Wednesday, August 22, 2012

[EDITORIAL] What Nintendo Needs to Do With the Wii U


The Next Big Innovation?
What you're witnessing is the first part of a planned five for a mass-editorial I will be publishing, focusing on Nintendo, the Wii U, and just how plausible its success really is, leading up to the conference they're holding on September 13. History has shown that Nintendo loves September announcements for pricing/availability for their upcoming systems, so expect this day to be the day we learn how much of a hit our credit cards are to take.

May we look at Nintendo's competitors - or their own history - as inspiration for the Wii U's success? What about where they look for inspiration? What proof do we currently have that the Wii U may, or may not, be successful?

It's coming. It's inevitable. We stand on the precipice of a new generation's step forward into the spotlight. Nintendo is ushering in the eighth generation at the end of this year, and with it brings another flurry of criticisms and skepticisms. We saw it when Nintendo showed off the Wii's controller, unveiled the system as the 'Wii', and when they laid out technical specs on the system; just Google around for it, and you'll see it around the internet. Hell, it even happened with the GameCube (what with it's purple lunchbox attire) and the Nintendo 64 with it's cartridge-based games; Nintendo always receives criticism when a new system comes out.

When Nintendo first showed us the (then named) Revolution's controller, I, myself, was taken aback. It was a radical approach to a growing problem: lack of innovation. Nintendo broke conventional means of controller design they themselves created in the mid-80s, and every other console manufacturer stuck to since. Nintendo gave us some fine examples of what the controller could do, what with the pointer acting as an excellent approach to first-person games, or the accelerometers acting as their own method of input; Nintendo was ready to reinvent, or out-right create, new genres. The most ludicrous - or, dare I say, crazy - part about the entire endeavor? They knew people would buy it, and ended up ushering in the fitness craze in video games with their own Wii Fit, and others followed suit. The (purely) motion controlled games such as the pack-in Wii Sports - where there was minimal button pressing, and actually acting out what you wanted to do - was groundbreaking at the time; Nintendo is constantly seen as a key innovator in this field.

Six years later, Nintendo is in full pre-production of the Wii U, getting it's brand new system geared up for the holiday release. The Wii proved successful, because it hadn't been done before. One factor Nintendo is banking on to encourage customers to buy into their name all over again is the backwards compatibility. Not with just the games, but with every accessory made for the Wii, including games, downloaded or not; Nintendo could easily market this as "buy the new system, keep all of your old shit". The Wii U, on the other hand, is building off of two things: the established success of the Wii by keeping the name - falling victim to "sequelitis", much like the Xbox and PlayStation - and the booming success of the tablet craze Apple ushered in with the iPad.

Yes, I'm saying it: Nintendo is looking to Apple for ideas.

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"Just hanging out in the afterlife,
waiting to slap down a patent 
infringement..."
Apple brought forth tablet computing to crazed masses - I am a huge detractor to tablets - and it blew up like Dig Dug got a hold of it. Prior to the iPad, Apple wasn't in it for gaming; they marketed the iPod touch as an "iPhone without the phone", and people ate that shit up. When Apple realized Jay Freeman was on to something with Cydia, they brought in the App Store, and, unbeknownst to them, they created their own gaming handheld. iDevices eventually became the house for casual gaming, and Apple was able to score big names to make games exclusive to it; Infinity Blade ring a bell? It is with this that Nintendo took yet another page from Apple's success (for more examples, just look at their hardware design from the DS lite onwards), and crafted the GamePad tablet controller for the Wii U.

Some may call it an enlarged Vita, others say it's the iPad on crack. The Vita has been dubbed as a cross-over between dedicated gaming handhelds and tablets (I saw this myself when I worked in a Best Buy store just prior to launch). The GamePad, regardless of how you look at it, plans to bridge users stuck in the tablet craze with traditional gaming systems, hopefully to bring them back to the good side.

The audience is there, but how successful will Nintendo be at capturing it?

* * *

Over the past 15-20 years, we've seen Nintendo going further and further with their designs, doing things that others will end up taking cues from. Prime example: Sony. Since their fallout with Nintendo after the ill-fated Play Station (not to be confused with the PlayStation), Sony has taken their design inspirations from Nintendo. Look at the original PlayStation Controller (predecessor to the DualShock); it's nothing more than a Super Nintendo controller with handles and L2/R2 buttons. Then, the Rumble Pak made it's way from N64 accessory to built-in to every goddamned controller ever made since then. Finally, the biggest (blatant) rip-off from Sony's camp is the PlayStation Move controllers; these are nothing more than Wii controllers in black with a Bingo blotter on top. Sadly, despite being more accurate, the Move controllers haven't picked up like Sony has wanted; it's never a good thing when you only report units shipped instead of sold.

Compare this to Microsoft's runaway hit, the Kinect. It set the Guinness World Record for "fastest selling consumer electronics device", pushing 10 million units within 5 months, 8 million within the first 2; that's the definition of crack if I ever saw it in video game form. Microsoft could very well be the best example of "making it big" in a market (that being the motion gaming field) that already has proven dominance. With Microsoft's own success with the Kinect, can this be the proof we need that Nintendo can be successful with the Wii U and, more importantly, the GamePad?

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Even with proven success, just how well can this old dog really do in the next generation? Can the Wii U, what with it just now implementing modern entertainment staples such as HDMI and - at the very least - 720p, be enough for Nintendo? What about the Nintendo Network, Nintendo's answer to the Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network digital platforms? And will this one-year head start they'll have on Microsoft and Sony work in their favor? Come back Monday evening for part two to find out.