Op-Ed: Fixing Wii U

Robert has a few thoughts on how Nintendo might be able to get Wii U back on the right track.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 01/20/2014 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Nintendo’s latest financial forecasts aren’t looking good, and fan reaction has been ruthless. As ever, people quick to start nailing the coffin lid shut on Nintendo’s time as a hardware manufacturer, but let’s face it; this is nothing new. I was disappointed by what’s been happening at Nintendo, too, but after some thought, I think I’ve come up with a possible solution, or at least the start of one. Let’s take a peak behind the curtain and see how Nintendo can fix things and remain viable now and moving (hopefully) into the future.

Fix the Online Experience

Xbox Live needs to be the model for every single console manufacturer in the industry. Love it or hate it, but the basic architecture of Microsoft’s online service is so sound that it’s boggling why any company, Nintendo included, wouldn’t embrace the core tenets of its design. I’ve said this before and will repeat it until I’m blue in the face, but certain standards always have to be recognized. The basics of online interaction as defined by Xbox Live are so ingrained in players’ minds that it’s foolish to ignore them.

I applaud Miiverse and think that it’s the crown jewel of what Nintendo has accomplished online with Wii U, but it’s not enough. Wii U’s online needs to be Xbox Live plus Miiverse. Making friends, forming parties, and cross-game chat should be seamless and easy to do. People coming to Wii U from Live and even PSN are greeted with an alien experience that feels underdeveloped. Pro Controllers should have headphone jacks. Players should be able to report problematic Nintendo Network users. At this point, being different isn’t good enough; Nintendo needs to be on the same level as its competitors on top of offering unique features like Miiverse.

True Unified Accounts

I was happy to combine my Nintendo Network account across Wii U and 3DS, but it was a unification by name, only. Nintendo’s version of having an “individual” account is a bit of a farce, at this point. One ID for one Wii U and one 3DS– that’s it. For customers who buy multiple Nintendo consoles, there is still no reprieve from being forced to re-buy games and DLC multiple times.

As with Xbox Live, the precedent for how to do individual accounts right was set many years ago by Sony’s PlayStation Network. Customers often have multiple PS3s, PSPs, and/or Vitas, and Sony recognizes this, allowing them to spread their account across a host of consoles. Nintendo might have its reasons for being so stingy, but for a player who has invested in multiple systems, it’s more sensible to accommodate than restrict.

As someone who owns a number of Nintendo consoles, I can say that there’s simply no benefit to not being able to spread my collection across a handful of Nintendo devices. I have a 3DS I take out on the road with me and an XL that I keep at home. If Nintendo were reasonable like Sony, I’d be able to share my huge collection of games on both systems, but instead, my XL sits mostly dormant of downloaded titles because I don’t want to pay twice for a game. It’s a waste and it’s discourteous to consumers. It seems much more reasonable to want to make money from players buying a variety of games and content, as opposed to a handful of the same items multiple times.

Diversify and Increase Development of Wii U Software

A common assertion that fans (and even I) have made about Wii U is that its fortunes will improve if it starts getting more and better software the way 3DS has. The problem with that line of thought is that Nintendo’s handhelds have always gotten a wider variety and greater amount of games than its home consoles. Wii U certainly had much better titles in 2013 than in 2012, but just look at the difference in volume between it and 3DS.

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, A Link Between Worlds, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Fire Emblem AwakeningDonkey Kong Country Returns 3D, and many more games graced Nintendo’s handheld, while Wii U had to make due with a fraction of that amount. If Nintendo does want to use software to push Wii U, it needs to match the output of games that 3DS has been graced with. It would also be wise to experiment with bringing games like the Mario & Luigi series, which has never ventured beyond handhelds, to Wii U; perhaps by embracing franchises like these and bringing them to Wii U, Nintendo can truly turn the tide.

Hurry It Up with Virtual Console

Iwata himself touched on this previously, but Nintendo has to start pumping out the Virtual Console games faster. The company’s back catalog is huge and invaluable, and there are a lot of players out there waiting to play classic games on the GamePad. Nintendo 64 games are obviously waiting in the wings, and Game Boy Advance titles have been promised, but beyond those two systems, GameCube needs to become part of the picture. It’s yet another wonderful collection of titles that players love, and it’s outright foolish not to be offering them for download.

Resuscitate Old Franchises

At this point, nothing and no one in Nintendo’s pantheon of games and characters should be dormant. Not every series is a system seller, but just about every single Nintendo franchise has a ravenous fan base. As Pikmin 3 demonstrated, even the more low key series can inspire new fans if done well, and that can easily be the case with F-Zero, Star Fox, Metroid, and a ton of others. Most video game companies would kill just to have one of Nintendo’s franchises, so there’s no reason to be underutilizing anything.

There are a lot of other things Nintendo can do to draw in more players, but these are some of the more glaring problems, in my opinion. The situation won’t be fixed overnight, but the ball needs to start rolling as soon as possible. One thing is for certain; Nintendo is far from dead, and far from done.

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