Nintendo’s Console Identity Crisis

Nintendo WiiU

This morning, Nintendo held one of their typical Nintendo Direct presentations. Focused on the 3DS almost entirely, the short 35 minute announcement stream showcased a bevy of new titles for the handheld. After watching Satoru Iwata describe and detail the upcoming 3DS lineup, it has become apparent Nintendo has an identity crisis; games that should be released for Nintendo’s slumping home console are being released for the handheld.

The 3DS–Then and Now

Nintendo 3DS

In an interview with Japanese paper Nikkei Keizai Shimbun in January of 2011, Mr. Iwata had this to say about launch software:

With the DS and Wii, following the titles that were released at launch, the momentum dropped when there was a gap in software releases. We’re making plans so that this type of thing won’t happen.” In other words, Nintendo is pacing itself. – (Kotaku)

This statement, while optimistic, turned out to be a fallacy. With a slim selection of first party software at launch, the 3DS seemed to falter and struggle in its infancy. Games like Steel Diver, Nintendogs + Cats, and Pilotwings Resort failed to capture the audiences attention. Many found these games to be boring, iterative, and lacking in content.

At $249.99, consumers, other than the Nintendo hardcore, shunned the new handheld. It sold only 3.61 million during its launch month, falling about 400K short of the company’s launch goal. The sales for the next few months continued to trend downwards, with small spikes in sales correlating with major releases (such as The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D).

So, what saved the 3DS? Two things: Software and Price Drop.

At E3 2011, Nintendo took the stage with new 3DS announcements. Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land, Star Fox 64 3D, Kid Icarus Uprising, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (Luigi’s Mansion 2 at the time), and more were shown off. This demonstration of software convinced owners of the system that quality games would be coming in the near future. Even if there was a drought at launch, there were games to look forward to in the first 12 months of the system’s life.

The price drop in August of 2011 also spurred system sales. Dropping the price to $179.99, Nintendo executed the perfect one-two punch: lower prices and increase game quality. Thanks to this combination, the 3DS took off that holiday season, and its momentum has continued since. Recent releases like Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Fire Emblem Awakening, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate have shown that Nintendo has a strategy for the handheld. Customers who own the handheld are satisfied, unlike those who own their newest home console.

The WiiU–Nintendo’s Problem Child

WiiU Console

Since its launch, the WiiU has garnered a lot of criticism from gamers. Many feel its $299.99 price tag is unjustified. Others believe that the lackluster line up consisting of ports and iterations was boring and uninteresting. In October, Iwata talked with shareholders to assure that the drought that plagued the 3DS would not plague the WiiU.

Nintendo tends to release too many titles at the launch of a hardware system and as a result suffers a drop in new games for quite some time after launch, and for the Wii U launch, we are being very careful not to let it happen. – Gamesindustry International

Unfortunately for fans, Nintendo has reneged on that promise. In an interview conduced with Gamesindustry International in January, Iwata apologized for the upcoming drought.

Nintendo takes seriously its responsibility to offer a steady stream of new titles in the very early days of a new platform to establish a good lineup of software.On the other hand, we also firmly believe we have to offer quality experiences when we release new titles. Based on our software development schedules at the end of last year, we concluded we should spend a little more time to satisfy our Nintendo standard of quality. I apologize to those supporting Wii U about the lack of titles in January and February.

The drought of Nintendo published software did end in March with the release of Lego City Undercover, but it is a misleading statistic. Yes, Nintendo did publish it, but it was developed by TT Games. The first internally developed WiiU title to release on the WiiU since launch is Game and Wario in late June.

While I understand that this Nintendo Direct was focused on the 3DS, it raises an interesting question. Is Nintendo focusing too much on the 3DS and releasing software that doesn’t belong on that platform?

A Lack of Focus and Thought

All of the games announced or shown off at today’s Nintendo Direct will probably be fantastic games. The main issue, however, is their choice to release them on the 3DS and not the WiiU. The WiiU is struggling perhaps more than any other home console in recent memory. This software drought could be solved if Nintendo had shifted these games to the home console.

Mario Party Nintendo 3DS

The new Mario Party is a good example of this. The Mario Party series is famous for its local multiplayer hijinks, providing for some of the best gaming parties I have been to. Games can take upwards of an hour, requiring time and dedication to complete a full game. Why then, is this being released on the 3DS? With no confirmation of online multiplayer, the process of playing a multiplayer game becomes much more complicated. This game would be better served on the WiiU, and would provide more software for the ailing console.

Many of these other games (Mario Golf World Tour, Animal Crossing, and A Link to the Past 2) would give the WiiU a much needed software boost. While these games will most likely perform well on the handheld, this trend shows Nintendo’s ignorance to the problems of the WiiU. With Game and Wario in June, Pikmin 3 in August, and the Virtual Console starting months after launch, Nintendo seems to have learned none of the lessons from the 3DS’ launch.

Wrap-Up

I understand Nintendo’s reasoning. I’m sure they’ll have new WiiU titles to show off at E3, but that doesn’t change the fact that their software strategy seems oblivious to the current situation of the WiiU. There’s a good chance that they’ll turn things around, but for now, the choice to put Mario Party on the 3DS, not drop the price, and remain almost silent on first party support show that Nintendo has not learned their lesson. It seems, at times, Nintendo has almost forgotten that the WiiU exists, and if things don’t change soon, so will the general public.

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