Nintendo has consistently shown that they aren’t bound by conventional gaming wisdom or boundaries. Sometimes these innovations work in their favor (Wii), while others aren’t as popular (Virtual Boy, Wii U). I, for one, appreciate that they are constantly trying to innovate and change the industry they work within, while attempting to expand its boundaries. Why was the Wii so incredibly popular and successful in sales? Because Nintendo embraced the target audience: those who play little to no video games at all. Many families ended up purchasing the system due to its price – much cheaper than its rivals – and very casual-playing games (Wii Sports, Skylanders, etc). The motion controller set up also had something to do with its initial sales as well.
So, why has the Wii U been such a flop with almost every group in, and out, of the gaming industry? The short answer is focus. For the first 19 months of its life, Nintendo’s latest home console has gathered massive amounts of criticism from journalists, reviewers, gamers, and – in an inadvertent way – the crowd who bought a Wii (I consider their criticism to stem from lack of knowledge about the Wii U, and, therefore, not purchasing it). I was even a “Wii U hater” until last December, hoping the system would flop so Nintendo could make a “proper” gaming console.
Let’s look at two of Nintendo’s biggest commercial successes: the Wii and 3DS (I choose the 3DS because it didn’t begin as a success). Nintendo brought in an untapped market with the Wii. Non-gamers and those who casually played games (I do not like the term “casual gamer,” nor “hardcore gamer,” but rather just “gamer.” Therefore, those gamers who played games in a very casual, leisurely fashion) were drawn to the Wii because of innovative controls and games that anyone could get into. Nintendo didn’t exclude the advanced gamers completely (Mario Galaxy, DKC Returns, etc), but their main focus was on the entire family. Perhaps Johnny, and maybe even Sally played games, but mom and dad never did because they weren’t interested. The Wii brought the family together to, say, bowl by swinging the Wii remote like you would actually throw a bowling ball. Or maybe the young gamers wanted to play Skylanders, which is a very accessible game for parents to get involved with and play alongside their children; fun, colorful, and easy to play. This is why the Wii was so successful, despite any criticisms from advanced gamers.
How about the 3DS; why is the 3DS the best selling consoles of last generation consoles, especially since its opening months were very dismal? This is a twofold answer: first, we have to look at why it failed, and second, we look at why it turned into a success. The 3DS was very overpriced (not a normal business decision by Nintendo, as they always look for the most cost effective way to provide a console to the public), appeared to be extremely gimmicky (3D and gyroscopic controls), and didn’t provide anything really worth noting as far as software is concerned. Most people had a DS, so why spend so much money to get 3D? Nintendo didn’t target any one market, honestly, and the console was such a flop that many of Nintendo’s higher-ups took pay cuts in order to drop the price of the handheld system. There was no focus, and therefore, no direction in console utilization, as well as new software. However, Nintendo stuck with the handheld system and targeted another market, one that seems to be overpowering the home console industry in certain areas of the globe – namely Japan. The mobile gamer will casually play games, perhaps 10-15 minute at a time; usually while waiting at the doctor, passing time in-between classes at school, or perhaps enjoying a brief amount of gaming while on break at work. With the 3DS, you could play a genuine Nintendo console while being able to set it down after a short period of time. What this promised was quality software over the extensive amount of shovel-ware to be found on Google Play or the App Store. Once Nintendo focused on this group, the 3DS began to take off; once sales rose, Nintendo began making game that advanced players would want to play as well, such as Fire Emblem, Kid Icarus Uprising, Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon, Resident Evil: Revelations, and many others. Nintendo focused on quick, to the point gaming to attract the mobile gaming crowd. Also note that Nintendo has never truly had much competition in the handheld department, other than smart phones.
Both of these systems had focus: Wii on the entire family (non-gamers included), and 3DS on mobile gamers. It’s easy to see why the Wii U has flopped, as there has been absolutely no focus…until recently. Nintendo didn’t try to attract the Wii crowd, as most didn’t even realize the Wii U is a brand new system altogether. This, in addition to a bloated opening price, didn’t draw the Wii crowd. It didn’t appeal to advanced gamers, as we didn’t want another New Super Mario Bros as a launch title, or a game like Nintendo Land (not saying that either of those are bad games necessarily, but they weren’t what the advanced gaming market would find attractive). Nintendo’s console fell, and it fell very quickly, especially in the wake of the coming “next gen” PS4 and Xbox One. Many had written the Wii U off and expected Nintendo to cut its losses and discontinue it. The wind, however, has been changing directly lately…
My wife has played more games on our Wii U than she ever did on my Xbox 360 or Wii. She isn’t a gamer like me, but she does enjoy games in smaller doses. Both the GamePad (off TV play, and the possibilities to play in different ways) have impressed her, as well as the actual software as of late. She greatly enjoys Super Mario 3D World, whether playing by herself or with others (namely, me). Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze and Need for Speed Most Wanted U appeal to her as well. Mario Kart 8 is one of her absolute favorites, and I catch her playing it often. Whether she realizes it or not, the Wii U appeals to her and entices her to play, where other systems don’t. I have since begun to see many female gamers online playing various games (both downloadable and retail), as well as articles arising regarding women gamers and Nintendo, like this article from Emily Rogers.
It suddenly hit me that Nintendo has found their focus again. Though they create/welcome many games that I love as a 29 year old male gamer (like Fire Emblem, A Link Between Worlds, DKC: Tropical Freeze, Deus Ex Human Revolution: DC, Mario Kart 8, Wonderful 101, etc), I am not their main focus. Their focus seems to be shifting to women; not young girls, but rather, young adult women. I would say the age range would be from about 16 all the way to mid thirties or so. But you’ll probably ask, “Where’s the proof?” Let me explain…
Look at the build of the Wii U: the GamePad looks like a tablet and can utilize touch controls, a feature most people aren’t intimidated by these days. This gives access to, say, a young lady who perhaps never played console games before, but could easily become a pro with touch controls in a game, because it already makes sense and is familiar.
Did you notice anything about Treehouse at E3 this year? There were various female hosts, all very excited about the games they were displaying, who showed that women enjoy games as well. On top of this, they were all excellent hosts; they made me want the games they were talking about.
How about the software, especially upcoming software? Upcoming games may appeal to both advanced women gamers as well as those who don’t play often, if at all. Hyrule Warriors features a hefty cast of female characters who kick butt. Bayonetta 1 and 2 gives us a female lead protagonist who is all kinds of independent and capable. When I visited my local Best Buy for Smash Fest, I noticed many young women who waited in line for hours to play the game for a couple minutes – I was able to briefly interview one after her group had played, and she had a very “advanced gamer” response. Or what about Splatoon, which has a female protagonist as its poster child, as well as the core team from the latest Animal Crossing game on 3DS – a game that I’ve found to be very appealing to both male and female gamers. Toad’s Treasure Tracker, Yoshi’s Wooly World, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse will, most assuredly, appeal to various groups, which includes female gamers. Add in games like Wii Sports Club, Mario Party 10, and Wii Party U, and it seems very clear Nintendo has focus again; women gamers, both advanced and non-gamers alike.
This is a very good thing. When Nintendo has focus, good things tend to follow for everyone. If Nintendo can capture this semi-untapped market, and perhaps in turn bring back the entire family to purchase a Wii U (I mean, it can play Wii games as well and uses the Wii remotes still, right?), I have a feeling they will be back in the race for overall hardware sales. Wii U sales have been picking back up, namely due to Mario Kart 8, and they have been genuinely getting back up from their initial fall with the Wii U. Can Nintendo pull it off? I think they can, and even some like Peter Molyneaux has mentioned not to underestimate Nintendo. I say bring on the strong female characters in games, games that appeal to a large group of consumers, and more female gamers to share the joy of Nintendo with.