A Night at the Roxbury: Wii? U? Mii?
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
November 18 is right around the corner. In fact, it’s a little over a week away. Of course, you already knew that because you likely have the date circled on your calendar with reminders set up to bombard you with beeps on the day of. Why on earth would you have the day marked, you ask? It’s the day Nintendo releases the Wii U in North America. Although, you wouldn’t really know that unless you worked for Nintendo, it seems.
Yes, Nintendo’s foray into the HD world has been met with a relatively tepid response to this point. There’s been little buzz and little hype. The console had a big reveal at E3 in 2011, but subsequent unveilings have been less than enthusiastic on the part of potential customers. In fact, Nintendo seems to think that releasing an HD version of the Wii will magically take them back to 2007, when Nintendo essentially printed money and laughed hysterically at the tribulations of Microsoft and Sony.
It’s 2012 now and games have changed quite a bit in five years. People aren’t going to clamor for a console that boasts motion controls when every console does that now (and they do it better). Sure, the concept of a controller that’s actually a console that works with the other console is interesting, but there’s some trepidation on the part of consumers. The idea of HD in a console is old news as well, with both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 already doing that since their release years ago. Two of the console’s biggest selling points are old hat in the video game world.
If the Wii U is technically underwhelming, what about the launch line-up? Take a look at the launch line-up and count how many games actually look like must-buys. Go ahead. At least eight of the fourteen titles aren’t system exclusives, with seven of those titles already available on other consoles. Nintendo is hoping that the people will wait in line at stores, waving fists full of dollars for the New Super Mario U. That Tank! Tank! Tank! will lead to profits, profits, profits. Sure, the prospect of a Wii U exclusive Bayonetta sequel is extremely tempting, but it’s not a launch title and surely not enough to warrant buying the system for alone.
They’re also counting on a new and improved online play system that’s closer in functionality to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. The only problem is that it still involves Friend Codes. Sorry, Nintendo Network IDs. The company is determined to continue to make online play as difficult as possible, presumably in the name of maintaining a family image. The problem is that families aren’t really the ones buying consoles; it’s still primarily gamers who buy consoles. Families are rather content to get by on games on their mobile phones, which are part of their shared data plans.
I’m one of the biggest fans of Nintendo there is. I cut my video gaming teeth on the NES and owned every console released by the big N since then. And yes, that includes the Virtual Boy (sometimes, when I close my eyes, I still see a red-lined grid). I’ve tried to get excited for the Wii U, but I just can’t. The Wii U Game Pad is difficult to get a baseline hold where you don’t have to constantly look down at it to reorient. HD is a selling point from four years ago. Media capabilities in a console are standard now, not exclusive.
Nintendo doesn’t have that surprise factor it had with the Wii. For whatever reason, they’ve settled into this stagnant position where they feel they can trot out a title with either Mario or Zelda in the name and it will sell a system. While that may be true in the short term, they’re not thinking very long term. Where’s the innovation that created the Game Boy? The SNES? The Power Glove? The Wii? Where’s that Nintendo gone?
There’s a famous skit from Saturday Night Live called “Night at the Roxbury.” In it, three oversexed club-goers (Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan and the week’s guest host) are having a good time when they see an attractive woman. When she glances at them, what follows is a series of “Him? Me? You? Him? We? Us? You?” where they try to figure out who she wants to dance with. In the end, she doesn’t want any of them, as they come on too strong and they’re soundly rejected among the confusion.
You can’t help but feel Nintendo has the same mindset. They’re trapped in this thinking where they’re relying on the same tricks to make a sale. They’re dressed up in a manner that isn’t really attractive to anyone, despite the flashiness the wardrobe brings with it. Marketing has been minimal at best, word of mouth has been underwhelming and there doesn’t seem to be a compelling case for buying the Wii U.
The best evidence lies in the naming conventions used for the system and its associated environment:
“Wii? U? Mii?”
How does Nintendo expect the Wii U to sell when we don’t even know who they are or why the Wii U will be so great?