What will happen when the Wii U launches this year? Will it be a huge success that fulfills every promise of Nintendo’s, offering strong third-party titles, great indie eShop games, an engaging online experience, and a revolutionary digital entertainment system? Or will third party titles bomb, online be inept, multimedia be half-assed and sales tank?
The answer is probably somewhere in between, but what if it’s not? What would be the very best series of events that could come out of the Wii U launch? What are the biggest disasters that await the nascent console? Here is the best and the worst that I can imagine.
The Best Case Scenario
As expected, the Wii U starts off with a bang as Nintendo fans rush out to buy the new console. More surprisingly, there is strong interest from the Wii casual fan base, which turns out to be more interested in HD games than was expected and upgrades en masse.
Strong word of mouth and critical praise keep sales strong even after Nintendophiles all have the machine. The Wii’s unique gamepad, superior graphics, and built-in social network give multiplatform titles an edge, with gamers who own more than one console finding that the best game experience is almost invariably on the Wii U. This gives third party titles a boost, with both original IPs and multiplatform titles selling briskly. Third party publishers begin to focus more heavily on the Wii U, bringing all their major multiplatform titles to the new console and working on new, Wii U exclusives. Meanwhile, Nintendo's beautifully designed eShop and openness to small developers makes the Wii U the indie console platform.
The gamepad touchscreen is so effective that it is soon predicted to be the de facto standard for all future controllers. Manufacturers begin to create Wii U-style gamepads for use on PCs. Sony and Microsoft desperately try to blunt the Wii U’s controller advantage, with Sony focusing on creating games that use the Vita as a PS3 controller and Microsoft doing the same with their Smartglass technology. It doesn’t work. Vita’s latency issues and the expense of buying two consoles slows adoption, while Smartglass proves to be extremely limited compared to the Wii U gamepad. Both companies realize that to be competitive with the Wii U they will need to retool their controllers, delaying the release of their next consoles.
Nintendo TVii is so popular that even non-gamers buy the Wii U just for the television/digital entertainment technology. Once they have the console, they figure they might as well check out some games, since they are so easy to purchase through the eShop, and Nintendo opens up a whole new casual-gamer population just as many of the Wii casual gamers are being drawn into more core games. The Miiverse proves to be such an effective social network that it begins to take a chunk out of Facebook’s usage rates.
By the time PS4/720 come out, Wii U has a firm grip on the console market.
While early adopters rush out to buy the new consoles, the graphics improvement is less significant than that of the previous generation’s HD jump and many gamers decide to wait until more games arrive on the new consoles before buying them. With the Wii U in most homes and slack sales for the competition, third party publishers approach the new consoles cautiously, forcing Microsoft and Sony to rely primarily on their first party titles.
At the end of the next console cycle, there is no longer the same concern with graphics, and consumers are more interested in who has the best controller and the most original approach. Nintendo’s track record as an innovator in this regard makes everyone eager to see what they will come up with next.
The Worst Case Scenario
After a brief flurry of activity as Nintendophiles buy their consoles, sales of the Wii U quickly drop off. Nintendo’s own Wii U games do well, but only at the expense of third party titles, which can’t get much traction with the Wii U crowd. Part of this is the poor reviews many of these games get, with complaints of frame rate issues, inferior graphics and gimmicky, poorly implemented Wii U controls. Deciding the Wii U is a dead end, publishers cancel all their current Wii U projects except for mini-game collections and movie tie-ins.
Casual gamers, perfectly happy to play Wii bowling the rest of their lives, see no reason to upgrade to the Wii U. When their Wiis break down, they buy other Wiis. When Nintendo takes Wiis off the market, they pick them up cheap on eBay. When eBay runs out of Wiis, they download bowling games for their iPhones and say goodbye to console gaming.
Gamepads turn out to be shoddily made, breaking frequently, and they are expensive to replace. The console itself suffers from technical issues, breaking down so often that their crashes get a nickname similar to the 360s “ring of death.”
Nothing works right. The Miiverse is clunky and insists on friend codes, TVii is a confused mess, and the eShop is so badly laid out that consumers choose to ignore it altogether.
The 360 and PS3 halve their prices, making the Wii U seem outrageously expensive. Nintendo refuses to lower the Wii U’s price, insisting that it’s a brand new console and it would be ridiculous to do so.
PS3 drops Vita down to $100 bucks and aggressively markets it as a superior PS3 controller, coming out with several well-received games that prove its capabilities. Soon, so many people have Vitas that almost all PS3 games support Vita as a controller.
Smartglass proves incredibly effective as well, with Microsoft creating a way to combine the iPhone and Kinect into the most intuitive and responsive game controller ever designed.
The Wii U limps along for a year, but when both the PS4 and Xbox 720 hit in 2013 it’s all over. Gamers snap up the new consoles and the few third party publishers that made anything at all for the Wii U opt out.
Speaking of smartphones, they suck up almost all of the casual market and begin eating away at the core market as well. It becomes clear that even 2 consoles are too many for the shrinking console industry.
After the disastrous 3DS launch followed by the failure of the Wii U, Satoru Iwata resigns in disgrace. New management shuts down Nintendo’s console manufacturing and the company decides to focus on developing smartphone games. The Zelda game developers had been working on for the Wii U is repurposed for the iPhone as The Legend of iZelda.