Talking tech since 2003

We published some news last week that looked like good news for Nintendo and its Wii U console. The company reported that hardware sales for the Wii U in November were up 340% from sales in October. Unfortunately, a report from Ars Technica pegged the Wii U’s October sales at a dismal 55,000 units, making that 340% jump a lot less impressive.

The Wii U has been available in the U.S. since November 18, 2012. For the 2013 fiscal year, Nintendo set a sales goal of 9 million units for the Wii U, and even if you factor in those improved November numbers, the company is still less than halfway there. Edge reports that Nintendo has moved 4.3 million Wii U systems. To put that into perspective, both Sony and Microsoft sold over 1 million consoles each during their respective launch weekends.

wii-u-gamepadNintendo isn’t in bad shape financially, but the company also can’t sit idly by as the Wii U sells this poorly. Now that its year head start has vanished and competing consoles are on the market, Nintendo needs to make a move to keep the Wii U alive.

My suggestion? Let’s call the Wii U what it is — an upgraded Wii with HD graphics. Let’s get that GamePad out of the bundle. And let’s acknowledge that the Wii U will sell best as the second system to an Xbox One or a PS4.

Nintendo is a company that stays away from the technical arms race with its consoles — you know, unless we’re talking about the Nintendo 64, where the company actually named its console after the system’s 64-bit CPU. So, really, Nintendo just does what it wants and hopes we’ll buy the excuse it gives. In the Wii’s case, the company built a non-HD, low-power console but introduced some novel motion gaming mechanics that made the experience unique. Gamers rewarded Nintendo with insane sales numbers — 100 million served and counting.

With the Wii U, though, those unique gaming experiences haven’t really materialized. The included GamePad’s best feature at this point is that it’s a portable TV for gamers to use when their larger set is occupied. And, because developers create games with that use in mind, it’s difficult to use the second screen for anything really meaningful. Meanwhile, a couple of other factors really hurt the perceived value of the system; namely, the fact that its graphics lag significantly behind other next-gen systems, and the system’s lack of blockbuster third-party titles.

Nintendo already loses money on each Wii U it sells, but the best path forward to save the system is another price cut. By cutting the GamePad out of the bundle and replacing it with another controller — a Classic pad or a Wiimote, for example — the company can shave another $50-$100 off the price (and I’m sure the GamePad would actually sell fairly well as a $100 accessory).

Basically, the Wii U needs to get down to a price where it can be viewed as a complimentary console to either an Xbox One or a PS4 — the same trick the Wii pulled back in its heyday. The Wii U won’t be the system, but it can be one of the systems. The sidekick. That’s the role the company carves out for itself by not keeping pace with graphics, not prioritizing online connectivity and not doing a better job pulling in third party support.

The company just needs to own it.

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