How Nintendo Failed the Wii

It’s this blog’s 200th post and, as such, we’re going to do a post I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time now. The Wii has been an incredible financial success, outselling the other two current generation consoles by an embarrassing amount. It is also home to two of the highest reviewed games of all time: Mario Galaxy and Galaxy 2. However, in the eyes of many gamers, the Wii was a monumental failure in every possible way. How is this possible. With amazing games like the aforementioned Marios, Metroid Prime 3, Skyward Sword, Brawl, Xenoblade, and so forth, how can anyone consider the Wii a failure? Is it just fanboys who don’t want to acknowledge Nintendo’s dominance, or is there something else? Well, internet, there is a whole lot else. The Wii has been dominant financially, but it is also the laziest, most poorly realized console I have ever seen. This laissez faire attitude was fine in previous generations, but it just isn’t ok anymore. You see, internet, it isn’t motion controls, or lack of third party support that hurt the Wii so much. These are just a symptom of the real problem: Nintendo. So today, we’re going to look at how Nintendo failed the Wii.

Remember when this wasn’t a dust magnet?

I like to think that all of Nintendo’s errors with the Wii can be exemplified quite nicely by the Mii Plaza. For the five of you left on earth who don’t already own a Wii, the Mii Plaza is a place where you can create cutesy avatar characters, which can be used in various games, most notably Wii Sports/Resort. These tiny Miis really caught a lot of people’s imaginations. I know of people who could spend hours tailoring Miis, or making fake celebrity Miis; the whole process was very fun. Nintendo gave a fairly good arrangement of tools, and created something very memorable and interesting. In fact, with the 3DS and upcoming Wii U, the Miis haven’t gone anywhere. The idea behind these little creatures is that they could represent the player in certain games. There is a certain novelty to using an avatar like this in video games and Nintendo really did a good job capturing that feeling.

Is this good, or super offensive?

That last paragraph was full of praise. What’s my problem with the Mii Plaza, you may ask? The problem is what Nintendo did with it, which is absolutely nothing. In the entire life cycle on the Wii, Nintendo never tried to do anything of note with the service. I was one of the lucky few to get the Wii for Christmas back when it released. I played through the Mii Plaza, and immediately went onto the internet to see if Nintendo was going to release new customization features or if there were ways to unlock them. I found many posts asking the same question. Nintendo never did this. The Mii Plaza was a success and they never once tried to capitalize on it. They simply created the program with a vague knowledge of how it could work and let it go. This was a lazy approach and showed the apathy of Nintendo. Clearly, the program was a hit, but Nintendo never tried to push it in anyway, deciding to simply abandon it upon release. Do you think that Sony or Microsoft would have done the same thing? Both corporations heavily micromanage their service, and if one of them were as popular as the Mii Plaza, there is no way they would let it sit idly.

You wanted more options? Too bad.

This brings us to one of the biggest issues of the Wii. Nintendo gambled that motion controls would innovate gaming and push the medium to a new level (I’ll talk about motion controls later), but it wasn’t Nintendo that innovated this generation; it was Microsoft and Sony. The biggest evolution this generation, and possibly ever in the history of gaming, has been the emergence of online distribution networks such as Xbox Live Arcade and the PSN. Nintendo actually jumped on this bandwagon early with the Virtual Console in a brilliant stroke. Offering cheap copies (Relative) of their legacy games online was an amazing idea. Early on, the Wii was full of Zeldas and Marios and nobody could really complain. Once again, Nintendo just let it die. They did try to introduce Wii Ware, but with few exceptions, this just fizzled out, and Nintendo never properly advertised it. Eventually, the Virtual Console was all but abandoned. I understand the Wii wasn’t made for online, but there is little excuse for this. Instead of trying to set up some sort of proto-PSN, they just abandoned the thing. Now the 3DS’ e-shop seems to be their second try at it and seems to be the test grounds for the Wii U’s upcoming e-shop, but why couldn’t they have tried this with their much bigger system. Nintendo underestimated online connectivity, and its failure to capitalize on what they had with the Virtual Console is damning.

Why continue improving something when that takes effort?

Of course what discussion of the Wii’s failings can be complete without a discussion on motion controls. Nintendo made two mistakes. 1. they didn’t push motion controls enough in their own games and 2. they didn’t abandon the failed gimmick when they should have. These two points seem diametrically opposed and they are. You see, Nintendo heralded motion controls as the second coming. They showed people that it could be fun with Wii Sports and pretty much nothing else. As such third party imitators really only had the Wii Sports model to work with, very few of them willing to innovate on their own. This led to a lot of really poorly made mini-game compilations. Nintendo never really pushed motion controls in their own games, with motion controls being almost entirely absent from Galaxy, and being uselessly shoehorned into Twilight Princess. Point 2 refers to the Wii Motion Plus. Instead of acknowledging the failure for the motion controls to catch on, Nintendo tried to push a peripheral that made them better. It worked really well and games like Wii Sports Resort and Skyward Sword shone because of it. The problem is that it was too late for third party developers. Many had given up on the Wii and fewer still were willing to develop a game for a peripheral that only a small percentage of the Wii’s tiny active userbase would ever own. As such, Nintendo was the only company that championed this newer technology in any meaningful way. In the end, the introduction of motion controls could have done something, but Nintendo mismanaged it to a criminal degree. That’s not to say that another company would have done better; Sony and Microsoft’s imitations are actually more pathetic than Nintendo’s attempt, but considering the Wii was built entirely around this concept, it is a much bigger fault on Nintendo’s part.

At least they started building it into all new Wiimotes.

Then we move into Nintendo’s second failed gambit. They thought that a cheaper, underpowered system could survive on the gimmick of motion controls and the power of Nintendo’s first party alone. They were very, very wrong. The Wii may have sold the most, but its attach rate is abysmal. However, the solution to many of their problems lies in the cheaper price point. Had they put up an infrastructure to allow independent developers to make games for them, they could have pulled in a large number of really talented people to the system. They did attempt this, half-heartedly, with Wii Ware, but it was once again never pushed. It really is a simple question that should have been asked over and over again as the foundation of developing the console. If our console is weaker than the others, what makes it better? While Nintendo toiled away at its first party releases, both Sony and Microsoft’s distribution networks made headway into the indie developer crowd, offering incentives and such to push the creatives. Nintendo should have pushed this front more than anyone else, because unlike the other two, Nintendo really needed the support. Hopefully, the seemingly underpowered Wii U, doesn’t follow this path.

Pretty much the only good thing on Wii Ware.

I think this one goes without saying, but to be thorough I’ll put it in anyway. Nintendo didn’t court third parties. This was a problem as so many of the classic games this generation didn’t come from first parties. As great and as well reviewed as Mario Galaxy is, for me at least, Xenoblade Chronicles was infinitely more memorable. Nintendo also got hit hard by the emergence of multiplatform games as the norm. I can’t really fault them for this, as I never would have guessed that multiplatform games would overtake the industry in such a huge way this generation, but it was still a major issue against the underpowered console, which simply couldn’t possibly keep up. Fortunately, it looks like Nintendo has definitely learned this lesson and has been pushing third parties hard for the Wii U, tantalizing gamers with ports as well as original games such as Bayonetta 2.

Wii U: A New Hope

The Wii wasn’t a failure, and it is certainly worth owning (Although don’t buy it now since the Wii U’s backwards compatible); however, Nintendo dropped the ball in pretty much every single aspect. They promised a hugely innovative console, but they never seemed interested in working on it to make sure that it remained relevant. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t and the Wii died a long time ago, which was too bad for its post-mortem releases like The Last Story. Nintendo cannot be faulted for not predicting the future, but they should be ashamed of themselves for not reacting to real major shifts in the gaming industry. Nintendo moves to the beat of its own drummer, but if it doesn’t stay relevant, nobody is going to care. Happy 200th post.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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3 thoughts on “How Nintendo Failed the Wii

  1. We had so much fun using the Mii plaza, it was hilarious to make celebrities, I think we ran with that novelty a lot longer than most people (which was a month). It's sad, they could have done so much with it. The wii was a failure, and something that has harmed Nintendo's credit. I do believe that they'll recover, and it seems like they are learning from their mistakes. Sure, they made a lot of money, but they could have made so much more if they catered to the two core markers (casual and hardcore gamers), I really think a system can do both… it's not impossible.

  2. Agreed. The Wii had a lot going for it, and some really amazing games were released for the machine, but it just wasn't supported in any capable way, which is new. It used to be that all you did was release a console and let it go, but now companies are expected to actually support their system, and in that respect, the Wii was a colossal failure. I am very worried about the power of the Wii U, but if they can get smaller developers, who don't have the money for next gen like Platinum to stick with them, they could really do something unique.

  3. True, this benefits platinum in the short run, but I have a feeling that nintendo will get more out of the pairing in the long run. A unique and innovate developer has the skills and intuition to carry a weaker system, and to really play with the tools of that generation. It will certainly help the WiiU's staying power with Sony and Microsoft decide to release their next generation.

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