Wii U in the eyes of the Playstation 4
One week ago, I was prepared to write an article about the Wii U in response to the onslaught of major publications decrying the performance of Nintendo’s next-gen console. One week ago, I would have said it’s not all doom and gloom for Nintendo; that all they need is a chance for their next wave of games to emerge for people to forget about its short-term game drought.
But one week ago, Sony had not made public its intentions for the true next generation of console technology. Until just a few days ago, the next generation was still a mystery to gamers. The prospects, the direction and the potential – these uncertainties had crossed the minds of gamers, yes, but there was nothing tangible to base the new generation of consoles off of.
All respect to Nintendo for making the brave move to release their so-called next-gen console first. They took something that the market was trending towards and developed a console around tablet technology. Discovering first-hand that the casual audience who were prone to buying the original Wii console in large volumes were not so likely to spend much more after that initial purchase, Nintendo remarketed the Wii U to a more gamer-centric audience. The problem was that there was just not enough software to keep the hardcore interested, and the increase in technical specifications came only to match the current generation of hardware.
Of course, the biggest disadvantage to releasing the Wii U long before its competitors had even announced their new consoles was that Nintendo thought it had set the bar. The tablet controller, they asserted, was the epitome of innovation for that time. It would trump graphics and power to become the new way to play games. Certainly, it provides game experiences that can’t be found on other consoles (I can’t mention enough how good it is to be able to play Darksiders II in bed away from the television screen!), but one year is a long time in the technology world for advancements to occur.
Would Nintendo’s Wii U be a more powerful machine if it had the extra year of development? More to the point however, could Nintendo have lasted another year without a new console to reinvigorate declining sales? The fact of the matter is that people were conjecturing that the Wii should have been put out to pasture long before the Wii U was even announced. Another year may not have put Nintendo out of business, but the negative PR that would have continued as a result of the software drought might have caused a public relations nightmare for the big N that not even a new Mario or Zelda could fix.
Meanwhile, it seems that Sony have found a way to pump up the graphics and power of their next generation console, the Playstation 4 and successfully call it innovation. They were able to convey at last week’s press conference that if you take the familiar and improve on it in almost every way, the console will feel fresh and the transition will be seamless.
After seeing what Sony is capable of, it puts Nintendo in an embarrassing and awkward position. Comparing the two consoles side-by-side, feature for feature, it’s possible to see why Nintendo’s position is now not as stable as it once was. The Wii U is quite obviously last gen technology. It can’t hope to keep up with Sony’s promises of no load times, instantaneous play of downloads, the ability to play every PS4 game on Vita, graphics and speed output, even the simplicity of capturing and sharing video.
These are hefty promises and it is too soon to say whether Sony will keep its word on all them. Most importantly however, we have seen a glimpse of what the future of gaming holds. How far the nail in Nintendo’s coffin is hammered depends on what Microsoft brings to the table at their press conference (supposedly in April according to early Twitter rumours). Let’s be realistic for a second here: the Wii U is only just as, or slightly more powerful than the Xbox 360. All Microsoft has to do is reveal a console that is marginally better to have a console option more enticing to gamers than the Wii U. The chances are that they will attempt to place the bar much, much higher so as to be seen as a threat to Sony. It’s no longer a question of IF the Wii U needs to catch up to stay relevant. Now we need to ask, ‘How far does it need to come to cover lost ground?’
Don’t mistake these words for basing Nintendo’s situation on graphics alone. Although they are amazing on PS4 (pipe down PC gamers, we know you’re scoffing at us), it’s those sweet-sounding optimisations that should have Nintendo worried. With developers creating new engines for next gen consoles, the Wii U stands a real chance at now being powerful enough. What follows on sounds dire. This prospect means that game developers are far less likely to create titles that will play on the Wii U, lest they build dumbed down versions for a short time until it’s no longer profitable for publishers to do so.
Nintendo’s reliance on first-party titles is simply not sustainable. What more evidence do you need than to look at the Wii? History may repeat itself once more with the Wii U fading into obscurity with limited games supporting it. The Wii U cannot survive on eight major game releases per year.
With all that said, let’s not be so hasty to completely discount Nintendo just yet. The answer to this problem lies with their ability to differentiate from their product from their competitors’; create their own market if you will. They need to get the point across that:
There is a software lineup that guarantees multiple game releases for the months ahead. The only way to drive sales is with a broad game library that appeals to multiple tastes. Games drive sales, plain and simple. They just need the numbers. March is looking to be a good month for Nintendo with its next round of big name games like Lego City: Undercover, Monster Hunter and The Wonderful 101 hitting shelves. It’s what comes between then and November that matters.
There are unique gameplay experiences that can only be had on Wii U. This will tell game developers and publishers that there is value in the Wii U. The best way to do that is to come up with more exciting ways to integrate that second screen into games. Nintendoland’s best games were the multiplayer offerings because they created a new experience in the form of asymmetrical five-player gaming that players had never seen before. More of that please!
They are bringing the console more in line with what gamers expect of a next generation console. Innovations like the Miiverse and the TV remote are great. They are limited in their current form but the likelihood of there being updates to these apps is all but assured. Nintendo needs more clinchers like this to show people that the Wii U does things earlier generations did not. Importantly, they have to get those menu load times down and provide a home menu that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve just walked into a hospital.
The good news is that Nintendo is most definitely working on all three of these points. What’s most important is that they kick it into gear, become more vocal about how each point is being addressed and of course, deliver.
E3 is not until June. That gives Nintendo just over 3 months to kick themselves into line and tell developers and gamers that their console is a reckoning force. Are they up to it? I think so. Their frequent Nintendo Direct conferences continue to be a delight to watch and remind us all that something is always being worked on.
All eyes will be on Nintendo to see how it adapts. If it fails to acknowledge the influence that Sony and Microsoft have over gamers, they will lose their target market and the Wii U will become irrelevant. Nintendo’s biggest priority is now to play catch-up, otherwise it will not survive.
Listen to what the Red Barrel Radio guys had to say about the Playstation 4 in episode 64 of the podcast, “Verb! Noun! Buzzword!”. Are we overreacting to the situation of Nintendo and the Wii U? Voice your opinion in the comments or give us a shout on the Retry Quit Facebook page.