wii woes, part 1

Let’s be honest. The Wii U is not doing well. There are a lot of reasons for this. Some are Nintendo’s fault, some aren’t. More importantly, some of these reasons can be compensated for. Some can’t.

Perhaps Nintendo’s single biggest error with the Wii U has been regarding marketing. The name “Wii U” was a terrible choice. It carries the implication that the product is either an addon to, or an upgraded version of, the Wii. Many people are still under the impression that it is nothing more than a tablet that works with the Wii. The direct result of this is that many people don’t feel inclined to buy it. Nintendo hasn’t done enough to differentiate the new from the old.

While the name can’t be changed (at least, not without causing even more confusion), Nintendo can always retool their marketing, and make customers more aware that this is a new product. Meanwhile, there are far bigger issues that need to be confronted by Iwata and company.

Part The First: Third Party Support

This is where Nintendo has traditionally trailed far behind its competitors. Ever since the Nintendo 64, they have struggled to maintain connections with other publishers and developers while Microsoft, Sony and others shovel dozens of games with long-running consumer bases onto their consoles.

At this point the Wii U is stuck in a vicious feedback loop. Currently, Black Ops 2 has an online player base of about 2000-4000 players on a daily basis. Xbox Live tallies about 200,000 on an average day. As a result, Activision feels less inclined to provide higher support, including releasing DLC on the system. As a result of this, less DLC can be sold. So far none of the Black Ops 2 DLC has been released on Wii U.

In a similar boat, the Wii U release of Injustice has recieved significant content support, but still little in comparison to its bretheren. The DLC that has come to the platform has all come with considerable tardiness. On top of this, Injustice lacks a very particular feature: the ability to play with friends online. The only available option is to play against random opponents (or not so random, in the case of ladder games). One cannot simply pick their friends off a list and play them. This can only be done in local multiplayer.

In September 2012, the Mass Effect trilogy was released as a bundle for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. While it wasn’t much more than a convenient package for 360 customers, it allowed the PS3 to experience the first game for the first time. The trilogy was not released on Wii U, and there are currently no plans to do so. A reworked version of Mass Effect 3 was released making use of the gamepad. It received good reviews; however it only includes DLC that was already on the market beforehand, and EA does not plan on releasing any more of the paid content that was released afterward.

Speaking of local multiplayer, there are some games that omit online entirely, even if it seems like an inescapable conclusion. Tank! Tank! Tank! is one of these games. Despite having broad appeal and a variety of game modes, the best that can be done is four-player local. At this point, the upcoming Arkham Origins is not planned to have any multiplayer at all. While I’m not particularly interested in multiplayer with regards to the Arkham games, no doubt it comes as a slap in the face to the millions of Wii U owners who plan (or were planning) to buy on that system.

While the userbase is lacking compared to competing platforms, the fact remains that a product never placed on the shelf can never be sold. One certainly isn’t going to build consumer confidence when their consumers feel punished for buying their product. The community has been practically begging publishers to release DLC, with responses that can be generously described as indifferent and ambiguous. Then those same publishers turn around and state that upcoming games will not have comparable feature sets because of the lack of sales, seemingly baffled as to the cause.

Someone needs to break this cycle. While the Wii U and Nintendo Network aren’t what everyone wanted, on the whole it’s been a step forward for them. Nintendo finally has a system and a network that can sustain the functionality its predecessors long lacked. It’s time for the publishers to take the risk. Put the content out, and people will buy it. They’ve been begging for the privilege to do just that.

I for one will likely be buying the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts on Wii U. While the PC version will likely recieve more content, have a far larger player base and let me do things like listen to music while playing–not to mention the natural advantages of shooters on PC–my desire to see this system move forward trumps that. If the publisher is going to take the risk putting content on the system, I as the consumer will take the risk buying that content, hoping that they will see it’s worth their time to invest further in. Ultimately, the antidote to these vicious cycles breaks down to hope and trust.