We all know by now that basically everything Nintendo creates is aimed at traditional and non-traditional gamers alike (or “hardcore” and “casual,” whatever), at least according to the official PR. There’s been a growing sense among many, however, that this isn’t always the case. This lack of faith that Wii really offers experiences for the traditional gamer has been one of the most problematic obstacles the Wii has had to face - and that’s not just me talking, that’s straight from the mouth of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. It’s something they’re working to change with Wii U, Iwata assures investors:
“The Wii was able to reach a large number of new consumers who had never played games before by bringing hands-on experiences with its Wii Sports and Wii Fit. However, we could not adequately create the situation that such new consumers played games frequently or for long, consistent periods. As a result, we could not sustain a good level of profit.
“Moreover, regrettably, what we prioritised in order to reach out to the new audience was a bit too far from what we prioritised for those who play games as their hobby. Consequently, we presume some people felt that the Wii was not a game system for them or they were not willing to play with the Wii even though some compelling games had been released.
“Once consumers have a notion that ‘this system is not for us’, we have learned that it is extremely difficult to change their perceptions later. Therefore, in promoting the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U, we have announced that we would like ‘width’ and ‘depth’ to coexist.
“With the Nintendo DS and the Wii, the approach of “width” was well accepted by many people; however, what we did in terms of “depth” was not satisfactory for some consumers. This time, we would like consumers to be satisfied in both aspects. In order to do so, we started to work on the “depth” aspect first, and the current and existing software you can see for the Nintendo 3DS is based on that idea. In the future, the approach will evolve.
“By exploring the development both from width and depth standpoints, it is our intention to satisfy a wider audience with one gaming platform. Our approach for the Wii U is basically the same. By doing so continuously, we are expecting that the number of game users per household will increase and as the gaming population increases, we believe we can create a sustainable video game market. We would like to materialize what I have said for both the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U in the future.”
But how is this any different from previous Nintendo statements that they’ll work to satisfy the core and casual audiences? If gamers don’t feel their needs are being met, this doesn’t magically change just because the Official Rhetoric says it will. Words are one thing; actions are quite another. The promise here seems pretty similar to those we’ve heard in previous discussions of this subject, so why should we think that the reality will be any different?
I’ve got two reasons. First of all, Iwata openly admits that Wii failed in its goal to deliver the kinds of content those hobbyist players enjoy. This is important because it symbolizes a recognition that Nintendo’s previous strategies did not work as planned.
One of the most major instances of Nintendo acknowledging their failures before was with the transition from GameCube to Wii - GameCube was centered around a lot of “experimental” software like Super Mario Sunshine and The Wind Waker that didn’t really adhere very tightly to the established brand images or feel of their respective franchises. Wii offered comparatively more conservative games that appealed to more common denominators. Super Mario Galaxy is definitely a more standard, recognizable expression of the series than Sunshine, and its relative popularity reflects this. (Note: This isn’t a statement about the quality of the games, just the nosedive in the popularity and appeal of GameCube software in general.)
The other more recent example is the 3DS. Nintendo’s frequently apologetic about not providing sufficient software or features at launch, and we’ve seen that once good games and download service support showed up, the system’s sales picked up. I’m not sure that’s the full story behind the system’s slow start - I think the average gamer not remotely caring about 3D output and the lack of a second analog stick are also factors - but it’s clear that when Nintendo really recognizes there’s a problem with their approach, they genuinely try to rectify the situation, and it usually works out to some extent. Despite their admittance that they dropped the ball when it comes to traditional gamers, Wii still was a major industry bombshell for many of the right reasons.
The other big indicator in Iwata’s statement is his concern with the profitability of the Wii U. Apparently the non-traditional gaming crowd just doesn’t buy games the way the traditional ones do, and losing out on that audience means they “cannot sustain a good level of profit.” Since the Wii hardware itself certainly did bring in more than substantial profits, I assume he’s talking about software sales here. The concern is not only with making sure Wii U itself is a hit, it’s with making sure Nintendo creates games that are hits. If there’s anything I’ve learned about Nintendo, it’s that when they focus on what they perceive to be the bottom line, they take those endeavors very seriously.
Does this mean that they’ll be successful? Not necessarily. Trying to meet a need and actually meeting it are two different things. Skyward Sword tried to mold itself into a hardcore experience that would refine Twilight Princess‘s motion-controls as a jumping off point while drawing in the Wii Sports Resort crowd, but in the end it’s clear it wasn’t a phenomenal hit with either audience. (I still love it, but Nintendo has admitted that it didn’t meet their goals.) They might try again and be no more successful, or they might create the next big hit. I can’t say what the future will hold - but I can say that the efforts to reach out to traditional gamers will Wii U - both the hardware features and the software - will almost certainly be significantly ramped up over what we saw with Wii.