This requires more than a system update
In case you somehow missed it, the Wii U is having some trouble. More than a year after release the console is hurt by sluggish sales, a lack of games outside a handful of standout Nintendo originals, and the PS4/Xbox One overshadowing it with next-gen power. The company needs a way to turn things around soon, or itll have deal with crappy sales for years until the next console launch.
Good thing Ive got some free advice to offer, just as my colleagues did with Microsoft and Sony. I dont know if making these changes will turn around sales, but theyll make the Wii U feel like a more competitive, modern console (visuals notwithstanding). Things will start to look up for Wii U if it can accomplish the following...
Start offering even better bundles
The Wii Us price isnt all that inviting, but Nintendo executives have resisted any massive slashes akin to the 3DSs emergency price cut. If they arent going with that option, Nintendo should sidestep the problem now that the $299.99/299 model has basically become the only model on the market. Nintendo bundled many versions of the system with major games, but the company needs to get even more aggressive about it here as well.
Nintendo started with pack-in freebies like Nintendo Land and ZombiU, then continued with New Super Mario U, Wind Waker, and Skylanders combos. That should definitely continue with titles like Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8, but Nintendo should combine that while also leveraging its digital titles. Include five free Virtual Console downloads with purchase, or a simple $20 eShop credit--thatd have the added benefit of inspiring new owners to go online day one. Wii Us best selling point right now are Nintendo exclusive games, and some consumers wont recognize that unless they get the first taste for free.
Keep the game releases steady
Despite Nintendo saying it had learned its lesson from the 3DS, the Wii U had a terrible lack of content up until August of 2013. Starting with Pikmin 3 and Wind Waker HD, the system has seen at least one worthwhile title every few months, and that looks to continue in the immediate future with Mario Kart 8 coming in May. But as summer approaches with few games confirmed, Im concerned the all too familiar drop off in titles will return.
How can Nintendo avoid another cruel summer? The company will no doubt announce some major fall releases at E3, but to keep the summer going strong, it needs to step up the release of a couple titles. Currently Bayonetta 2 and Hyrule Warriors are planned for summer in Japan and the nebulous 2014 for the west, which normally implies fall. Thats a surprising separation of time for a publisher that normally favors worldwide launches. If Nintendo wants to keep the Wii U alive in the US/UK while school is out, it has got to speed up the localization on those two games. Otherwise, English-speaking fans will have little to do with their Wii Us over the break (outside of being envious of Japanese players)
Entice third parties to return
Nintendo brought together an impressive collection of third party publishers for Wii Us launch, but that changed in the many months since. Are developers just uninterested in dealing with the hardware, or do the publishers see a Wii U release as a financial risk? No matter the reason, developers are ignoring the Wii U left and right. Many games still made for PS3/360 arent coming to Nintendos console, and those that do often get a smaller amount of DLC support. As more companies move to PS4/Xbox One, just how will Nintendo get any devs to support the Wii U?
Theres always the direct approach of paying for exclusives, but Nintendo can get more creative than that. The best deal it can offer is Nintendo itself. Upcoming titles like Hyrule Warriors and Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem are examples of outsiders working on Nintendo properties, and that just the beginning. Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata recently said the company was more open to licensing, so why not let Capcom make another Zelda game? Or how about EAs Need for Speed team working on F-Zero? The Wii U might get profitable again on first party sales alone, but itll have much better chances by expanding the library via IP sharing.
Make the eShop an indie paradise
WiiWare was a great concept, and some of the earliest games on the service proved the Wii could be home to imaginative indie titles. Then support dried up, and its hard to blame anyone but Nintendo. Multiple independent studios spoke out on Nintendos restrictive policies and strange directives, which pushed many would-be WiiWare hits onto Steam, XBLA, and PSN. Nintendo is trying to reverse that situation on the Wii U, but it needs to try a little harder.
Sony has made a lot of headlines about aggressively courting indies for PS4, and Nintendo needs to do the same, if only to bulk up its slim library. Nintendo needs to incentivise smaller devs--monetarily or otherwise--to start working on Wii U, or else the the eShop selection will stay pretty paltry until then. Nintendo is doing an alright job of stocking the service with originals like Nintendo Remix and Dr. Luigi, but releases like those should be backed up by titles like Thomas Was Alone, Dont Starve, and other indie darlings. Courting devs working out of their garage might not come naturally to Nintendo, but if Sony could open the gates to smaller titles, then the house of Mario can do it too.
Back in 2005, the little points that 360 games handed out in every game seemed meaningless, but gamers were quickly possessed with a mania to collect as many Achievements as possible. Sony and Nintendo initially were both resistant to the concept, but Sony eventually recognized the way the wind was blowing, implementing Trophies in every PS3 game as of 2008. Currently, similar awards are handed out on Steam, Vita, mobiles games, and more, but Nintendo still resists. This cant continue.
By choosing to leave out a Trophy-style system on Wii U, it not only makes Nintendo appear obstinately stuck in the past, but non-system exclusives undoubtedly look less attractive to many consumers. Publishers are going to make Achievements for the other consoles regardless, so itd be an easy transfer were it not for Nintendos strange distaste for the feature. But if Nintendo does change its mind on Achievements, we know it can do Trophies better than merely copying them.
but do it better
Yes, Nintendo could just settle for creating a GamerScore equivalent, but the publishers approach to the 3DS demonstrates a much more creative workaround, if only it could be taken all the way. The Mii Plaza introduced personal avatars people could be invested in, the minigame Find Mii got many Nintendo fans to fall in love with virtual hats, and the slow (but steady) stream of 3D puzzles have kept the service alive. These digital rewards for continually turning on your system are something the Wii U desperately needs, and it would be even more addictive with Achievements.
Imagine beating New Super Mario Bros. U, then getting a special Mario costume for your Mii or a new Miiverse background. Or you could finish a particularly hard side mission in the next Zelda that gives you a Mii hat that clearly demonstrates your Zelda superiority. Mixing awards like those with Nintendo nostalgia have already proven addicting within games like Super Smash Bros., and theyd only be more engrossing if implemented system wide.
Connect the 3DS and Wii U ASAP
As long as were suggesting they outright copy the 3DSs system software, its pretty silly that the systems are such separate entities. The systems can theoretically communicate via Wi-Fi, and could be sharing info left and right, making both systems stronger in the exchange. Instead, precious few titles take advantage of the potential connectivity, and--frustratingly--Nintendo didnt make the few that do.
Iwata recently brought up how the company is only just now connecting Wii U and 3DS customer accounts, hoping to have the systems work like brothers. Its good news, but its crazy that it took until 2014 to make this move. But now that it has at least admitted to the problem, the N needs something as aggressive as Sonys Cross Buy program. That system gives a free Vita copy of some games purchased on the PS3, and with such similarities between the two eShops, its nuts that Nintendos current systems arent connected like that. The tech is there, Nintendo just has to take an interest in making it work. And while were talking about the download store...
Get more aggressive with Virtual Console
Seriously, name one game publisher that has a deeper collection of classic games than Nintendo. The console maker has dozens of iconic titles spanning a few decades, which makes the Wii Us drip feed of Virtual Console releases astoundingly frustrating. The company puts out a handful every month when Wii U owners would spend oodles of money of older titles if Nintendo would simply offer them in abundance.
I wont even guess at the possible technical reasoning for it, but the fact that all the VC titles for the Wii werent on Wii U day one feels ridiculous to consumers--and really, how are there zero N64 titles on Wii U currently? Nintendo has announced some GBA titles for Wii U, but its a similarly shallow collection. Nintendo has to open up the floodgates, because the more potential buyers wait, the more theyll just settle for illegal emulation.
Start using the GamePad for real
Another point Iwata talked up recently was that more games need to use the Wii Us GamePad in important ways. Like previous points I mentioned, it feels way overdue--why wasnt this the companys goal when it developed its first Wii U titles? Instead, hits like Wind Waker HD and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze treat the GamePad as ancillary. If Nintendo doesnt treat the touchscreen as a necessary device, then neither will consumers.
But despite Iwatas words, Im not seeing it put into practice with any major titles that are coming soon. Mario Kart 8 doesnt seem to use it all that much, and I dont expect Smash Bros. or Bayonetta 2 to have much use for it either. Will Wii U owners have to wait until 2015 to see the results of Iwatas new focus on the GamePad?
Speed up the system
Nintendo was once a company that prided itself on UI. It used cartridges to avoid load times, prefers simple menus, and its handhelds prefer usability to advanced visuals. That makes the Wii Us slow, cumbersome interface a tragedy that the publisher cant fix fast enough.
The Wii U has seen a number of moderately helpful system updates (with the promise of a big one in the summer), but the frequency of the much-needed adjustments reveals another of the hardwares major flaws. Perhaps its just me, but downloads and installs can take over an hour over normally fast internet speeds. Compared to a PS4 or Xbox One download, it feels glacial. Im glad Nintendo wants to do day-and-date digital, but if an 11GB game takes me literally 140 minutes from purchase to play, the convenience seems pointless.