Sales have been slow for the Wii U, and third party support is evaporating. But Nintendo isn’t worried. Why should they be? Sales are slow because of a lack of Nintendo titles, and with Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, and Smash Bros. on the way, Wii Us will be moving. They won’t sell the way the Wii did – that was a bit of a fluke – and they may not sell as well as the PS4 and Xbone will, but they will generate the profits Nintendo needs to stay in the hardware business.
Many analysts say that Nintendo is not really competing against Microsoft and Sony, that they have their own game space. That it hardly matters if the Wii U doesn’t get many third party titles, because Nintendo’s own IPs are all that really matters; those that want third party titles will probably buy another console anyway.
Of course, that last idea rests on the common belief among game journalists that gamers buy lots of consoles. The idea that some gamers cannot actually afford multiple consoles rarely seems to be part of the equation.
But not every gamer can afford multiple consoles, and when they have to choose between Mario and Donkey Kong or Final Fantasy and Grand Theft Auto, they will not all choose Mario. While many analysts want to remove the conflict by turning Nintendo into a third-party publisher, it might make more sense for them to simply make a cheap-as-dirt console that even the most frugal gamer could afford to place next to their next-gen system, a console so cheap it’s worth buying for just the dozen games that come out yearly for it.
Stripped Down and Ready for Mario
If Nintendo’s home consoles are only important for Nintendo games, and Nintendo isn’t even in competition with Microsoft and Sony, then all they need is, say, a Game Cube HD that sells for $100. The graphical demands of Nintendo’s commonly cartoony IPs are slight – Mario will never need detailed cities, realistic human motion and intricate facial movements – so if Nintendo ignores third parties they can ignore the graphics war to an even greater extent than they already do. Yet by keeping their own console they keep their options open for the future, keep the cachet that comes with being a console maker, and retain the ability to create peripherals like the Balance Board.
The Game Cube HD would admittedly be antithetical to what Nintendo has been doing, which is to create innovative ways to play games. For me personally, the innovations of the Wii and the Wii U and the DS are what make Nintendo interesting, but a lot of Nintendophiles feel otherwise. I thought the use of motion gaming in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was brilliant, yet tons of Zelda fans complained that they just wanted to play the game on a normal controller. I was instantly intrigued by the Wii U gamepad, but many gamers immediately rushed out to buy the more conventional Wii U Pro Controller, and then proceeded to complain about every game that didn’t support it.
In other words, Nintendophiles wind up with the most technically innovative game consoles not because they want the most technically innovative game consoles, but because they want to play Mario, Zelda, and Smash Bros. Some do love the innovations, but many just put up with them as they dream of going back to the Game Cube controller.
Even Nintendo doesn’t always seem enamored of its own innovations. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will not use the gamepad’s touchscreen, because it could give the gamepad player an advantage, and many of the other upcoming Nintendo Wii U games do little with the device. In fact, the games that have most strongly embraced the gamepad – ZombiU, Rayman Legends, Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition – have come from third parties.
Another Choice: Go for the Gold
On the other hand, Nintendo could go the opposite route, and choose to compete full out against Sony and Microsoft. This is a trickier proposition. While many claim Nintendo’s difficulties come from releasing a console much less powerful than those of the other guys, the last time Nintendo tried the power-parity strategy was with the Game Cube, which still wound up with lower sales and less third party support.
A more interesting approach, and one which Nintendo is playing with, is adding more exclusives through various partnering deals. Games like Bayonetta 2 and Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem extend and broaden the console’s appeal beyond the Nintendo faithful, and enough of these exclusives could make core gamers decide the Wii U’s unique choices were worth foregoing some PS4/Xbone-only titles. Nintendo could win this generation not by wooing third party publishers, but by rendering them unnecessary.
Of course, this would take a lot of money and resources, but it would sure shake up the industry.
Nintendo is unlikely to put out a cheap, Nintendo-only box, nor do I expect them to double Wii U exclusives. They will instead continue to make ingenious, innovative consoles that are often dismissed by the wider gaming community and then use their fantastically popular IPs to sell them. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the Nintendo way.