The Wii U Disaster: What’s In a Name?

Wii U
When the Wii U was initially revealed at E3 2011 I was intrigued. Nintendo was finally entering the HD generation and brining all their beloved characters along for the ride via a slick new tablet style controller.

But now after a reasonable launch, sales numbers have dropped off a cliff and Nintendo’s new flagship system is struggling badly. This month they revealed they failed to hit annual net targets by 50%. Net profit was 7.1 billion yen (£46.8m / $71.4m) for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2013. That’s half of what it January forecast.

Here are the numbers so far:

Lifetime Wii U sales 3.45 million units
Lifetime Wii U software sales 13.42 million units
Lifetime 3DS sales 31.09 million units
Lifetime 3DS software sales 95.03 million units
Lifetime Wii sales 99.84 million units
Lifetime Wii software sales 869.06 million units
Lifetime DS sales 153.87 million units
Lifetime DS software sales 933.69 million units

The key problems seem to be the name, the way the features and functionality are portrayed to consumers as well as a lack of quality big name titles.

“Wii U has lost momentum due to the release pace of first-party titles which has not lived up to consumers’ expectations. Starting with Pikmin 3 scheduled for release in the upcoming July, however, we will intensively launch our key titles to give sales momentum to the platform.” said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata.

“As a decisive factor in buying a console is that you cannot play a much-anticipated title without the hardware, we will do our best to have you feel from this summer to the end of this year that there are plenty of great games for Wii U. We have many titles whose release dates are yet to be announced. At E3, we will disclose more specific information about the titles for the rest of this year and early next year.”

The confusion surrounding the GamePad and whether the system is a brand new system or some kind of Wii add-on hasn’t helped.

“We have not been able to solidly communicate the product value of Wii U to our consumers yet, which has been a grand challenge for us,”

“Some have the misunderstanding that Wii U is just Wii with a pad for games, and others even consider Wii U GamePad as a peripheral device connectable to Wii. We feel deeply responsible for not having tried hard enough to have consumers understand the product.”

Game Trailer’s Geoff Keighley highlighted how bad things had gotten when Nintendo resorted to placing this flyer in stores:

Is this really the best idea? Badmouthing your existing (and hugely popular) system to sell your new one? Shouldn’t Nintendo be comparing it to PS3 or XBOX?

And are Wii owners even the right people to be talking to? Is this primarily casual audience even interested in buying another full fledged game system now that casual gaming has migrated from the Wii to smartphones and tablets?

Now Nintendo is letting Wii owners that the Wii U is a brand new system via the WiiConnect24 service.

A message appears letting them know about the features of the Wii U and how “It’s not just an upgrade — it’s an entirely new system that will change the way you and your family experience games and entertainment. The second screen on the included Wii U GamePad controller enables never-before-seen ways to play games and enjoy TV. And for the first time ever, you can see Mario and your favourite Nintendo franchises in glorious HD.”

At this point Nintendo needs a minor miracle to recover from this bad start. Later this summer will see the full reveal of the PS4 and next generation XBOX at E3.

Nintendo have opted to forego a traditional E3 presentation this year which may be a pretty smart move and allow them to announce their own titles without their rivals stealing this thunder. But they still need to deliver.

So is it too late for the Wii U?

No definitely not. If you recall, the DS was initially met with a lot of criticism before going on to establish itself with some outstanding evergreen titles which helped it dominate for over 5 years. The 3DS also had a slightly rocky start after the 3D function lost appeal, but now much like the DS, it has a strong library of unique titles and is doing pretty well.

So Nintendo can definitely come back, they just need two things:

1. A smarter and more direct marketing campaign

2.  A line up of quality AAA titles

Simple right? Ok the games will come, of that I am sure. Nintendo’s internal EAD studio is one of the best in the world and will deliver the goods. (What they do need though is some fresh new IP!)

But what about that marketing campaign? It seems clear at this point that Nintendo could have avoided much of the confusion if they had done one thing:

They should have called it Wii 2.

I actually like the Wii U name but clearly it hasn’t caught on. Consumers are familiar with numbered iterations thanks to iPhones, iPads, Galaxy’s and most significantly the PlayStation. A “Wii 2” immediately explains this is the follow up to the Wii and not some confusing Wii upgrade / add on / accessory as many thought.

Can they rebrand the Wii U to the Wii 2 even though it has been out for 6 months? I think so. Yes it will be expensive but compared to the huge amount of potential sales they’re missing out on simply down to confusion its a price worth paying.

If they don’t rebrand then they need to emphasise the system itself so that the GamePad itself is not thought of as the product. A redesigned home station would certainly help it stand out. The form factor is so ridiculously similar to the Wii it had virtually no chance of standing apart.

What Nintendo also really needs to do is decide who they want to target right now. If that is casual gamers then play up the social and online TV options and the party games but focus heavily on the gamepad and the TV screen. This will help consumers realise this is A. not a Wii peripheral and B. not a tablet.

If they are going for the core gamer then it’s all about the games. That means highlighting AAA third party titles and why they are better on Wii U. When big first party heavy hitters like Zelda and Pikmin show up then they can focus on them, but right now it’s all about the third parties. The Miiverse online hub also is something gamers are appreciating so highlighting this in tandem with these games will help send a strong message that the Wii U is both a genuine Nintendo system and a genuine next gen system.

All eyes will be on E3 this summer. Nintendo has a lot to do.

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