In the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a man goes through a plague-ridden town with a cart shouting “bring out your dead .” A man comes out and attempts to unload a body that insists he’s not dead. “Yes he is,” the man rebuts, while his charge says he wants to go for a walk and then starts singing “I Feel Happy. “ But the man sticks to his story; if he’s not dead yet, it’s only a matter of seconds.
I think of that scene every time some article announces that Nintendo’s Wii U is at death’s door. With headlines like, Nintendo’s Wii U Problems Turn Into a Crisis, Game Delays Make Wii U’s Post-Launch Lineup Look Even Worse, and Why Nintendo is Failing with the Wii U, many journalists have clearly decided on their storyline; the once-great game maker is on the ropes, brought down by a series of terrible decisions that have brought it to the brink of ruin.
Game journalists and analysts must love this story, because they tell it so often. They told the same story when the Wii arrived, insisting that the console would be a failure, and when it didn’t fail, that it would be a short-lived fad. And even though it was a huge success, it is still often referred to as a dismal failure, because it wasn’t a big hit with many core gamers. They told the same story during the teething pains of the 3DS, which went on to do quite well.
Analysts were predicting the Wii U would be a dismal failure before from the day it was announced. Nintendo is portrayed as a senile old man, his better days behind him, putting his dentures in the oven and wandering the streets in confusion, too proud to ask for directions.
Many are eager to give those directions. Every analyst feels they can tell Nintendo exactly how to succeed in the gaming business. Game journalists giving advice to a massively successful video game company is a little like me offering writing tips to J.K. Rowling, but then, I’m sure you can find blogs where writers do, in fact, tell J.K. Rowling what she should be writing.
Has Nintendo made mistakes? Perhaps. Their advertising seemed underwhelming and a little off message. They were often too vague in the run up to the Wii U’s launch. The console lacked a major Nintendo IP like Zelda or Metroid.
And yes, the road looks bumpy. While it’s not especially significant that the Wii U has moved less units than the Wii – it costs more, the economy is worse, and the popularity of the Wii was downright freakish – the console is still struggling to find a place in the world. Release dates for significant games have slipped, third party support is somewhat tepid, and some features like TVii failed to deliver. And looming on the horizon are the next consoles from Microsoft and Sony, which rumors suggest may be considerably more powerful than the Wii U while selling for a comparable price.
But the Wii U has only been out two months. Two months in, the PS3 looked like a disaster. The games were mediocre, the controller was hugely disappointing (and eventually replaced), and the console was very pricey. It was over a year before it was really worth buying.
When people talk about how the next consoles will kill the Wii U, they seem to be imagining these incredible machines that take us into the future, ignoring the possibility that their launches will also be, like many launches, hugely disappointing. Nintendo may have made missteps, but that doesn’t mean that Microsoft and Sony won’t.
I expect that, regardless of how well or poorly the Wii U does, we will have years of stories about what a disaster it is. Constant comparisons with Wii sales figures, constant carping every time a game’s release date changes or Nintendo has a weak financial quarter. One feels that some writers would like to do what the man did in Holy Grail; bash his stubborn, would-be corpse on the head so he could toss him on the body cart.
Other writers acknowledge the truth that the Wii U’s future is unknown. It may succeed, it may fail, or it may follow some Game Cube-ish middle path. But two months in, it has neither succeeded nor failed, it has simply begun.
The Wii U is not dead yet. Let’s let it take a walk and see how far it gets.