Category Archives: Commentary

Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 3

[Note: This is the third part of a multi-part post.  In the first part I looked at the ways the Wii ultimately was a failure, and in the second part I looked at the ways Nintendo failed to capitalize on the Wii, helping to create the situation they find themselves in now with the Wii U.]

With the hundred-million-selling Wii having largely faded from public consciousness, Nintendo in 2012 decided to release the Wii U.  Two-and-a-half years later, the system is struggling to reach the ten million sales mark.  Third parties have largely abandoned the console, and Nintendo doesn’t seem to have many bullets left in the clip, having already released entries in most of its major franchises.  It’s unlikely that anything is going to turn this ship around; no matter how good Splatoon is, it’s not going to send another ten or twenty or thirty million people out to buy a Wii U.  No, when all is said and done, the Wii U is going to go down as a failure.  But why did it fail?

Why the Wii U Failed

The Wii U has been a failure for a lot of reasons, some of them inevitable.  As we’ve seen, Nintendo gave up on trying to woo core gamers to instead pursue casual gamers, and by 2012, those gamers had moved on to smartphones and tablets.  Because of Nintendo’s inability to convert Wii owners into reliable customers, any attempt to leverage the Wii’s success to sell a new console was probably bound to fail.  Really, the Wii U falls perfectly in line with what’s been happening to Nintendo for basically ever.  Nintendo’s sales have been in steady decline for decades, the Wii notwithstanding.  Every Nintendo console, except the Wii, has been the worst-selling Nintendo console to date.  A single hit isn’t going to change that if it doesn’t address the core problems behind this decline.

(Data source: Nintendo)
(Data source: Nintendo)

So before the Wii U ever launched, there was a certain amount of baked-in failure.  But even if it was never going to be a Wii-sized, success, it could have been less of a failure.  For one thing, the Wii U probably should have come out sooner.  By the time the Wii U came out, the Wii was not only past its prime but had become something of an afterthought. Continue reading Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 3

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Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 2

[Note: This is the second part of a multi-part post.  Check out the first part here.]

In the first part of this post, I examined how Nintendo, with the Wii, traded core gamers for casual gamers, a strategy that worked in the short term but cost Nintendo in the long term.  When smartphones and tablets emerged as a major gaming platform, especially for casual games, they left Nintendo with no market for their new hardware.  They sold over 100 million Wiis, but are struggling to sell one tenth as many Wii Us.  There’s obviously nothing Nintendo could have done to forestall the rise of the mobile games market.  But this doesn’t mean that the evaporation of Nintendo’s audience was a foregone conclusion.

Wii-U-web-001

Could Nintendo have transformed the tens of millions of casual, first-time gamers who bought Wiis into a dedicated customer base that would reliably purchase new games and consoles in perpetuity?  Who knows?  It would be a tough job for anyone, at any time.  We can’t know how things might have turned out had Nintendo done this or that.  But we can see pretty clearly a number of ways Nintendo failed to support and take advantage of the Wii. Continue reading Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 2

Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 1

Between the lackluster sales, the dearth of third-party support, the recent announcement of the Nintendo NX, and the indefinite delay of the latest Legend of Zelda game, it would seem the writing’s on the wall for the Wii U.  Though Nintendo insists that the NX won’t be a simple replacement for the Wii U (or 3DS), it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the release of the NX – whatever it is – ends up boosting Wii U sales.  After two and a half years and about 9.5 million units sold, we can confidently declare that the Wii U has been a commercial failure.

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Take a good look. It won’t be here forever.

 

Nintendo needs the NX to be successful.  The company remains committed to dedicated gaming devices, but another system that sells as poorly as the Wii U did will force them to reconsider that position.  So what should they do with the NX?  How can they avoid a repeat of the situation they’re in with the Wii U?  To understand that, we need to take a look at everything that went wrong with the Wii U.  And to understand that, we first need to hop into our DeLorean and look at the ways the Wii failed, and the ways Nintendo failed the Wii, because, in a lot of ways, the Wii is what put Nintendo in this mess.

[Note: This was originally going to be one post, but as I’ve been working on it, it’s grown to epic proportions.  So, I’ll be breaking it into a few chunks and posting the first couple parts while I finish the rest of it.  The main gist of the post is to look at the Wii U’s failure and consider what it means for Nintendo going forward, but it’s going to be a bit of a walk to get there.  In part 1, I’ll be looking at how the Wii failed.  In part 2, I’ll be looking at how Nintendo failed the Wii.  In part 3, I’ll be looking at how the Wii U failed.  And in part 4, I’ll be looking at what Nintendo should do going forward.  I aim to have all four parts posted by the middle of next week, but who knows, by then it might have grown into six or eight or fifty parts.  I spend a lot of time thinking about Nintendo.  Anyway, enjoy!] Continue reading Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 1

Here’s an Idea: An Amiibo Killer App

[When I’m not playing games or writing about games, I’m often thinking about games – thinking about what would make a cool idea for a game, or how I wish a certain game was different, or what I’m hoping for in a sequel.  So, to share some of these ideas, I’m starting a new occasional column called Here’s an Idea.  Basically, it’s game design fan fiction.]

Nintendo’s line of collectible, game-connected figures has so far been a huge success for the company.  In the six months they’ve been out, Nintendo has shipped 10.5 million units and is scrambling to get more product on store shelves.  This is, in one sense, perfectly understandable: similar products, like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, are hugely successful, and Nintendo has a stable of popular characters like Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and… Wii Fit Trainer.  Why wouldn’t they be popular?  But in another sense, the success of Amiibo is a little weird, because unlike, say, Skylanders, they don’t really do anything.

(Image: Farley Santos)
(Image: Farley Santos)

Well, that’s not entirely accurate.  They do some stuff.  But what they do is a vague and inconsistent.  The most robust Amiibo support is found in Super Smash Bros., where Amiibo become NPC companions/opponents that you can level up and customize.  This is the closest Amiibo come to having Skylanders-type functionality, where you bring your character into the game, upgrade and/or customize it, and save the stats to the figure rather than the console hard drive, allowing you to bring your character to a friend’s house.  But in Super Smash Bros., you don’t get to play as the character, just alongside it or against it.

Meanwhile, Amiibo support in other games is pretty limited.  In Mario Party 10, a new “Amiibo Party” mode lets you tap your Amiibo to the gamepad a bunch of times to do things that could easily be done with a button press, and then save the powerups you earn to your figure.  In all other Amiibo-compatible games, functionality is limited to read-only effects, in most cases involving Amiibo unlocking things like extra costumes or consumable in-game items.  Of course, the fact that one Amiibo can be used in multiple games – though limited to one read/write game per figure – is a nice bonus, regardless of how limited the features are for those additional games.  But what is lacking is a really great killer app where Amiibo feel really essential to the gameplay.  So far, they kind of feel shoehorned in. Continue reading Here’s an Idea: An Amiibo Killer App

What’s NXt for Nintendo?

Back in March, Nintendo announced that they were working on a new “dedicated game platform,” with the codename “NX.”  No other details were offered other than to say that the NX will be a “brand-new concept” and that the company “[hopes] to share more information” in 2016.  The announcement came during a press conference in which Nintendo announced its plans to develop games for smartphones, so the point of this reveal was to reassure stockholders and/or fans that the company is not abandoning dedicated gaming hardware.  And, for now, that’s all we really have to go on: a codename and a vague notion of when we will learn more.  Well, that and our infinite capacity for unfounded speculation!

Not the NX, probably.
Not the NX, probably.

There are two big, obvious questions:  What is the NX?  And when is it coming out?  To the first question, there are really four potential answers: a home console, a handheld, some sort of home console/handheld hybrid, or something else entirely, a genuinely “brand-new concept.”  For now, let’s set aside the “something else entirely” category, as that’s a bottomless pit of speculative potential and there’s only so much Internet to go around.  Continue reading What’s NXt for Nintendo?

Now You’re Playing with Less Power

Everyone’s favorite kerfuffle generator, the Internet, is at it again, making kerfuffles out of kerfufflets.  The source this time is a pair of blog posts from Noah Horowitz at the NRDC drawing attention to the fact that the Xbox One consumes a remarkably high amount of energy, especially when in standby mode – or, as you or I might say, “turned off.”  Predictably, this news has induced a case of what you might call Gamer Persecution Syndrome among a certain subset of gamers who show a strong aversion to any critical or negative commentary about our hobby (see: feminism).  To be fair, this type of thinking is not unique to gamers; hyperbolic, vitriolic reactions can be found in just about any comment thread on the Internet, and usually represent a tiny slice of the community.  Also, this is not a huge issue.  The reaction has been pretty muted, and I doubt anyone will be talking about this a month or two from now.  Still, it seems worth writing about, because there are a number of misconceptions in the coverage of and reaction to this story.

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The Xbox One: it’s the same color as oil and coal for a reason.

First, some background.  While a lot of the coverage has referred to “a recent report” or something along those lines, what they’re really referring to is a blog post.  (The word “blogs” in the URL and “Noah Horowitz’s Blog” at the top of the post should’ve been clues.)  The report in question is actually almost a year old, and is linked to in the third paragraph of Horowitz’s blog post, a paragraph that begins with the words “last year.”  The report outlines the results of an NRDC study of energy consumption by the three current-gen consoles and makes recommendations for improving their efficiency.  One of the big takeaways is that current-gen consoles use a lot of energy – enough to power all the homes in Houston by the end of this generation – and a lot of this energy is consumed in standby mode.

The March 26 blog post criticizes Microsoft for not only making the energy-gobbling “instant-on” mode the default mode, but for also burying the energy-saving mode in the less-than-intuitive settings menus rather than as an option during initial setup.  Someone buying and setting up a new Xbox One could easily have no idea that the energy-saving mode even exists, let alone how to activate it.  Microsoft responded to the post (and media coverage) by announcing plans to add a screen to the setup process that will prompt users to choose between these two modes “in the coming months.”  Horowitz responded with a second post that praised Microsoft for addressing the issue, but expressed skepticism that the changes would be as effective as they could be.  He pointed out that the new setup process would still default to the “instant-on” mode, and uses language that seems biased against the energy-saving mode; he also pointed out a few other areas where Microsoft could make energy-saving changes. Continue reading Now You’re Playing with Less Power

An NES console.

Nintendo’s Going Mobile

Nintendo recently released two news babies into the wild with nothing but the barest scraps of information to protect them from the Internet: the company, in partnership with DeNA, will be making mobile games; and, Nintendo is working on a new “dedicated game platform,” codenamed “NX.”  With almost no details to report or discuss, all we can really do is engage in the twin 21st century pastimes of Waiting in Agony to Know Everything Right Now, Dammit, and Wildly Speculating.  So, let’s speculate!

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Nintendo goes boldly into the future.

The two announcements came at a press conference on March 17, the primary audience of which was stockholders.  This is worth remembering when trying to draw inferences from Nintendo’s announcements.  Nintendo’s stock price has been stagnant for years, and this press conference knocked it up to as high as it’s been since 2011.

Let’s consider the mobile announcement first.  Nintendo has been understandably reluctant to jump into the mobile gaming fray.  They’ve enjoyed a more-or-less uninterrupted reign atop the handheld gaming market since they released the Gameboy in 1989.  The last thing they want to do is cannibalize their own market, trading sales of $200 handhelds and $40 games for some $0.99 apps.  They’ve also been adamant over the years that their games should be considered “premium,” and thus worth the $40 price tag, on top of the upfront console investment.  They don’t want to cheapen their brands by releasing a bunch of Nintendo-skinned match three games; if they did, people wouldn’t be able to see the value in such premium games as Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition.

But for all their reluctance, Nintendo doesn’t really have a choice.  They’ve been able to ward off all would-be usurpers of their handheld gaming throne for decades, but smartphones are an entirely different animal.  Nintendo’s best-selling handheld, the DS, sold just north of 150 million units.  Their current model, the 3DS, has sold around 50 million units.  (For comparison’s sake, the PlayStation Vita, released the same year as the 3DS, has sold about 4 million units, making it slightly more successful than something called the Bandai WonderSwan, which is powered by a single AA battery.)  Meanwhile, by the end of 2016, there will be over two billion people in the world people with smartphones.  Continue reading Nintendo’s Going Mobile

Cumin-Cured Creekstone Hanger Steak with Green Chile Redeye Gravy, Spicy California Avocado Sope and Queso Creama.

Of Course Game Length Matters

There’s been a lot of discussion on gaming sites lately about game length, and whether it matters.  The catalyst for this conversation was the recent release of the PS4 exclusive The Order: 1886.  If you haven’t been following the story, The Order is a Victorian England-set, most-gorgeous-game-ever-candidate third-person shooter that was hotly anticipated until days before its release, when a video appeared on YouTube purporting to show a complete playthrough of the game clocking in at around five hours, about half of which was devoted to cutscenes.  The developers responded that at normal difficulty and played at a normal pace, whatever that is, the game would take eight to ten hours.  Most reviews I’ve seen put the game at about six or seven hours.  Let’s charitably call it seven.

(One caveat: I have not played The Order: 1886, nor will I likely ever play it, as I do not have a PS4.  The game has gotten generally mediocre reviews, but I can’t attest to its quality or lack thereof, other than to say that the graphics are undeniably gorgeous.  So for this post I will be treating it as a roughly seven-hour game of indeterminate quality.)

The Order 1886 is an undeniably gorgeous game.
The Order 1886 is an undeniably gorgeous game.

That the game – which is single-player only and costs the standard $60 – might only take five hours to complete predictably drew ire from more or less everyone in the world.  And this ire, in turn, provoked a number of think pieces about game length and its importance.  It seems like every gaming website and blog has had an article or panel discussion asking, “Does game length matter?” Continue reading Of Course Game Length Matters