You have to wonder what was going through Nintendo’s mind when they did their Wii U autopsy. “How did we go from the best selling console ever of the mega hit Wii to the absolute and total disaster of the Wii U?” I wish I was a fly on the wall in the Nintendo Board Room when they debated this subject. The Wii U had the Wii branding, all the sequels to the Wii’s biggest games, it had Game Industry games and AAA ports, so why didn’t the Wii U take off?
When it comes to the ‘why’ of game console sales, you do not look at just the prior console. You look at ALL consoles as they share common themes. Why did the Atari 2600 sell? Why did the NES sell? Why did the Gameboy sell? Why did the DS sell?
When the Wii was designed, Nintendo looked to the NES for inspiration. The Wii-mote was like the NES controller. Wii Sports Golf used the NES Golf courses.
I think the problem with the Wii U was that Nintendo made the incorrect interpretation as to why the Wii sold so well. There were alternative theories, and this site believed in another one.
In Malstrom’s view, the DS warmed up the market for the Wii. So what did the DS do? When the DS exploded in sales, the hardware had become the DS Lite and games like NSMB DS and Mario Kart DS came out. This was the first new 2d Mario game in 16 years! Who does 2d Mario appeal to? 2d Mario appealed to the 8-bit and 16-bit generation as well as the kids who grew up on 2d Mario portable ports on the Gameboy and Gameboy Advance. We know Nintendo was stunned by the NSMB DS numbers. Miyamoto was stunned.
The reason why the Wii was so hot so fast was, one, the 2006 economy, and two, the masses that showed up at Wii at first were not the Gamecube fans or the grandma ‘expanded audience’. It was the former gamers. It was those who hadn’t bought a game console in a long while. It was former Nintendo fans who jumped back in. Zelda would appeal to them due to them having Zelda roots. The Wii-mote created a type of arcade gameplay which had been sorely missing. The Virtual Console was also a draw to them too. The other big Wii games that exploded the hardware were games like Wii Fit (reminiscent of the Power Pad in ways), NSMB Wii, and Mario Kart Wii. While the non-gamers may like those, the former gamer crowd all dug those games too.
The steep drop in launch momentum for the 3DS and Wii U can largely be attributed to alienating the former gamer audience. They do not care for ‘omg 3d’ in their handheld. NSMB U seems like Nintendo didn’t understand 2d Mario and thought it was nothing but ‘level design’. The flavor and adventure of the 2d Mario was lost and seemed generic.
Kohler wrote a piece saying that Nintendo’s launch games point to an aiming at these former Nintendo gamers. It’s similar to what you’ve read here. Look at where Nintendo spent money:
Super Bomberman R (for whom is this game for? Not the modern gamer or non-gamer)
Online multiplayer with Virtual Console games (who is this aimed for?)
Then you have third party games from JRPGs to an edition of Street Fighter 2 and Sonic. What is with the 1980s and 1990s type games? What is Nintendo doing?
I do not think Nintendo’s entire generational strategy is centered around these former gamers. But I do think Nintendo has studied why the DS took off, why the Wii launched big, and why the 3DS and Wii U sputtered out of the games. Their conclusion is that they need these former gamers to buy the system at launch in order to start off with good momentum.
All the game media has talked themselves into a hardcore/non-gamer binary that they have missed the former gamers and not much has been spoken about them. What are the former gamers up to? What did Malstrom do for Generation 8? He didn’t buy a Xbox or PlayStation. He bought more vintage consoles and got into the very expensive Turbografx 16.
Above: A perfect target for the Switch launch game: Super Bomberman R
Guys like Lord Karnage are the target for Nintendo’s launch. Here he is loving Bomberman (this review was just put up days ago). He won’t even bother with AAA games because he knows they are just production values and marketing wrapped together with no staying power.
Nintendo HAD to look at the vintage gaming market (for market research when making the NES Mini of course). What they found must have shocked them. There was an unserved gaming market who was spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on old consoles and games.
I am friends with the owner of one of the biggest retro game entrepreneurs (he has multiple stores!) throughout the Houston area (Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States). So I hear all about what the market is doing and where it is going. He is getting filthy rich selling these old games. He is like my drug dealer where he gets me special deals on certain hard to find hardware. He is where I got my Turbografx 16 from.
These former gamers are older (35+), and they have disposable money waiting to splurge on games. If they are bachelors, they buy vintage games. If they are married, they still buy the vintage games (for their kids, you see. Yeah.).
Look at the NES Mini. Fils-Aime says it was originally targeted for that 8-bit generation. But it is still sold out! The demand was far greater than Nintendo imagined! Fils-Aime says that Nintendo didn’t imagine that other generations would want to buy the NES Mini too. Nintendo’s Switch line up plans were already set then. No wonder Reggie is in a good mood.
Games like NSMB appeal not just to the 8-bit generation, they appealed to kids as well. Great games remain great. Why shouldn’t a kid enjoy a NES Mini? It’s better than that AAA infested trap of other consoles.
Nintendo seems to be targeting the former gamers to spearhead momentum. What is very interesting to me is that the so-called ‘1990s style’ games the Switch has are also multiplayer giants. Bomberman. Street Fighter 2. Even Tetris. Nintendo is going to spend money to make Virtual Console games multiplayer online. This signals to me that Nintendo wants the former gamers to spearhead Nintendo’s Online Service too. Keep in mind the market segment that has the most money are the former gamers as they are older and OBSESSED with gaming (why else are they buying all these vintage consoles with $400 framemeisters?).
Above: The original Nintendo gamers.
The original Nintendo gamers were the ones who spearheaded Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, the NES, Gameboy, and even dropped by for the DS and Wii. In Nintendo’s darkest days, they have called on them again to spearhead the Switch and Nintendo’s online. We’ll be there.