OPINION: Why The Wii U Failed

Basic Wii U

With the Nintendo Switch on the horizon in March, the book has well and truly closed on its predecessor, the Wii U. With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild left as its final major release, and Nintendo has outright admitted they no longer manufacture the system. There is little doubt as to why. Despite Nintendo’s best intentions, the Wii U has been cemented as their worst-selling home console ever, just crossing over 13.36 million worldwide.

Much has been said as to why the Wii U failed, even during its early lifespan when the signs were not good for a successful market share. Below are the most plausible theories for why Wii U failed, as clear and clairvoyant as possible.


Muddled messaging: The Wii U did have a point to make with its wacky GamePad controller solution. It was an all-in-one device that encapsulated years of Nintendo innovations before. The interplay from the GamePad to the TV owed just as much to the GameCube-Game Boy Advance link cable as it did the two-screened DS family. Too bad Nintendo botched the messaging of Wii U from its reveal. It is well known that the company barely showed the console itself and put all the focus on the controller. To the company, it was probably under the impression that the Wii Remote was the major reason for the Wii’s success, hence focusing on the “innovative” controller. To everyone else, it made the Wii U come off as an accessory to the Wii instead of a new platform.

Not long after the launch honeymoon period, Nintendo gave up on messaging the GamePad as the Wii U’s core selling point and slowly began to simply focus on marketing their games on their own terms. So too did the company and other developers slowly stop pursuing games that took advantage of the GamePad. The system that was once marketed for its GamePad controller simply became another Nintendo console, only overpriced and underpowered to most onlookers.

Furthermore, Nintendo couldn’t decide who the audience for Wii U was, either. By all marketing, they so desperately craved the broader audience that made the Wii a hit success. But they also wanted to chase the “hardcore” player who buys Madden and Call of Duty. The hardcore audience, however, didn’t want to play these AAA franchise tent poles on a Nintendo console (and the Wii branding also alienated those players who also sat out the Wii).

Nintendo later tried to market the Wii U to kids and their families, by their own admission. Those efforts ended up looking cloying and embarrassing, so the less said, the better. Family marketing is what ironically push away the very mainstream audience Nintendo wanted to begin with. The hokey commercials selling the Wii U as an “upgrade” made the console look less hip and uncool, a problem the Wii never had in grabbing the broader market of startup casual players.

This left the hardcore Nintendo fan base, who don’t make up enough numbers to sell a $300 console. The Wii U was left as a console trying to be for everyone, but ended up being for no one.

Image result for wii u launch lineup

Lack of AAA third party support: It’s been a continuous problem for Nintendo going back 20 years, but with the Wii U, it was more evident than ever that third party games at retail were struggling to coexist with Nintendo’s own efforts. From Day 1 of the Wii U’s public eye, Nintendo tried to pursuade people, “No, the third parties will have games for you hardcore players too!”. Yet all the third party endorsements in the world couldn’t trick people into thinking otherwise. The line-up didn’t even feel special to Nintendo players: most of the launch window games were from PS3/Xbox 360 and from over a year prior (Batman: Arkham City, Mass Effect 3, etc). After the initial launch period and poor third party sales later, the scale of support from Nintendo’s partners scaled back significantly,. Some like EA stopped releasing Wii U games altogether (so much for that unprecedented partnership).

Looking at 2016, the only third party games of note had devolved into the tent poles of Just Dance, Skylanders, and the LEGO franchise. In other words, they were the only franchises proven to sell to Nintendo’s console base (just ask Just Dance on the Wii all these years later). Indie games like Shovel Knight, Runbow, and Affordable Space Adventure made up for the loss of traditional third parties over the years, but indies alone cannot help populate a console’s library. There have been exceptions to be sure, like Zombi U and the Nintendo-published LEGO City Undercover, but these have since been ported to other systems in order to reach a larger audience. At least Wii U still has Bayonetta 2.

IMG_7554

Too many games derivative of the 3DS: At first, Wii U’s games looked too much like Wii games, including New Super Mario Bros. U and Wii Fit U as the worst offenders. Then, the problem became that Wii U’s first party games began to be too similar to certain 3DS games. 3DS had Super Mario 3D Land? Well, here’s Super Mario 3D World. Mario Kart 7? Here’s Mario Kart 8. That’s to say nothing of the 3DS companion games to LEGO City Undercover and Super Smash Bros.

Ironically, the reverse has since happened as Wii U games have been ported directly back to the 3DS. Yoshi’s Woolly World, Hyrule Warriors, and Super Mario Maker are among the most obvious offenders. With few exceptions like the glory of Splatoon, Nintendo failed to give the Wii U a distinctive library of exclusives and it was clear that 3DS-alikes on the system were trying to ride the coattails of 3DS’s hard-earned success. But in the end, it lessened the Wii U’s own identity.

Image result for play nintendo 3ds

Nintendo shifted all the focus onto the 3DS: Speaking of which, if you felt like the Wii U looked bad next to the 3DS, you’re not alone in this thinking. As if became increasingly clear that the Wii U would be a failure, Nintendo began shifting most of their creative efforts onto their portable platform. It became more obvious across 2013 that the 3DS would be given more love over Wii U, as Pokémon X and Y got most of the company’s advertising dollars and marketing focus that holiday.

You see Nintendo continue to push 3DS games like Mario Kart 7, Mario 3D Land, and the portable Super Smash Bros. in their TV ads, hardware bundles, and at touring marketing events far more than their console counterparts. The Play Nintendo campaign aimed at children might as well be named “Play 3DS” because any mention of Wii U software is almost non-existent. In part because development costs less, there have been far more 3DS games released in the last four years than there ever were Wii U games. You would think that Nintendo would try harder to sell their failing system instead, but evidently it would have been money thrown away at failure. Whatever Nintendo’s true rationale for putting all the focus on the 3DS, the Wii U-owning audience can’t help but feel short-shifted.

dusty-wiiu

Poorly planned release calendar: Speaking for North America, Nintendo published four first-party games at launch for the Wii U. Both New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land were developed internally, but they also published Ninja Gaiden: Razor’s Edge for Tecmo and Sing Party from a third party development studio. The total launch line-up, not including eShop-only releases, was 18 games in all. Guess when the next batch of games came out in stores? Not until March. This pattern would be indicative of the Wii U’s life cycle, where months would go by without a major retail release. See also early 2014, where Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze came out in February, and then nothing happened until Mario Kart 8 in late-May.

Not only that, but Nintendo also had some very poorly thought out release dates for some of their games as well. Consider how they launched the excellent Super Mario 3D World on the same day as the Xbox One launch. And that same day as The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (see above). Third party publisher Ubisoft became a sticking point with Wii U owners for delaying Rayman Legends out of its intended February 2013 release month and into September (on top of making it multi-platform). The same publisher would delay the Wii U port of Watch Dogs months after its May 2014 launch to November: and the same week as Super Smash Bros. It was a deliberate attempt to undercut the game’s sales on Wii U and thereby justify not having anymore mature releases on the platform.

Part of the Switch’s delay out of last holiday, according to Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima, was to ensure a steady release window beyond the launch. If the list of rumored and confirmed Switch games thus far is any indication, they have clearly learned some hard lessons from the Wii U software calendar. Hopefully this means less dusty Switch’s as there were dusty Wii U’s.


Thus the book closes on Wii U. With some hard lessons learned, the Switch will perhaps have a more fruitful life at retail. Early evidence of a stronger library of games and a positive pre-release reception paint a much rosier picture than the Wii U ever had.

Share this post:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on StumbleUponDigg this

About The Author

Editor-in-Chief

When he's not writing about or playing all the great Nintendo games, Alex Irish works by day at a local book emporium, and the rest of the time, he illustrates and writes online. His favorite video game franchise is Pokemon, but his favorite video game is Resident Evil 4. He also can tell you everything about animation history, from past to present.