Could Nintendo Salvage the Wii U by Ditching the Gamepad?

The Wii U has, thus far, been nothing short of a disaster for Nintendo (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) . After selling the majority of its launch stock in the holiday season of 2012, sales of the console have slowed to a trickle, and its prospects moving forward are grim. Major third party publishers have withdrawn meaningful support, the system is struggling with brand and identity issues, it has been dropped from a number of European retailers, and compelling software has not been released steadily enough to capture consumer interest.

Furthermore, the feature that was used to champion the system, that being its bulky "Gamepad" controller, seems to inspire none of the imagination and appeal of the Wii's motion gaming. Now that Nintendo has decided to strip the 3D features of its 3DS handheld from its newest iteration, the 2DS, could the company take a similar course of action and drop the Gamepad in an attempt to save the Wii U?

Identity crisis
The Wii U's problems are manifold. A substantial number of consumers still believe that the system is simply an add-on to the Wii console, rather than entirely new hardware that represents Nintendo's first foray into HD output. This problem can be traced back to the system's 2011 unveiling at the E3 expo. After Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime had explained to the conference crowd why "Wii U" was the perfect name for the company's new hardware, the screen behind him displayed the new Gamepad controller and a promo real began to run.

This video showed the Wii U, but because it looked so similar to the existing Wii console and because the box received such little focus in comparison to the new controller, many thought a new peripheral was being unveiled rather than a new system. CNN published an article proclaiming the Gamepad to be the new controller for the aging Wii system. Fils-Aime stated in interviews that the appearance of the Wii U system casing was near irrelevant, almost proudly claiming that it was "just a box." The rest is history.

Deadweight controller or dead system?
As of most recent reports, the Wii U still sells at a loss for Nintendo thanks to the expensive technology used in the Gamepad. This will likely be the case for the near future, as the MSRP for Wii U has dropped to $299 for an SKU that includes the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. This undoubtedly improves the system's value proposition, though likely not enough with looming console releases from Microsoft  (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) and Sony  (NYSE: SNE  ) . In order for the Wii U to have a chance at relevance this holiday, it needed a substantial price cut that Nintendo was not in a position to offer.

If Nintendo were to drop the Gamepad and ship an SKU at $199 or even $150, something it could conceivably do given the level of tech in the box, it could improve its market share and build a sustainable audience for its first party software. As it stands, the Wii U's current price point places it squarely in the middle, competing against $199 Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s that offer superior lineups and the $399 PlayStation 4 and $499 Xbox One, which offer superior tech, networks, and media features.

The Gamepad as a paywall
The Wii U's strongest asset is Nintendo games, not the Gamepad controller, and certainly not naming and aesthetic similarities to the dead Wii console. The focus on the Wii U's controller and the resultant high price point are preventing consumers from enjoying the console's strengths. Shipping an SKU without the Gamepad would create certain problems, however. Software that requires the controller would need to be patched in order to function, and these compatibility issues would create headaches and additional confusion for retailers. That said, it would give Nintendo an opportunity to rebrand the system, recoup R&D costs, and put the focus back where it belongs: games.

Stolen thunder and deafening silence
The launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One means that there is not much excitement surrounding the Wii U. The systems are releasing with third party support that dwarfs, in quality and scale, what the Wii U has received in its first year on the market. When development for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 finally dries up, publishers will no longer have the incentive to port titles to the Wii U's similar hardware specs. It simply isn't possible to compete in the console hardware space without meaningful third party support.

What's black and white and irrelevant all over?
Nintendo needs to do something and they need to do it fast. The company cannot afford being pushed out of the console gaming space. It cannot rush out a successor because it would likely face many of the same problems and because Nintendo has committed itself to substantial operating profits. It also cannot afford another 3-4 years of an irrelevant Wii U. Ditching the Gamepad could be company's best shot at saving face.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 11:45 AM, gamer4lyfe wrote:

    This article is completely irrelevant. The whole point of wii u controller and console was to be different from the other platforms. Innovation is key to Nintendo's success vs X1 AND PS4. Both the X1 & PS4 will be almost identical in games and performance. Why would Nintendo risk everything just to be like the others? Lack of marketing and software is the Wii U's problem not the gamepad itself. Most Wii U owners love the gamepad. Not to meantion the features of the pad itself. CoOp without split screen, 5 player gaming on one console genious. Nintendo started local multiplayer gaming and it looks like its the only console supporting it as well. PS4 & X1 owners open your wallet, you have to pay to play..

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 11:47 AM, MrClarenceCat wrote:

    I have never used the WiiU but I would have to guess that 90% of the gaming functions and system operation functions are tied to the gamepad controller.

    So yes you could sell a gamepad-less WiiU - but I am guessing that you could only play maybe 20% of the games.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 11:52 AM, MotleyFoolU wrote:

    "The Wii U's problems are manifold" What does this mean? Maybe multifold?

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 11:57 AM, gamer4lyfe wrote:

    Incorrect, Wii U offers the gamepad as an option. With that option you have access to great features. You can play the Wii U with its pro controller which is great for first person shooters,racing games etc. Or even use the wiimote plus for physical gaming. This is Nintend's problem they have failed to explain the difference in the Wii vs Wii U. Now they are trying to make up loss ground and its ugly..

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 12:02 PM, bubkusjones wrote:

    The Wii U's "problems" are that it's not trying to be a PS4 or Xbox 1 (or even a 360/PS3).

    Guys like this complained about the Wii's motion controller and said they should ditch it for a more "traditional" controller, only for Microsoft and Sony to put out their own versions when they realized enough people actually liked it.

    Now, Nintendo's got the screen controller, and I'm not sure about Microsoft, but Sony's working the Vita to fulfill a similar purpose with the PS4 (I think they were working on a version for the PS3 before).

    I don't care much for Microsoft's or Sony's offerings. It's just the same old crap for the last decade, just with MORE POWER!!!!!!!

    Nintendo has always offered the more entertaining systems for me.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 12:08 PM, GuitarJim wrote:

    "...and a promo real began to run"

    It's "promo REEL", having it's origins in reels of motion picture film.

    "...ship an SKU at $199..."

    This error is repeated several times. "SKU" is not just a set of initials. It's an acronym for "stock-keeping unit", and is almost always spoken as a pronouncable word; i.e., "skew". Therefore, it would be correct to say "a SKU" and not "an SKU".

    As far as the subject of the article, the only thing that makes the Wii U relevant at all is it's controller. Eliminate the controller and the Wii U becomes completely irrelevant. Sales will virtually cease. Nintendo dropped the ball on this one. They need to bury the Wii U, just as they did with the Power Glove and Virtual Boy, and move on.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 12:18 PM, ucolom wrote:

    "incorrect, Wii U offers the gamepad as an option"

    You can only buy the Wii U with the gamepad therefore you have no option. Nintendo has had an entire year and has failed to offer a compelling reason why anyone should give a damn about this system and it's second screen controller.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 12:45 PM, MrPhillinois wrote:

    "Incorrect, Wii U offers the gamepad as an option. With that option you have access to great features. You can play the Wii U with its pro controller which is great for first person shooters,racing games etc."

    The first sentence couldn't be more wrong. It's quite apparent that you haven't even played the WiiU.

    The gamepad is not an option. Sure, you can play with the pro controller, but the gamepad has to be on at all times for the WiiU to run. For example, if you're playing CoD and want to use the pro controller (which is a poorly laid out mess), you still have to have the gamepad on to be able to actually play the game.

    The gamepad is NOT an option, it's mandatory for the WiiU to operate. I think, therein lies the problem. Sometimes, people don't necessarily want to use the gamepad, but they are being forced to.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 1:39 PM, gamer4lyfe wrote:

    "You can only buy the Wii U with the gamepad therefore you have no option. Nintendo has had an entire year and has failed to offer a compelling reason why anyone should give a damn about this system and it's second screen controller"

    We were discussing gaming function options, not hardware... Which means the gamepad is NOT required in playing Wii U games.. Please read before commenting..

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 1:41 PM, gamer4lyfe wrote:

    Yes the gamepad will be powered on, but your are NOT reqiured to play with the gamepad controller... Maybe thats easier to understand..

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 2:04 PM, YouYou416 wrote:

    It's pretty obvious that the Japanese have no clue what the hell they are doing now. They have screwed up the Wii U, and Square-Enix has destroyed the Final Fantasy brand....

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 2:53 PM, Barnabas84 wrote:

    Ummmm, in 2011 the Motley Fool published this article (http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2011/07/29/game-over-f... which talked about how Nintendo was "done" after a slow start to 3DS sales.

    Of course, the 3DS has since gone on to crush the competition and do quite well, so I'm not sure that this publication has any credibility on the matter.

    It is true that the Wii U has had a slow start, but just like the 3DS, a heavy stream of titles will be appearing in the next few months. If Super Mario 3D, Smash Bros, and Mario Kart 8 don't move THEN the game is up.

    But for Motley Fool to be so blind to Nintendo's history, and to have been proven so spectacularly and utterly wrong about the 3DS, makes the argument in this article laughable.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 5:18 PM, stefanog1 wrote:

    Maybe Nintendo should make an update so you could access the WiiU using the Wiimote or Pro Controller... But no the Gamepad is the main selling point of the WiiU (and Virtual Console) that makes the WiiU unique. Nintendo just needs advertisement. Thats it!

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 6:52 PM, ucolom wrote:

    Thank you MrPhillinois, you are correct.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2013, at 6:58 PM, ucolom wrote:

    The only thing that makes a console relevant is quality games not a controller and Nintendo has done a poor job of it thus far.

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2013, at 5:12 AM, bmprsvz777 wrote:

    This article was written by someone who never used Wii or Wii U and knows nothing about it. Wii U without a gamepad would be just like a bike without wheels. I am a consumer and I like Wii U, it's great product, I like gamepad, I like off TV feature. The reason why this great product failed was wrong timing, wrong pricing, wrong marketing and lack of advertising. If there was big TV screen in every TESCO with Pikmin 3 or Rayman legends people will notice... Another problem is lack of software, supposedly there are 52 Wii U games out there on the market, but you just can't see them in shops!!!

    I live in CAPITAL OF EUROPEAN UNION and there are no games for Wii U in shops!!! It took me weeks to find Pikmin 3 and they had ONE SINGLE DVD!!!

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2013, at 11:32 AM, MarshWaha9871 wrote:

    While I think its not the best idea to ditch the Gamepad, on one hand if thats what Nintendo has to do to save the Wii U I think that instead of offering the GamePad with the Wii U Bundle they should offer it, individually and let consumers decide for themselves if they want to buy the Gamepad or not. But on the hand, the gamepad is really what makes the Wii U a better system then the Wii, as the saying goes, "Don't judge a book by it's cover." But Don't judge based off what you see until you have tried it for yourself.

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2013, at 9:12 AM, typicalguy wrote:

    The Wii U is dead. The GameCube sold only 20 million consoles during it's life. The Wii U's current install base is 1/2 the number that the GameCube had sold at this point in it's life. At the rate the Wii U is selling, it's on track to sell 10 million consoles during it's entire life. That's a failure by anyone's definition.

    To make matters worse, the Gamepad is NOT going to be sold as an optional accessory and it drives up cost to the point it can't compete. The Xbox One and PS4 are coming out of the gates with revenue positive consoles while the Wii U was a loss leader at launch and has remained so ever since. In fact it's so bad, it was still losing money when they lowered the price another $50. That means that next year when the Xbox One is expected to have a Kinect-less SKU for $350 or $400 and the PS4 drops it's price to $300 or $350, Nintendo won't be able to lower the Wii U's price.

    The Wii U is unprofitable and not enough people want it. Nintendo can't lower price any more to increase demand and Nintendo can't sell enough software to break even on software development costs. The Wii U is not only doomed for failure, it's bound to be aborted within the next 2 years. It will last 3 more years at most.

  • Report this Comment On October 02, 2013, at 7:35 PM, JoeMica2013 wrote:

    "This article was written by someone who never used Wii or Wii U and knows nothing about it. Wii U without a gamepad would be just like a bike without wheels. I am a consumer and I like Wii U, it's great product, I like gamepad, I like off TV feature."

    No. It is like Harly Davidson mandating the purchase of sidecar with their bikes. More so, requiring that the sidecar be on and present whenever using the bike even if the sidecar is empty as you coast down the highway. More so, they aren't allowing you to attach two sidecars or daisychain three or four together. One bike - one sidecar - zero exceptions.

    Now, I'm an adult and own my own TV. Maybe you like letting Mom watch her soaps while you ride in the sidecar, but that's not why I buy a CONSOLE gaming system. I don't want a gameboy or whatever it is you call it. I'm a grown man with a TV!

    All Nintendo had to do was support hi-def TVs (1080, 720) and remaster their lineup. What makes Nintendo special is their lineup: Zelda. Sure they have Mario and Metroid but for me, it is all about running around with Link trying to save Zelda. I also like their Wii motion sport games and little Miiverse games like Wii Resort. I would buy those. I would buy a refresh to Wii Fit too. Just rehash the old stuff. I'll buy it. Save the Gamepad for a delux box set or as an add on.

    This is all the system needed to do

    1) support HD TVs

    2) refresh the lineup

    3) continue its brand games (Zelda, Mario, Metroid)

    I can live with the disgust of buying the Gamepad, but the disgust of keeping it plugged in and using it for a couple minutes like an oversized remote until I get a PRO CONTROLLER (even the name tells you *this* is the controller non-mamaboys want in their hands), is an affront.

    Take my money - I got more. Please don't waste my time with the Gamepad. If I buy it, I want it kept off and out of the way. Do this for the 2014 Zelda game, and Nintendo will have my business again. In the meantime, I just bought a PS3 12GB and upgraded with a 128GB SSD and am enjoying the PSN version of GTA5. Wicked fast, wicked cool. It is on my BIG TV, not a tiny gameboy screen.

  • Report this Comment On October 15, 2013, at 2:30 PM, TelsaRowe wrote:

    Nintendo has zero future in global consoles anymore. What they have is IP and they should open that up to the mobile market and Sony/Microsoft consoles. This would allow a massive windfall and enough capital to go back and design an incredible console and a Nintendo cell phone (kudos for a mini flip out Nintendo controller). Hell, bundle the cell phone with the Console.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 2:33 PM, stormleadr wrote:

    Everyone makes some good points here, I have been playing games since way back to the Atari days. When 3D games came out it was on the PC first. Ever since then PC Games have blown away Consoles of all makes and models, software wise, mods, and online, including advances of hardware for which NO console can be upgraded. Unless you fork out the big bucks for an entire new system ( when manufacture decides to come out with it ) in which their GPU's are already outdated before the consoles hit the shelves.....sorry reality sucks. I love when my console friends come over and see the PC version of their games and state Holly S**T that is way better graphics and immersion then my console version.

    That being said I now have 2 little ones, I started my 2 yr old on an Nintendo 64 emulator on the PC and he is a Super Mario fan plus Donkey Kong and the rest of the Nintendo gang. I wanted games for my kids they could play together all while keeping it to Cartoon violence between characters. Super mario and Luigi U, Mario 3D world, and Mario Kart 8. Now when my kids get a little older I will switch them over to the PC with HD graphics to get their Crysis, Battel Field 4 and like first person shooters with 3D immersive worlds, and wean them off the insanity of console craze.

    As for the Gamepad, I love the mere fact you can switch the game off my TV and onto the handheld for my kids. It's the same love a parent has for Back seat car video players to occupy the rug rats.

    Nintendo hats off to a creative and unique Gaming system will it succeed or fail only time will tell. But as for now your system meets my and my kids needs....Kudos

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