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Nintendo in the Frying Pan

Posted on June 21, 2012 AT 04:08am

The question is, when they get out of it will they be safe or in the fire instead. See after their E3 Press Conference, Nintendo’s shares dropped by quite a bit due to a number of reasons with Wii U being one of the big ones. The jump forward in the hardware’s power wasn’t enough of one for critics to praise despite being able to play in 1080p, the lackluster showing of the Wii U’s functionality left consumers in a confusion regarding what the Wii U actually is, and the dearth of Wii U exclusives titles lined up for its eventual launch did not help shareholder confidence in the company. Thankfully, Nintendo is filled with some very smart people who happen to understand that they are in trouble and that they need to move carefully to make sure the launch of the Wii U is the success they need. To do that, they have to fix at least one of the three major problems the console has.

The first problem the Wii U has is impossible to fix without going back to the drawing board and it would be completely out of character for them to do that. Power has never been Nintendo’s big focus when it comes to gaming, instead using what they have to provide interesting gaming experiences and more family oriented titles along with their core franchises.

Now what they can fix is the lack of interesting Wii U exclusive titles that will be available at launch. Unfortunately, this is rather difficult to do unless Nintendo held back on us during their press conference. It’s not like you can put out a big budget title over night: even the months we have until the Christmas season when the hardware is being predicted to roll out is too short a time for anything more than a rush job or port of an already existing title. Developing big budget titles is difficult to do at the best of times and when dealing with new hardware the problems are only exacerbated; so instead Nintendo has done something smart.

Instead of forcing out quick and sloppy games, they have instead begun offering incentives for developers to bring their games to the Wii U’s digital store.

“They’re offering insane incentives for publishers to sell retail games as downloads on the console,” said an anonymous developer to Wii U Daily. “You’d be stupid not to take advantage of it and go retail box-only. The new platform is perfect for indie devs, it’s a whole different ball game than WiiWare. They’ve learned a lot from that mess.”

Now I’m not entirely sure how successful this will be. If they can get a good selection of high-quality, fun to play titles through this then good on them. The problem is that this could really easily backfire on Nintendo and no matter what they will run at a loss in the long run. And even if this does help pick-up the consoles game list and the public interest along with it, Nintendo will still be losing a large cut of the potential profits that would help them bolster their potential losses during hardware sales. While not a bad thing in the eyes of gamers and the developers, this may not make their shareholders very happy which is kind of what they need to do.

The other issue that Nintendo can impact is the way people view the Wii U, that it isn’t just a new controller but an entirely new system. Thankfully (since I really don’t want to see this flop), Nintendo is already well aware that they need to do this and in a recent Gamespot interview, Nintendo’s marketing exec Scott Moffitt made that rather clear.

“Well, it’s confusing relative to the Wii. With motion control gaming, when you saw Mr. Iwata and Reggie stand up and swing a motion controller, it brought it to life immediately. With a second screen controller, you need to see what’s on the second screen, so by nature it’s a more complex system. It’s less visually easy to understand. As for how we’re planning to make it clear that it’s a new system, well, we want to get it in people’s hands. That’s what E3 is all about and from now until launch. We want consumers to experience it for themselves, whether it’s in a store, at a gaming event, or at a press event. Once they do that, I think people will really start to understand how the GamePad changes the way you can connect with games and other players.”

And he’s right, despite the cynicism regarding the Wii’s motion controls right now, at one point we all pointed and Ahhhd about it. The wand and nunchuck were easy to see and visualize whereas the second screen isn’t, it doesn’t capture the imagination in the same way that one day being able to have full on lightsaber battle does. Now the smart thing for Nintendo to do would be to send out extra Wii U’s early to brick and mortar stores. Having a Wii U on display in the same way that a PS Vita is now in Gamestop or EB games would give gamers the hands-on time they need to get the point across that it is a new system with new expectations. The other smart move would be to start doing roaming tech demos in conventions to ensure you get some publicity and community responses to the games and feel of the hardware. Word of mouth marketing, even in this internet driven time, is still by far the best way to advance your product in the business world.

Even with all of the problems myself and many others saw during its E3 press conference, my main worry is that they have lost their target audience. Even the Wii had a focused demographic that it responded to but right now the claim is that the Wii U is designed to appeal to everybody, and that isn’t a target. You can’t make everybody happy with the same experience and trying to do so will only result in a disappointment.

The months leading up the Wii U’s launch will be critical to it and Nintendo’s continued success on the console front. It’s in the frying pan now, but that doesn’t mean it is in big trouble yet. If it doesn’t act rashly and manages to show off a few more interesting exclusive titles it should be fine. There’s a lot of potential behind that second screen and I want to see what Nintendo and their third party developers will be able to do with it.

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