Every console Nintendo has released since the Nintendo 64 is something that you probably didn’t realize you needed and set itself apart from its competitors in ways no one would’ve imagined before. The Wii U ticked both of these boxes, but with a catch. No one really understood what the game console did. Some were even confused as to what it actually was.
The Wii U was an ambitious successor to the Nintendo Wii, which was a well-received console with some innovative elements that were new to gaming. Yes, the Wii was an unconventional console that sold some unconventional ideas and games, but it was a console that people could easily assimilate and get used to, unlike its successor. The initial appeal and success of the Wii were what prompted Nintendo to launch the Wii U in the first place.
While Nintendo’s ambitions were quite reasonable, there were some aspects they overlooked or deliberately ignored which led to the console’s early demise.
A competition that never was
If there was ever a time when Nintendo could have actually competed with Sony or Microsoft, it was in the mid 90s with the Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation. Since Nintendo decided to adhere to its video game cartridges, a competition with Sony ended before it could even start. None of Nintendo’s systems in the 21st century have any direct competitors. More importantly, the PlayStation and Xbox have never been competing with Nintendo and vice versa.
Yet, much like its predecessor, the Wii U during release was seen as a competitor for the latest PlayStation and Xbox consoles, which were a good year away from launch. Not only did the head start create a great deal of anticipation for a poorly matched contest, but it also highlighted the need for greater gaming performance. At the time of its launch, the Wii U had better performance than the PS3 and Xbox 360, which made it difficult for gamers to see it as anything other than a competitor.
Upon the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One though, people began focusing on just the superior performance of the consoles rather than what the Wii U actually offered for gaming.
With a great legacy comes even greater stubbornness
Nintendo’s 133-year legacy is an unparalleled feat considering how it has only been making games throughout its existence. Even more impressive is the fact that it is home to two video game icons — Mario and Pikachu. The latter by the launch of the Wii U was bigger than even Mickey Mouse. It is therefore natural for Nintendo to have a lot of pride in everything it owns and releases. But with the Wii U, this led to some stubbornness which was not uncommon in the company’s history of console launches.
When the Wii U came out, people were expecting it to offer a wide range of third-party games and services which the PlayStation and Xbox had been offering for generations. Nintendo too initially had the idea to include as many third-party titles as possible, but the good-old stubbornness got in the way.
Nintendo had an extensive list of exclusive games that had some incredible features and a large following which merited several sequels and remakes. So, when it came to the Wii U, the Nintendo team decided to focus on creating a powerful GPU which provided better graphics quality. The result was an impressive Wii U GPU which could rival the PS4 and Xbox One consoles with ease. But this new development came at the cost of an inferior CPU which failed to support many prominent third-party titles.
To add to the troubles, Nintendo didn’t have many Wii U exclusive first-party titles either. So, it came to be perceived as an expensive console that was almost confined to replaying games.
Lack of online gaming capabilities
The PlayStation and Xbox consoles had undergone several developments to facilitate online gaming by the time the Wii U came into existence. Many game developers had worked with Sony and Microsoft to create an online gaming network and develop newer technologies to make the tech smoother. Nintendo on the other hand was largely lacking in the online department. While the Wii U was aimed at improving this deficiency for Nintendo, it too lacked the hardware required to support the online gaming architecture existing at the time.
This was yet another reason why most developers ignored the Wii U and decided to partner with the PS4 and Xbox for new game releases.
The target audience
Nintendo has always set itself apart from competitors in ways that very few can in the gaming industry. Their approach has been so progressive that the Wii has often been cited as a prime example of the ‘blue ocean strategy’, which is basically creating a niche for something by making the competitors irrelevant. That is exactly what the Wii did when it launched.
But like all things niche, the Wii’s market was also a niche one. So rather than reaching out to a broader existing audience, Nintendo decided to try their strategy to appeal to hardcore gamers and a new audience that would get into gaming through the Nintendo Wii U. Their biggest selling point was the Wii U gamepad, which Nintendo hoped would draw in a massive fanbase that would be interested in their new innovation. The result was quite to the contrary.
Which one is the Wii U again?
People may not have known it at the time, but Nintendo had actually developed something unique and incredible that could have changed gaming as we knew it. But before the Wii U could attempt that feat, it had to go through the most fundamental of marketing challenges — getting consumers to understand the product. Many of you might still be wondering which of the two devices in the image above is the Wii U.
When the Wii U launched, this was the biggest problem that Nintendo’s target audience faced. People failed to comprehend the core purpose of the Wii U and its unique gamepad.
Out of the Wii U ashes rose a phoenix
To Nintendo, the Wii U was more than just a new console; it was supposed to be a panacea for all its ailments. But lack of proper planning and misplaced faith in some outdated elements led to the early demise of the company’s most ambitious project. Those who were well aware of the project though do not see the Wii U as a complete loss.
Contrarily, some like Shigeru Miyamoto saw the Wii U as a learning experience and source of incredible innovation.
The immediate aftermath of Wii U’s demise was a crippling blow to Nintendo. But salvaging the Wii U’s advanced technology led to the development of the Nintendo Switch.
The new handheld console is actually a direct descendant of the Wii U rather than the Nintendo DS. With the Switch, Nintendo has managed to bring most of their original Wii U ambitions to life. With countless third-party titles and a wide range of impress new first party games, the Switch has put Nintendo’s efforts to continue innovating the gaming industry back on track.