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Nintendo's next-gen problem is a lack of games, not a lack of power

Earlier this week, Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aime cited history as a way to defend the Wii U's position against the oncoming Xbox One and PS4. In an interview with Forbes, he said, "The interesting thing there is, if you look at the last two hardware cycles, it was not the most powerful machine that won, not in the case of the PS2, not in the case of the Wii."

And he's not wrong. The PS2 sold 150 million units worldwide, making it the best-selling console of all time, and the Wii, despite being significantly less powerful than its HD competition, sold over 100 million units (for reference, the second-place PS3 is at about 80 million units through October 2013). But for Nintendo to have any chance in this battle, it's going to have to start actually producing games, and giving people real reasons to pick up the system.

Make no mistake: The Wii U is mere months away from being in third place in a three-man race, despite getting a year-long head start. While technically in the lead as of now, Nintendo only managed to ship 4 million systems in the first year--a number that both Sony and Microsoft are on track to outpace. Nintendo had a year head start and spent it jogging at a leisurely pace, and now Microsoft and Sony are flying by on motorcycles.

But more importantly, Reggie's logic is as full of holes as a dalmation (wait, those are spots? Whatever.) Pointing out that the least powerful hardware won for the past two generations is like saying that Top Ramen is the best food in the world because it sells like crazy. Sure, it's technically true that the least-powerful system was also the best-selling, but those two things aren't actually as connected as it might seem. Correlation does not imply causation, and the lack of power isn't actually related to the success--it's all about the games.

The PS2 launched in 2000, and by the end of 2001 it had SSX, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Silent Hill 2, Final Fantasy X, Devil May Cry, ICO, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, and Grand Theft Auto 3. That's an incredible first year--seriously, I can't even think of an analogy that can compare. Pixar? The Beatles? Is there even something that works for this? And while the Wii wasn't a harbinger of hits like the PS2 was, it still had a fair share of massive successes. It had The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 3, Mario Galaxy, and, of course, Wii Sports.

Jump to the Wii U and… well… it's rough. After 12 months you're looking at a system that has just enough games to justify a purchase. Pikmin 3 and New Super Mario 3D World managed to tip it over the edge, but only by a little, and now it's in a weird place. Early next year the PS4 gets the huge, AAA inFamous: Second Son, and the Xbox One gets the huge, AAA Titanfall. What is Nintendo combating that with? Another Donkey Kong Country? That's… mostly it.

The horizon isn't particularly compelling, either. Microsoft has the grand promise of a new Master Chief outing and Sony is teasing a fourth date with Nathan Drake (that's when he puts out, btw). Nintendo's trio of Mario Kart, Bayonetta, and Smash Bros, while admirable, are unlikely to secure any kind of knock-out punch. The Wii U is falling behind in the area it has absolutely no reason to be falling behind in: games. As of this moment there's no Zelda on the horizon, no Star Fox, no Metroid, no astounding third-party games, and no reason to be too optimistic about Nintendo's 2014.

Reggie is right in saying that the Wii U's lack of next-gen oomph isn't enough to disqualify it, but the problem is deeper than that. This weekend, when Reggie takes the stage at the Spike TV VGXs to talk about the Wii U, he'd better bring something big, otherwise the console is going to fade into obscurity, regardless of its processors or its predecessors. 

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49 comments

  • Aquasol - December 16, 2013 3:17 a.m.

    >The PS2 launched in 2000, and by the end of 2001 it had SSX, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Silent Hill 2, Final Fantasy X, Devil May Cry, ICO, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, and Grand Theft Auto 3. And a year after the PS3 launched, it had...what, MGS4? And pretty much only that? >Early next year the PS4 gets the huge, AAA inFamous: Second Son, and the Xbox One gets the huge, AAA Titanfall. What is Nintendo combating that with? Another Donkey Kong Country? That's… mostly it. Well, if you ignore X, Smash Bros., SMT x FE, Bayonetta, and/or at least 1-2 other games, sure. Let's just make up double standards, why not?
  • TurokJr - December 10, 2013 11:55 a.m.

    If this is true, why Justin Towel believe the problem with the WiiU is the system. Two opinions?
  • Shigeruken - December 10, 2013 12:30 a.m.

    But seriously though region lock is bad for everyone.
  • Waldo - December 5, 2013 12:27 p.m.

    I just bought a Wii U over the weekend at a Future Shop in Canada. The 2 people ahead of me in line were also buying a Wii U and the person behind me, a PS4. The Wii U is reasonably priced, has enough games to keep a working Dad and his new-to-games son busy for an hour or so at a time, and has great potential from a company who's proven it can deliver great games. So maybe we should wait and see how the systems do over Christmas break. I say people talk with their wallets and go with the cheaper option, or nothing at all.
  • TanookiMan - December 4, 2013 8:27 p.m.

    We don't think that some of the reason the wii u doesn't have the software is because of the low graphical power and the difficulty to program on it?
  • General_Deadpan - December 4, 2013 4:28 p.m.

    It is all about the games, and that is where Nintendo fails... The Wii had the lowest attach rate (number of games sold per console sold) of current gen systems and the 3DS is one of the lowest of all time. x360: 10.61 PS3: 9.58 Wii: 9.00 3DS: 2.90 Vita: 2.62 Wii sold well, because it offered something novel in it's system. After the novelty wore off, people moved on to either non-gaming activities or ps3 / x360. (This is subjective based on personal experience and on what I have seen with others). WiiU offers nothing new and outdated hardware. The software could make up for this, but Nintendo's software selection has been poor for a couple of generations.
  • Vonter - December 4, 2013 5:27 p.m.

    "WiiU offers nothing new and outdated hardware. The software could make up for this, but Nintendo's software SUPPORT has been poor for a couple of generations." Fixed, even by having lower hardware the Wii had one of the highest rated games of last gen Mario Galaxy (2) and also the most critically acclamied J-RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. Third party support hasn't been good since the N64. So yeah, Nintendo survives because of its software selection.
  • General_Deadpan - December 4, 2013 5:33 p.m.

    If you want to go by ratings check out metacritic. Sort high scores all time and count up. On the top 100 (score 94+) there were 16 ps3 games, 14 360 games and 2 Wii games. (Forgive me if I miscounted, on my phone :p)
  • Vonter - December 4, 2013 5:49 p.m.

    How many exclusives? Because I think you missed some third party for the Wii. But yeah. Still it had the best platformers, but that's just my opinion.
  • General_Deadpan - December 4, 2013 6:02 p.m.

    TBH I did not read the game titles, I just looked for the console in the brackets. Non-exclusives show up for all titles (I think the first ps3 and first 360 game were both gta5 or something) That said, I'd rather have a non-exclusive game that is fun (Assassins Creed Black Flag for example) on a powerful console (my newly purchased ps4) than have an exclusive game which is a re-hash of a game I mastered 25 years ago (Mario) Wii has it's place, it does well for many people. My nephew being one of them. Though, I feel the WiiU is a hard sell.
  • Vonter - December 4, 2013 6:36 p.m.

    Yeah on a personal level is about tastes, I just cater more towards Nintendo exclusives and japanese third party (which are sorely missing nowadays). Also the fact that I don't buy that many games a year, so I don't mind some months without them. P.S. Assassin's Creed is rehashing an idea from the last game and just building from it, same as Mario.
  • MrJP - December 4, 2013 10:04 a.m.

    I'm not going to defend the WiiU's games, but the article feels like it's skimming over the fact that ps4 and Xbone have very little going for them either. Pulling up Ninty for 'only' having Smash Bros and Mario Kart on the horizon is kind of poor when we know very little about the upcoming next gen games. I remember Melee helping boost GC sales a bit, and the Wii had a second wind with Mario Kart. The difference between WiiU and the next gen systems is momentum. If the WiiU can build some hype behind it's games then maybe things could pick up. It needs to feel like you are getting something everyone else wants (not just yourself), and that is the big difference this Christmas.
  • Vonter - December 4, 2013 1:54 p.m.

    Also is a little bias telling one great game versus several good ones. Second Son and Titanfall aren't guaranteed to have long game life, but Smash and Mario Kart it has proven time and time again people return to those. I could be wrong but it also implies 3rd party for the other systems is like a pillow support. Even though several could be better than the exclusives.
  • dvlordofthesith - December 4, 2013 9:53 a.m.

    The Wii U has such potential. Their are so many great characters we have not seen in years. Bring back what makes me want to play nintendo. New star fox, new mega man, HD version or sequal of crystalis with skyward sword controls, star wars game built like metroid prime. Have the entire nes, snes , 64, GC , GB, GBA, DS library on the virtual console. Make the 3DS and the Wii U interface interchangeable. My favorite feature is the ability to turn on my game pad and play without even turning on the TV. Also all Wii games work on the system as well. I agree with a comment above push innovation. This system can do things the others cant . Use that to your advantage. Make 3rd parties want to make games specifically for your system. Bottom line make me want to play nintendo games again. Super Mario 3D world is a good start but we need more of that quality.
  • NuAngel - December 4, 2013 8:41 a.m.

    Once the NFL season is over, I'll pick up Super Mario 3D World, and I'll OF COURSE buy any Mario Kart that comes out. Mario Kart Wii was the only reason I bought a Wii in the first place - my girlfriend at the time wanted to play it. So, why not. But the only games I owned for my Wii? Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, Mario Kart Wii, Super Mario All-Stars - oh, and House of the Dead 2&3. 5 games. I can' t even count how many Xbox 360 games I had, let alone the 120+ XBLA games I've purchased over the years.
  • NuAngel - December 4, 2013 8:49 a.m.

    For clarification, YES, I know we're talking about the Wii U, I'm just saying my "attachment rate" on Nintendo consoles hasn't been high since the N64. That was the last "great" Nintendo console, and even THAT relied quite heavily on first-party titles (Mario Kart, Star Fox, Donkey Kong, Mario Party, etc...).
  • Pruman - December 4, 2013 6:59 a.m.

    Back in the 80's, someone at Apple had a poster made that said "SOFTWARE SELLS SYSTEMS" in huge 3D letters, and put it all over the company. Nintendo's played three of its aces in New Super Mario Bros., Super Mario 3D World, and Wind Waker HD, but the only one out of that trio that has "system seller" potential is 3D World, because it's unlike anything else on existing systems (save a passing resemblance to SM3D Land). It's my opinion that people buy new systems to experience new types of gameplay. The only time anyone bought a system to play games that already existed was back in the Atari 2600 days. At the time, playing Space Invaders at home and as many times as you want, instead of at an arcade for a quarter a play, was a revelation. Let's take a look at every Nintendo system seller in history: -The NES had Super Mario Bros., which was the first game to not be built on the arcade model (finish the game, instead of survive and score). -The Game Boy had Tetris, which invented the puzzle genre. -The SNES had Super Mario World, F-Zero, and Pilotwings, two of which were brand-new genres, one of which had neat twists on a proven formula, and all of which showcased the capabilities of the SNES. -The Virtual Boy...didn't really have anything that didn't exist in some form on other hardware, other than 3D. It crashed and burned. -The N64 had Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time, whose 3D conventions are copied to this day. -The GameCube had Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee:Smash::Super Mario Bros. 3:Mario. It later had Metroid Prime, which distinguished itself as a "first-person adventure." Other than these, the GameCube sequels mostly iterated on the N64 games instead of branching out with new ideas, which may have been responsible for its third place finish (e.g., Mario Sunshine and Wind Waker weren't different enough from Mario 64 and OOT to justify a purchase). -The Wii had Wii Sports, which was a totally new gameplay experience that literally anyone in the world can pick up and enjoy instantly. The same can be said about Wii Fit, and New SMB Wii twisted up the Mario formula with multiplayer in the same way that Super Mario World did. -The 3DS took off once Mario Kart 7 and Mario 3D Land came out, but this year it's gotten an insane flood of Nintendo love that has yet to abate. Bottom line: none of the games I mentioned above, save the 3DS ones, were possible on the previous platform. People won't buy a Wii U to play New Super Mario Bros., DKC, or Wind Waker, because they can play those on their Wii already. Nintendo either needs to make more games like Super Mario 3D World or invent fun new gameplay experiences if they want to have a chance at getting the Wii U to take off. Another major issue is branding. If Nintendo wanted to capitalize on the Wii brand, they should have called the system the "Super Wii." That makes clear right off the bat that it's a new system, tickles the nostalgia bone of longtime fans, and avoids the confusion we're seeing today. Not sure what they'd call New Super Mario Bros. though. (Super New Super Mario Bros.?) Whew...that was long. Did I mention that my wife got me a Wii U for my upcoming birthday? I'm excited and anxious at the same time!
  • SpartanWolfwood - December 4, 2013 6:19 a.m.

    Nintendo is a great company, and there isn't a lack of games, there is a lack of games being released. If you look back to E3, there were a ton of games that looked super promising, that should have been released within the month, but were all followed up with "we're sorry about the delay". It seems more that there are issues with the Wii-U related to software stability that causes all these great games to be delayed. Hopefully it's figured out soon, because while XB1 and PS4 are great, the Wii-U servers a market beyond hardcore gaming, and that's just plain fun games. Games like Zelda, with a new name and protagonist, exact same game, would never make it on the hardcore consoles. I'm not sure why. But Wii-U has its market, and it needs to get out there and compete.
  • Ensoul - December 4, 2013 5:20 a.m.

    The reason why more 3rd party games aren't coming to Wii U is simply because the Wii U hasn't sold enough. That's pretty much it. Look at the 3DS, is there a lack of 3rd party stuff there? If they had some kind of grudge against Nintendo wouldn't the Vita be swimming in 3rd party games? The newest Batman has a 3DS version and a Vita version. It's all about sales and the Wii U doesn't have them. The Wii had them, that's why you saw so many games coming out for it, not just shovel-ware mind you. Look at the recently released Castlevania Mirror of Fate HD, a game original released on 3DS. They remade it for the home console. PS3 got it on PSN and Xbox got it on Live arcade; eShop... nope. A game that started out on Nintendo's handheld couldn't even get a remake on it's home console. (Maybe Nintendo it's self decided they didn't want to, I don't know.) The more recent history has always been the same: Do you want to play Nintendo games? Then buy the Nintendo console. Sometimes the 3rd party is strong sometimes it's not; but you got it to play Nintendo games. They need to get product out the door. Which why it puzzles me why their eShop is so lacking. How hard is it to get Nes, Snes, Genesis, Neo Geo, Arcade games out there? Why aren't (at least) all the Wii VC games available for Wii U? They give you the option of hooking up an external hard drive, but then there's nothing to fill it with. And that's just what's already there, what about the Gamecube games? How hard would that be? The DS library? The control pad has a touch screen, microphone and all the same buttons of the DS. The TV could act as the top screen. I understand not everybody is going to want to play games they've already played, but I'm sure everyone has an "Earthbound"; and most likely would like to play it in a legal affordable way. It might not solve the Wii U's dismal sales but at least I'd have something more to play.
  • NuAngel - December 4, 2013 8:42 a.m.

    I couldn't agree more with your eshop statement!

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