Even as Wii U pre-orders sell out, many believe that the console will suffer from the same problems as the Wii did later in its lifespan. Despite moving into the world of HD and providing classic gaming controls out of the box with the GamePad, many doubters believe that the Wii U will be showered with shovelware and will be unable to keep up with the next-generation devices from Sony and Nintendo. Can the Wii U woo back core gamers as Nintendo's first HD console, or is it too late?
Arguments that the Wii U will "fail" just as the Wii supposedly did are often based on a number of misconceptions from gamers who dislike Nintendo or aren't fans of motion control. The Wii was, overall, a spectacular sales success. As of figures released in July 2012, it had sold almost one hundred million units, more than any other Nintendo home console. While it's true that Wii console sales have dropped off quite a bit in the last few years, part of the reason for that sales drop is market saturation. Despite having a bad year last year, Nintendo is in excellent financial shape and in no danger of going under, no matter what certain loud voices enjoy proclaiming.
Despite the Wii's success, it's true that the console was unpopular amongst a certain segment of core gamers. The system's lack of HD capability made it a hard sell for third-party development, the system's motion controls weren't a huge hit with gamers who prefer traditional button-press controls, and it could be difficult to sort through the massive piles of shovelware in order to find the quality games that were released on the Wii. Some analysts believe that in order for the Wii U to be a success, Nintendo will need to woo back the core gamers who were displeased with how the Wii's hardware and software turned out. Is the system poised to do that? Let's look at the issue in terms of technology, price, and third-party support.
As Nintendo's first HD console, the Wii U is finally clearing the hurdle that will allow third-party developers to easily port games to the system. The console boasts more RAM and a more recent CPU and GPU than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 possess. Unfortunately, Nintendo isn't releasing the deep technical specs of its system, and we don't know what the technical specs of the next Xbox and PlayStation consoles will be. Although there are rumors that the Wii U is well behind those other systems, some of those rumors have been proven wrong, while others are current unprovable.
The truth is, it's too early to tell whether the Wii U will feel "hopelessly behind" the next generation of the other two consoles. It depends on the Wii U's exact specs and how far ahead Microsoft and Sony will be willing to leap with their next generation. It also depends on how much of each console's capabilities developers will be willing and able to take advantage of. With so many companies struggling with the ever-increasing price of game development, it's not clear that a huge jump in technical capabilities will be desirable to many developers, with obvious exceptions such as Epic.
Another big question mark is how well the Wii U's GamePad will play with gamers. It has rated strongly with people who have demoed it at trade shows, but so did the 3D capabilities of the 3DS, which have failed to light the consumer base on fire. Will the GamePad be comfortable to use during extended gaming sessions, and will developers fall in love with its various gameplay possibilities? We just don't know yet.
There's been a fair amount of chatter about the Wii U's $300-$350 price tag. Several price predictions placed the Wii U at $250, so some analysts believe consumers will balk at $300. Others believe Nintendo is overpricing the Wii U, and will drop the price quickly like it did with the 3DS.
That last part seems particularly unlikely. No HD console has launched below $300, and the GamePad must surely be the most expensive controller to yet be packaged with a console. Nintendo also seems unlikely to make the same pricing mistake it made with the 3DS, which the company openly admits it priced too high at launch.
As for whether consumers will pay $300-$350 for the Wii U, pre-order reports seem to indicate that they will gladly pay that price. The $350 unit is even proving more popular. In this case, gripes about the Wii U's pricing seem like yet another case of gamers complaining about pricing, then paying that price anyway.
The final level of third-party support for the Wii U is still a major unknown. As long as the system remains easy to port to, it should receive strong multiplatform support from third-party publishers. However, there's no way to know how many third-party exclusives the Wii U will receive at this point. It will likely depend on consumer reaction to the GamePad tablet and the game design possibilities it provides.
In the end, it's far too early to be proclaiming either success or failure for the Wii U with core gamers. The system has a definite advantage as of November, since it will be the first next-generation console to come out, and many core gamers may pick it up out of curiosity and a lack of other new interesting systems to buy. If Nintendo can continue keeping third-party support up, put out some interesting exclusives for the device over the next year, and otherwise capitalize on its head start, the Wii U has the chance to build up a strong install base and be in a good position to compete with the next generation Xbox and PlayStation. If Nintendo drops the ball or initial third-party offerings fail to sell to expectations, the Wii U could be in trouble.
We gamers are a fickle lot, and I have no doubt that a strong library of new games will bring core gamers flocking back to Nintendo (though I don't think the ports like Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City will make a huge difference). The Wii U is most certainly not "too little, too late" at this point. It's up to Nintendo to take advantage of its head start, attract third parties, secure exclusives, and, of course, do what Nintendo does best: Release a strong library of first-party games that appeal to a wide variety of gamers, "casual" and "hardcore" alike.
Date: September 19, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*