Wii U: What’s In A Name?

Two years after its initial release, it’s clear that the Wii U has had a rough life. A Nintendo of America localiser, Chris Pranger, recently defended the company against the claim that the naming of the console has led to the extremely underwhelming sales of just 10 million, calling it fan overreaction. It seems absurd that something as simple as the name could be the primary factor in all of this mayhem. In truth, it isn’t. While the name has accounted for a large portion of the problems, there are other things to consider.

When the Wii U was announced, confusion spread like the plague among those not involved in the industry. Was this a new console? Was this an accessory for the Wii? Nobody in the unique semi-engaged demographic the Wii so successfully captured actually knew what it was. Nintendo spent so much time focusing on the Wii U’s (admittedly unique) GamePad and so little time discussing the console. If you were just a casual gamer who didn’t pay much attention to what goes on in the games industry, you would see the GamePad and believe that it was just a new controller for the Wii. Nintendo didn’t give much incentive for the purchase of a Wii U. The right decision would have been to come up with a new name entirely, without any ties to another console. This isn’t just an issue with Nintendo. Many companies fall under the same spell. When something is a massive success, like the Wii, companies want to latch onto that product or brand because it made so much money. This is presumably where the concept for the name Wii U originated.

The name and the marketing of the Wii U isn’t the only problem, however. The console is seriously underpowered compared to the other eighth generation systems. Not only does the Wii U’s framerate dip to sub-par levels frequently, developers often have to lower the resolution to be able to get a playable FPS. In 2015, 60 frames per second is considered a standard. 30 frames per second or lower is hard to excuse. Although the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One also struggle to hit 60 FPS, the doesn’t mean that the Wii U should be allowed to get away with it.

The Wii U GamePad was innovative to some extent. Nintendo is usually very good at innovation and new concepts, like with the Wii. But that doesn’t mean that the innovative idea, whatever it may be, is necessarily any good. With the Wii, for example, the idea of motion control for gaming that was marketed and heavily appealed to casual audiences of all ages was a fantastic idea. There is no downside to more people and more age groups playing videogames. The Achilles heel for the Wii was how inaccurate motion control through a sensor bar is. It can be understandable how this could happen seeing as this was the first solid attempt at such a thing.

The Wii U falls under the same category. A controller with a screen is an interesting idea, even though Nintendo weren’t the first to try it out (the Sega Dreamcast tried it years ago with the VMU). The problem with this is that it is very inconvenient way to play games. If you need to glance at something through the GamePad screen, you have to take your eyes off of the main monitor that most of the game is on, focus your eyes on the GamePad, and then re-focus on the main monitor again. The GamePad having a screen doesn’t add anything, but it takes away from a lot. The Nintendo DS had the idea as well, but worked because the two screens were so close together, unlike the Wii U. It is very peculiar that this happens to be the case, because Nintendo designed both systems. The engineers at Nintendo should have been able to see this problem in advance. It was useful for building atmosphere and tension in ZombiU, but otherwise has been a burden.

Let’s go back in time, specifically to 1999. I briefly mentioned the Dreamcast earlier. In 1999, the Sega Dreamcast became available in most regions. It did pretty well early on in its lifespan, kicking off the sixth generation of consoles, but ended up selling so poorly that production was discontinued after only 2 years, in 2001. In the end, the Dreamcast managed to sell 10.6 million units worldwide. As of June 30, 2015, the Wii U has only sold 10.1 million consoles and has been available for purchase for longer.

Surely any sensible company would address this as an issue and propose ideas on how to solve them. It would make logical sense if the company’s product was underselling a product that was discontinued. In reality, Nintendo executives have denied the notion of such problems like the name of the console. It is unlikely at this point that the Wii U will see a big increase in sales, and even if it does, it might not be enough to consider the Wii U a success.

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