The Inside Story on the Making of Nintendo’s Wii U
Judging by the lines at Nintendo’s E3 booth, Nintendo’s Wii U is a hit, but the system could have been a lot different if Nintendo had listened to its inner demons. Global President Satoru Iwata says the idea of a two-screen, video game system was something the company went back and forth on—and didn’t finalize until nearly a year and a half into the development process.
Work on the Wii U began in 2008—one year after the Wii hit retail shelves and began to take over the videogame industry. But there was much internal debate before the schematics were finalized.
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Hardcore gamers tend not to like gimmicky approaches like the original Wii or the Wii U, especially when the entire console is built around it, but think Nintendo has a hit on their hands here?
Having followed all of E3:
The problem Nintendo have is they have many, many issues.
- It’s going to cost, a lot. Even though they’ve kept that controller, that 6” touch screen plus normal controls controller, as cheap as possible (at least I hope so - more on that below), estimates put it in the £300 mark, easy. It might not seem a lot, but a Wii right now is £130 and doesn’t sell. The hardware, sadly, isn’t enough right now to justify the added cost, and many people already have what they want in the Wii. The hardcore, well, they don’t want one anyway.
- That controller. It’s got a 3-5 hour battery life, takes 2 1/2 hours to charge, and is a resistive single input screen. Great for stylus control, awful for anything needing more than one finger at a time - like, say, Cut the Rope, or indeed 90% of mobile apps. So, they won’t be getting ported. Plus, it’s bulky.
- It also makes that player a pariah. Nintendo are selling this as “asynchronous multiplayer”, ie one player works different to the others. In reality, in a few examples given, it plain doesn’t look fun to be the player lumbered with it.
- It, again, lacks major third party support. EA are contributing one game - a port of Mass Effect 3 - and Activision are utterly ignoring the system. Ubisoft, as ever, have a lot of announced games - but many look generic, with only one real standout - Zombi U, an oddly hardcore game.
- Actual in game comparison footage between 360/PS3 and WiiU versions of Batman Arkham City show that the system is, well, not very powerful at all, despite being supposedly better than either. Textures look blurry, there’s a ton of screen tear… it just doesn’t bode well for the graphical power of it.
- The biggest reason the hardcore don’t care is they know that Microsoft and Sony are releasing their next generation machines next year. If the rumours are true, they’ll be significantly more powerful than WiiU, which is barely matching the current generation.
- Of all the years to release, this is the worst. People are financially squeezed in the big 3 console markets - US, Japan, UK - and won’t be willing to spend without tangible difference. Look at the lukewarm reaction to 3DS at launch (buoyed only by a massive price cut) and the Vita’s awful sales (it’s selling less than its predecessor the PSP in Japan week on week) for evidence people just don’t want gaming hardware right now.
Overall, they have a perfect storm: an expensive gimmicky machine that’s indistinguishable from its far cheaper contemporaries.