INSOMNIA

Woes of the Wii U

By Nick / Originally published on SEGABASTARD on October 31, 2014

Learn from history.

Prologue

The Wii was an awful system.
   I never owned one. I've also never owned a Razor scooter. I was an adult when both products were released, so I had no interest in either. I can't say I've lived my life with complete respect for Einstein's definition of insanity, and I've certainly had enough spins on the Nintendo carousel to learn that its machines are for children. Equipped with this knowledge, the Wii was easy to avoid.
   Others didn't fare so well. Nintendo's Wii, which had been code-named "Revolution" in an act of misplaced arrogance, was released to great fanfare from our pals in the games journalism business. It was also released to exuberant, screaming youngsters all over the world. YouTube's servers offer countless videos of children shouting in ecstasy over their new Nintendo boxes.
   This was the change in gaming, we were told, that was needed to save the "dying" videogames industry. Despite how long the games industry has now been thriving, and growing, its doom is still constantly predicted. But the initial success of the Wii machine caused many to assume it was a self-evident industry savior most of us had been too stupid to realize we needed.

"Wii broke open a market long confined predominantly to young men and welcomed in the rest of the family."

"They have absolutely changed the industry," says Julie Shumaker, VP-sales for in-game agency Double Fusion and former Electronic Arts national sales director. "They brought people who don't consider themselves gamers into gaming. Data show people ... still don't consider themselves gamers — and they own a Wii. Sheer marketing brilliance."

"A major insight that Nintendo had early on was that they saw that gamers were getting bored, even though they didn't know it yet", says Perrin Kaplan, VP-marketing and corporate affairs at Nintendo of America.

"It began almost as a study in how to ignore your best consumers — in this case, the young males who dominate gaming. If Nintendo had followed the traditional road map of shooter games popular with the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation crowds, there likely would be many more powerful and expensive boxes gathering dust in the gaming aisle."

   Love those quotes. I wish I could (effortlessly) find an article about slap bracelets or some other fad, where some analyst declared slap bracelets to be the new behemoth of accessories, changing the game forever. "People didn't even realize they were bored of regular bracelets." I think the games business attracts a unique type of brash ignorance. In every other industry, businesses are praised for listening to their customers. Only in the games industry does that draw criticism. Only in the games industry does "ignoring your best customers" draw such inept ovations.
   Lost in the adrenaline-dump of writing about Nintendo's supposed new paradigm was any examination of what "success" means outside of raw hardware sales numbers.
   So, with all those converted non-gamers — an army of gaming grandmas — brought enthusiastically into the fold, how could Nintendo ever falter again? They did the smart thing, ignoring their best consumers. That type of out-of-the-box thinking has to guarantee long-term success... just look at the above analysts grabassing in the throes of climax over Nintendo's brilliance. Certainly, the fruits of this endeavor would be sustained fortune?

Quantity

As it stands now, the Wii was the top-selling console of the now-retiring generation. It has sold approximately 101 million units; the 360 and PS3 have sold about 81-82 million each. I have a longer-term view of "success", however, than simple gross hardware figures.
   The Wii hosts 147 separate million-selling titles. 37 of these are Nintendo games. Nine of the top ten sellers are Nintendo games; fourteen of the top twenty are Nintendo. Four of the six remaining are Just Dance titles.

   The Wii's top 20 is also dominated by garbage. In addition to the four Just Dance titles, there are two Wii Fits and two Wii Sports games. There is a Mario Party and a Wii Party. In all, there are only five games that are (arguably) "regular" videogames as normals interpret the meaning: Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, Smash Bros Brawl, Zelda Twilight Princess, and Donkey Kong Country Returns.
   In comparison, the 360 hosts 199 different million-selling titles. 31 of these are Microsoft games. Three of the top ten sellers are MS titles; eight of the top twenty are MS titles.
   The 360's library is dominated by first-person shooters. There are seven (!) Call of Duty games and four Halo games in the top twenty. However, there is only one non-game present, Kinect Adventures, which came packed with the Kinect hardware.
   The Wii, while not explicitly hostile to third parties, was a far less friendly sales environment for traditional game design. The 360 not only had about 33% more million-sellers (despite selling approximately 25% less hardware), it did a far smaller percentage of the publishing for those games. And a quick (or thorough) look at what did sell on the Wii will draw an ugly picture for the common gamer. The list of million-selling titles is populated by children's amusements (the entire "Game Party" trilogy, for instance) and rhythm games. Most anything in the Wii aisle at the local Best Buy is ready to be purchased by a well-meaning but clueless grandmother... for her grandchildren, not herself.

Quality

Since its debut in 2006, or about eight years ago, the Wii has accumulated only 14 games with a Metacritic score of 90 or above. That's less than two games per year in that range. Three of those games were HD ports of previous-gen games (RE4, Okami, and Metroid Prime Trilogy), leaving a scant 11 "true" 90+ games.
   Since its debut in 2005, or about nine years ago, the Xbox 360 accumulated 52 games with a Metacritic score of 90 or above. Two of these were previous-gen ports (Guitar Hero 2 and MGS HD), leaving 50 "true" 90+ games, or about five times the total found on the Wii.
   Is this a mark of success for Nintendo? 11 titles released in eight years that scored a 90 or better? One-fifth of its competitor, whom all the experts said was going to bore gamers with more of the same, gathering dust in its shameful bankruptcy?
   The quality gap widens as the standard is lowered. Using a Metacritic score of 85 (the Mendoza Line of metascore), the Wii manages 42, which is well below the 360's amount of games scoring 90 or higher. Incidentally, the number of 360 games scoring 85 or higher was too large for me to count by hand accurately, as I don't have any special software with which to mine this information.
   It was also discovered in 2009 that 37% of Wii games weren't even reviewed in the first half of the year, an increase from 25% the previous year. In comparison, 3% of Xbox 360 games went unreviewed during the same period, an increase from 0%. I never saw any follow-up on this, but I'd be fascinated to know the final percentage of the Wii library which was so irredeemable that it went un-reviewed. 37% is a large enough portion, and the upward trend was amusingly damning.
   Again: are these marks of success? Empirical evidence plainly shows how inferior the Wii library was to its contemporary competitors, by a huge margin. But why even limit the comparison to contemporaries? Here are the amounts of 90+ scores for every console for which Metacritic has data:

Xbox: 30
GameCube: 26
PlayStation 2: 58
Dreamcast: 13
Nintendo 64: 17
PlayStation: 29

   The only system the Wii beat was the Dreamcast, by one game. The DC was also discontinued two years after its US release, giving the Wii about five or six extra years to come up with that one-game lead. If the Wii's three ports are removed from the total, as well as the Dreamcast's one port, then the DC beats it 12 to 11. The Wii's library was historically bad, both in absolute and relative terms.

Accountability

I often lament that accountability is completely missing in gaming journalism. Game media outlets are free to act as cheerleaders for junk with almost no one ever remembering how boastfully mistaken they were. I doubt I'll ever forget that IGN explained to us that the Wii was going to revolutionize first-person shooters; I cannot find a single multi-platform FPS that didn't receive its lowest score on the Wii.
   Beyond that easily-observed disparity, the Wii's library was predictably full of "Wii" iterations of Nintendo franchises augmented by kid-crap and minigame collections. And Just Dance.
   Ultimately, the same was true for the Wii as it has been for all Nintendo machines. Nintendo machines exist to sell Nintendo games to children. People who like Nintendo always cry when this is brought to their attention; they also, invariably, reference Zelda's all-ages appeal, as if that somehow scrubs the stain of a library crowded with DreamWorks mini games. Nintendo recently stated it wasn't doing enough to sell to kids with the Wii U. I hope the FBI monitored this threat; if Nintendo "targeted" children any more than they do, they would be abducting them in vans.
   So now, the moronic coverage found in the games business is shifting to hand-wringing over how Nintendo could have fallen so hard from Providence:

   I have no desire to read all these articles, but I'm sure they're as wrong now as they were eight years ago. In fact, there's not much that could have been done to make game industry types more wrong about the prospects for the Wii. The Wii did not usher in a "Revolution" in gaming that saved the industry. The Wii did not bring a surge in quality or ignite the imaginations of a new audience.
   The Wii accumulated the absolute worst library of any major videogame console in history. It demonstrably, empirically has the most wretched, unplayable, unwanted, unsold roster of bargain bin fodder ever to be compiled for a major home game system. This was the exact opposite of every prediction made (besides here at SB). So now game journalists are catching up. Normal people won't forget that the Wii they bought for their children never got played. Those disinterested brats won't forget that they never wanted to play the thing after they turned 9. And with the Wii U, Nintendo wants to sell another under-powered machine to children too recently removed from the last Wii scam.
   What is the problem with the Wii U? People seem to have learned their lessons with the Wii.