The Wrong Time And Place: Why Wii Was Nintendo’s Biggest Failure
It's curious the products that swing between highs and lows. Some have so much initial success that competitors race to rip it off. While other products are so disregarded at first, only to come back big later. It's funny how timing can lead to disingenuous results, catapulting a company off course.
With Nintendo reporting such terrible sales of the Wii U in January and February, you can't help but wonder if the Wii really scratched the average person's itch for gaming or if it hit the market at just the right time. Nintendo stated early on that the Wii was a blue ocean move, meaning, with this product they were hanging a hard left and sailing to a place where motion control was king and there weren't any sharks for miles. Everything about the Wii – including its name – was a bold move when the company first announced the console, and it paid off. You could barely get your hands on one for months and months after it was released, by all accounts the Wii was a blockbuster hit. At the time you'd be hard pressed to find someone calling it a failure, even looking back, few would use that word to describe the iconic white box.
To continue the movie metaphors, of course Nintendo was going to follow up with a sequel rather than a completely new franchise, but they shouldn't have. The company let past success dictate future moves rather than fully assessing the market they would be releasing a new product into. Obviously Nintendo saw tablets and similar devices coming or they would't have put a massive one at the center of their gaming experience. The fault was that they desperately wanted to recreate the Wii's success, rather than pull another blue ocean move.
A bolder move than the Wii U would have been to completely flip the tables and infiltrate the cellphone gaming market. Partnering with Apple or Samsung, or both, they could have had the upper hand to dictate lucrative terms and potentially get their franchise games onto every handset being sold.
Who says that once you're a hardware company you have to always stay a hardware company? Who says that you can't switch back and forth over time as the circumstances arise. It's still early for Mircosoft as a computer manufacture, but they needed to “grease” the windows tablet market and so they're building the Surface. Barnes and Noble needed a compelling way to transition into the digital age and the Nook was born. Microsoft won't necessarily always be a computer hardware company from here on out. If OEMs can build compelling devices and push the sales of Microsoft's software, I have no doubt they'll exit that hardware business. The better follow up to the Wii would have been if Nintendo transitioned itself into more of a software company willing to become ubiquitous on different platforms.
Maybe it's the desire for official Nintendo games to come to iOS and Android that's coloring my opinions, but it seems like the writing is on the wall for some form of mobile gaming to eventually and completely push consoles to the side. At that time, software will be all Nintendo has left to cling to and they'll be forced to make choices that aren't their own, on terms that aren't as favorable as once could have been.
Make no mistake, the Wii was a big deal, so big in fact that it likely clouded Nintendo's judgement on their future.