Personally I wasn’t really sold on much of what Nintendo had to show about the Nintendo Wii U at E3. Granted, I wasn’t sold on the Wii at this point in its life cycle either, and I ended up quite liking it, mostly.
But as news continues to seep out to us about Nintendo’s next console, I’m starting to see some serious red flags about how Nintendo thinks this is going to work.
Well Why Didn’t We Think of That?
I chuckle a little bit when somebody talks about their audience being “everybody,” as Nintendo of America’s Scott Moffitt told GameSpot at E3. Nintendo’s an innovator in the field, no doubt there, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Nintendo realized, “Why don’t we just make video games everybody will like?” I bet Sony and Microsoft will be really kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.
Seriously, though: in entertainment, “everybody” isn’t a real audience. Certainly not for a several hundred dollar piece of gaming technology that requires several other expensive electronics to use. “Everybody” is a pipe dream based on the assumption that people can be boiled down to certain traits and commonalities. This audience isn’t real.
And yet: when asked who the Wii U’s core titles were for, Moffitt responds, “It’s a simple answer: the Wii U is designed to appeal to everybody.”
Speaking as someone with only entry-level glimpses at how making games works, even I have run into the audience question. One of the most challenging bits of creating entertainment is determining who your audience is and how best to serve that audience. If you don’t know that cold, and stick to it, you run serious risks of your game having trouble finding any audience. This concern certainly does not go away just because you’re talking about an entire brand.
Wii Would Like to Play
Nintendo said similar things about the Wii, in its time, but their actual marketing was always pretty clear: when they said “everybody”, they meant casual gamers, and those who weren’t casual gamers but might become so with a nudge. The message was that Wii games were the kind of thing you could play without knowing tons of buttons on a controller, that you could play with your kids or your parents, that didn’t always involve fragging n00bs. The fact that there is some overlap between “hardcore” gamers and “casual” gamers does not change who they were marketing the Wii to.
And it shows. As much as they’d like to think otherwise, the Wii’s library isn’t that intriguing for the “hardcore” gamer. Mostly it’s the occasional first-party title that’s really excellent (though some hardcore gamers shun the likes of Mario on principle, even though he still has great games), and then an oddball here and there like No More Heroes: third party, good use of the controls, and indelibly hardcore. The Virtual Console helped matters because hardcore gamers get nostalgic, sometimes, but ultimately the Wii just never caught fire as a hardcore platform.
Nintendo found its niche with the Wii, and it worked for them. But the Wii U? This is crazy talk.
Screens are Scary
Attempting to cater to everyone invites the old pitfall of being nobody’s favorite. Maybe that works in the game console business. But I think Nintendo’s overlooking a very important factor in their “for everybody” equation, and that’s the screen on the controller.
The size of the controller aside (as a fan of the original Xbox’s “Duke”, I’m not bothered by big heavy controllers), the fact that it features a big screen, and that that’s the innovation here, and that it’s a touch screen, presents problems. Tech-savvy kids who make up the sort of usual Nintendo audience probably won’t miss a beat. I doubt many hardcore gamers will, either. But there’s a lot of people who are afraid of too many screens. Seriously. Two screens, for many people, is one too many.
Not to mention that touch screens can be daunting to people not used to interacting with them. And there’s also the whole discussion about the confusion produced by the fact that some of your buttons are physical, and others…well, not. To some design sensibilities that would be a bad thing. I can practically hear players now: “Wait, that’s a button?”
Who Are You?
Sony and Microsoft dropped any pretenses of trying to cater to everyone long ago. They aim to make their game systems good game systems for the gamers likely to buy them. They’ve adapted their business model to expand their audience by expanding the way in which their hardware engages that audience: my PS3 is now an integral part of not only my gaming experience, but my TV and movie viewing experience. But Nintendo seems to think that if they just wish hard enough, everybody will find some appeal in video games.
I wish it were true. I do. But there’s just a huge barrier to entry. A lot of people simply have no interest in even trying.
Nintendo says that the Wii U will be for me. Because of course it will – it’s for everybody! But you don’t even know me, Nintendo. You can’t be bothered to pay attention.
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great analysis, Dix. I think you really hit the issue on the head with the differences in the message between Wii and WiiU – the original was supposed to be for “everyone,” but their advertising made it clear who “everyone” was. Even so this created a rift of sorts. The new tech of WiiU, which would be more comfortable in the hands of core gamers, may frighten off casual ones. But cores are unlikely to return in great numbers simply because the “everyone” marketing will still keep them away.
The Wii was a system I always kind of wanted – Zelda, Metroid, Mario, and No More Heroes all appealed to me, and I think there were a handful of others too. But I never took the plunge because in the end I saw it as the system most likely to gather dust in my home. Meanwhile, I didn’t take the PS3 plunge until the Slim came along, choosing not to adopt that console early until the price was right and sufficient exclusives existed to really make it interesting.
I’ve had a Wii very nearly since release, and like my DS it’s a strange bird. I have played some really extraordinary games on it – maybe some of the best I’ve played this console generation, and the motion control, when done well, can be a part of that. But the droughts between games I care to play have been long.
Nice piece, Dix.
I’m not sure having a second screen is too much of a problem in itself. The idea of having a primary screen which commands the most of your attention, with a second screen below for reference or interaction, pretty much seems like an extension of the Nintendo DS design ethos to me. And as we all know, the casuals ate the NDS for breakfast. Thanks in part to the DS, but mostly to Apple and other smartphone manufacturers since, I think the barrier of entry to touch screen devices has been smashed down completely. In my opinion, getting “everyone” to interact with a touch screen interface is the easy bit. I actually believe it’s the dual analogue sticks, D-Pad, face buttons and triggers that will prove more prohibitive to the casual audience on this occasion, although that stuff is absolutely essential if the “core” are to take the Wii U seriously.
Nintendo’s big challenge with the Wii U is in the marketing, and like you, I find the “everyone” tag too vague and too unfocused. Backwards compatibility with the Wii is a particular issue. It’s arguably essential, given that not supporting Wii software would have been a huge PR own goal, and instant access to several hundred million Wiimotes and Wii Fit boards is an asset that should be leveraged, but it creates an incredibly mixed marketing message. The Wii U – or at least the white version – looks similar to the Wii to the untrained eye (which is perhaps the majority of Nintendo’s core Wii userbase), and the console itself is constantly ignored and hidden behind the controller in most of Nintendo’s PR. Major outlets in the mainstream media have called the Wii U Game Pad a “Wii Accessory” and an “Add On”. It’s something which sounds stupid and obvious to us, but asking a huge portion of Nintendo’s 100m Wii installbase to tell the difference could be an incredibly difficult task.
Nintendo says it wants the core. It’s marketing still targets the Nuclear Family. A strong marketing campaign will take care of one, and compelling software will handle the other, but it could be argued Nintendo currently lacks both. And that’s a problem.
I’m generally excited by the Wii U. I’ve been experiencing a Nintendo renaissance recently and playing Nintendo franchises in HD is enough of a sell to get me interested in the system. But the Wii U is an intriguing puzzle at the moment. I genuinely think it will do well when all is said and done, but I feel pricing is absolutely key. The system has to be priced at a mass market price point. £200/$250 is probably enough to see the system succeed even in spite of a mixed marketing message and an OK (but not great) launch lineup, but anything above £250/$300 and we could see a repeat of the 3DS scenario. Considering the 3DS’ reversal of fortunes that’s no bad thing, but it’s not what Nintendo wants.
The big difference I see between the dual screens with the DS and the dual screens with the Wii U, for any audience, is that most people do not play video games on their TV with their controller in their peripheral vision. With the DS you basically always see both screens, and that creates the conceit of it just being one screen; with the Wii U, the only way to achieve that is to, what, hold your controller out in front of you while you play? Otherwise, you’ve got to look between the two, and that’s awkward. I think a lot of their non-gamer audience will not really know where to look.
For everyone else I fear it’ll be frustrating: I know they talk about being able to move things like the minimap to the controller, and I can see the appeal of that; but I know I like to be able to watch a minimap out of the corner of my eye, if one’s there; if I’m in the midst of a Call of Duty game, I don’t want to have to take my eyes of the play screen to look at a map screen.
And yes, I agree that for a lot of their casual audience, it will be the buttons, not the screen (if they can get over the two-screen hurdle, that is), that really increase the learning curve.
Like Steerpike, I only took the Ps3 plunge fairly recently when the price was right. Same with the Wii. I got it new for $100 bundled with Mario Kart. I had a GameCube late in the game too and while I didn’t have a huge number of titles for it, I can say that it hosted some of my favorite games (Metroid Prime, Twin Snakes, Eternal Darkness, REMake, RE4, Windwaker).
I don’t really care for the Mario platformers but I wanted to try Metroid Prime 3 and knew I would eventually play Wii Zelda with my kids. For the price it was a low risk decision.
But I really can’t get my head around the Wii U. It just doesn’t seem to fit Nintendo’s biz model. Can they sell each console at a profit? They’ve pretty much conceded certain markets to the competition. Seemingly expensive hardware, released too soon, with nothing but vague details so far…I just don’t get it. I’m certainly not buying it.