of PLEASE UNDERSTAND!
But I won't be buying one because, quite frankly, I don't really understand, Nintendo. And neither do you. You'd have sold more Wii Us otherwise.