Last November, Nintendo launched the first console of the eighth generation, the Nintendo Wii U. In its first couple months of sale (November-December), Nintendo sold over three million copies of its new console. Since then, the number has been less than 100,000. Ouch. So what gives? Why isn’t Nintendo’s newest generating any hype? Why do most videogame websites still list the next generation as “coming this fall”? Graphical horsepower aside (the Wii U is still fairly untested), there appear to be significant problems arising for Nintendo. Everybody wants to blame the lack of games but I do not believe that is it entirely. Yes, Nintendo really could have used a version of Bioshock Infinite this month as well as Pikmin 3 (seriously, where did that game go?) but still, I believe there is a core problem with marketing the Wii U that originated with its name.
I can remember when the Wii U was unveiled. Heck, anyone out there with an interest in video games would be at least slightly curious to whatever new idea the geniuses/crackpots at Nintendo would come up with after the Wii. Would it be a step forward in motion gaming or a return to the “hardcore” routes of its predecessors? The answer, according to Nintendo at the time, was mostly the latter. When the Wii U came out, we didn’t even see a console, just the new controller and some games. While the new controller was bizarre, the games were anything but. Ninja Gaiden 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Mass Effect 3: these were not the family-friendly games of the Wii. It seemed that Nintendo was poised to make a bold new shift in direction back toward the gamers they had alienated in the last generation (for the record, I consider myself a “hardcore” gamer who loved the innovation of the Wii and did not feel it was too casual in the slightest, it just suffered a lot of crappy ports… anyway) and release a system that the gaming community could get behind.
Then came the name. There are so many things wrong with the name, Wii U. Whatever marketing brain at Nintendo came up with it, don’t fire him. Fire the idiots who approved it. Let’s backtrack briefly to the Wii, first codenamed Revolution. I can remember when the name Wii appeared, a lot of the “hardcore” were upset. Who wanted to play with a system that sounded both childish and at the same time a sexual innuendo for masturbation? But the name “Wii” made sense for the system. The Wii is probably the most easily accessible console ever released. Families got into it, even the elderly: the Wii was as all-encompassing as its goofy name suggested. Back to the Wii U.
The Nintendo Wii U is not an accessible system for everyone. I have a Wii U, I received it for Christmas. For the record: I love it. I love the new controller so much more than I ever liked the Wiimote and I think it opens up tons of new gameplay mechanics that would be really fun to explore. The crappy part is (at least for Nintendo’s marketing) it is really hard to convey that without playing the system. Everyone is weary after the Wii. While Wii’s motion controls were innovative when done right, there were a lot of shabby ports that just threw the waggle on as a gimmick. I can easily see how the public would react this time around to yet another new controller from Nintendo. Just another gimmick (I’m sure there will be those games for the Wii U, if they aren’t already out then soon).
So here’s what the “hardcore” associate with the name “Wii”: gimmick, casual, childish, innuendo, stupid. And Nintendo’s brilliant idea, for a new console that seemed angled at attracting back those same customers: put the word “Wii” back in the title. Nintendo should have been the marketing brand, not the Wii. It would be like releasing a version of Avatar that enhanced the script, taking it several layers below the initial A-level story. Call that Avatar D. Would probably sell better than the Wii U since James Cameron knows his marketing. The word “Wii” should not have been included in Nintendo’s new console name. Yet this isn’t where the problems end. Things got worse with the U.
Say what you want about the PS4 announcement, I will say this: I know there is a new PlayStation coming out this year and I know it is the next one. How do I know that? We had 3, now we have 4: basic counting that everyone can do. It sounds stupid but that’s marketing. You want the public to understand your product with as little hassle possible. Take Wii, add a U to it and it’s a… what? What is it? Is it like the Wii Motion Plus (that sounds more advanced than Wii U) or the Wii Balance Board or the WiiSpeak? The Nintendo Wii had a ton of peripherals and, at first glance, the Wii U sounds like just one more.
So families, most of whom only bought the Wii for Wii Sports, aren’t going to want to shell out money for a new add-on, especially since Nintendo hasn’t been the greatest at supporting them (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was the only first-party game to support Motion Plus so far as I know). The “hardcore” gamers don’t want another Wii so they won’t buy it. And anyone looking at first glance won’t know that the U means next gen, especially given the fact that once again graphics are not the focus for Nintendo. If anything, all Nintendo did with the name “Wii U” was to turn a word that sounded like innuendo into a phrase that mimics the sound of an ambulance: not good.
So people aren’t buying and that’s a problem. The Wii U is an intriguing system with a lot of promise that has been unfairly handicapped by Nintendo’s incredible ineptitude at marketing. Would a better name for this system have been Dreamcast? I don’t want to see Nintendo fail but it is hard to make an easy case for why someone should own a Wii U right now. Nintendo Land is wondrous and ZombiU (again, names) is really fun and unique but these games aren’t going to sell millions of units on their own.
The good news for Nintendo: they still have time to figure it out. The bad news: the window is closing. PS4 is coming and the next Xbox will not be far behind. If these two new systems hit before Nintendo has figured out its marketing problem, the Wii U will be in serious trouble. My advice to the big N: change the name. It’s not too late and no one (trust me no one) out there loves the name Wii U. Even Wii 2 (while still bad) would have been at least clearer. Nintendo is the brand name that should be counted on to sell. It worked for the Nintendo, the Super Nintendo, the Nintendo 64, the Nintendo Gamecube and the Nintendo Wii. We don’t want more Wii, we want more Nintendo. I really hope they figure that out.
Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.