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Nintendo Should Focus on These 3 Big Problems in 2014

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Sales of Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) Wii U have slightly accelerated since September, hitting lifetime sales of 5.05 million units, according to the latest sales data from VGchartz.

This keeps Nintendo's underdog eighth generation console ahead of Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) PS4 and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Xbox One, which have respectively sold 3.35 million and 2.47 million units since their market debuts in November.

Of course, the Wii U arrived a year earlier, and it could only be a matter of time before it is eclipsed by Sony and Microsoft's newer consoles.

Nintendo's divisive Wii U. Source: Wikimedia.

To attract more gamers, Nintendo slashed the price of its deluxe 32GB Wii U from $349.99 to $299.99 back in September. There have also been recent reports of European retailers unloading the Wii U at $135 each.

This strategy bought it some time at the expense of margins, but Nintendo will have to make a lot of right moves in the coming year to remain relevant as an eighth generation contender.

In other words, 2014 could be the year that will make or break Nintendo -- so let's take a look at three top problems Nintendo should focus on to keep the Wii U alive.

1. More innovation, less gimmicks

One of the biggest problems with Nintendo is how it continually confuses innovation with gimmicks.

The original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was innovative because it perfected the D-Pad and streamlined the quality control model for video games. Its successor, the 16-bit Super NES, succeeded because it offered better graphics and sound than its primary competitor, the Sega Genesis.

The Super NES: Plenty of power, less gimmicks. Source: Wikimedia.

When the N64 was crushed by the Sony Playstation during the fifth generation, however, Nintendo's philosophy changed. Still identifying itself as an innovator, rather than a follower, Nintendo drastically altered its hardware designs to simply be different from Sony. The N64's successor, the GameCube, notably used smaller discs and a clumsily designed, radically different controller.

Nintendo might have given up on intentionally doing everything differently if it weren't for the success of the Wii, which sold over 100 million units thanks to its innovative motion controls.

While the Wii was a huge leap forward for gaming, it fueled Nintendo's obsession with piling on hit and miss "innovations".

It added a touch screen, a second screen, and a microphone to the Game Boy to create the Nintendo DS. It then upgraded the DS with an autostereoscopic 3D screen to create the 3DS family. With the Wii U, it added a clumsy "second screen" feature that allowed gamers to continue playing on their personal screen while the TV was turned off.

While all of these added features made its consoles unique, Nintendo ignored two huge problems -- that its hardware wasn't as powerful as its rivals, and the non-standard visual/control schemes (3D, touch screens, microphones, motion controls) made it increasingly difficult to port over popular titles.

Those two factors caused many developers to ignore Nintendo's consoles altogether.

2. Nintendo's need for "killer" games

Hirokazu Hamamura, the president of Enterbrain (the parent company of gaming magazine Famitsu), recently stated what Nintendo faithful have known for years -- that Nintendo needs some "killer games" to succeed against its rival consoles.

Nintendo, for the most part, has done the heavy lifting in software by itself since many of its former third-party developers teamed up with Sony when it stuck with the cartridge format for the N64 while the rest of the video game world went with CDs in 1996.

Since then, Nintendo's top-selling titles have been dominated by its flagship cast of characters -- Mario, Luigi, Link, Donkey Kong, and Samus -- and not much else. The list of upcoming Wii U games for 2014 doesn't inspire much confidence, either.

Can these guys continue carrying Nintendo on their own? Source: Nintendo.

But just what "killer games" could be developed for the Wii U that could keep it relevant as PS4 and Xbox One sales slowly catch up?

Nintendo's recently announced crossover title with Tecmo Koei, Hyrule Warriors, combines the beloved characters of The Legend of Zelda with Dynasty Warriors hack and slash gameplay. In a previous article, I noted that these kind of crossover titles could win back some third-party developers, who would be willing to cash in on the popularity of Mario, Link, and Samus with fresh takes on the classic characters.

Moreover, the Wii U hasn't been completely abandoned by leading U.S. publishers yet. Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) Call of Duty: Ghosts and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 4 have both been released for the Wii U.

However, Take Two (NASDAQ: TTWO  ) has no plans to release Grand Theft Auto V for the Wii U, and Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA  ) has stated that it doesn't plan to support the console at all, citing its lack of focus on online multiplayer games.

To win over more publishers, Nintendo needs to focus on two things -- improving its online multiplayer options (with a free or subscription-based network) to compete with Xbox Live and Playstation Network, and ensure that "triple A" game makers don't intentionally overlook the Wii U.

3. Nintendo nostalgia isn't everything

Nintendo's biggest problem is that it relies on gamers' nostalgic memories to fuel its entire business. Mario, Zelda, and Metroid have become visual languages of their own -- every gamer knows to bump the block, bomb the wall, or to roll into a ball.

Nintendo excels at milking that nostalgia -- it knows exactly the right 8-bit sound effect or theme song to use to make a gamer feel like a kid again. While this is Nintendo's greatest strength, it also keeps the company from growing up.

Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U. Source: Wikimedia.

Since gamers are used to the conventions set up in its classic games, Nintendo's ability to evolve old franchises or create new ones is limited.

Similar to its hardware, Nintendo often uses gimmicks instead of true innovation to enhance the gameplay of its aging franchises. Mario might be tasked with watering plants (Super Mario Sunshine, GameCube, 2002) and Link could turn into a wolf (Twilight Princess, GameCube/Wii, 2006).

While these games are fantastic on their own, they ultimately represent fresh paints of coat over older games. The modern Mario and Zelda games, such as Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007) and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii, 2011), are still respectively built upon the more innovative foundations of Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996) and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998).

Just like Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) eventually expanded its world beyond Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Nintendo needs to widen its universe by introducing new characters and new genres. Repeatedly parading its flagship characters through the same fighting, sports, racing, and party games simply won't be enough to save Nintendo from Sony and Microsoft.

A final thought

In closing, Nintendo faces a steep uphill battle in the months to come.

Although Nintendo might not be able to outpace Sony or Microsoft for much longer, it could minimize the imminent damage by learning from the mistakes from the past.

What do you think, dear readers? Can Nintendo bounce back in 2014, or is it too little, too late for the iconic video game maker?

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Read/Post Comments (24) | Recommend This Article (2)

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  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 3:23 PM, jjwelborn wrote:

    You do make some good points in your article. One thing that I am tired of being beaten over the head with is this notion that the Wii U isn't doing well because it's not as powerful as the newer generation PS and Xbox. This argument officially falls flat here and now. I own both the Wii U and now the Xbox One, as I suspect most Wii U owners will do as well, and I must say...every game that I have played on the Wii U has had better graphics than the two games that I have played on the Xbox One. The two games that I have played on Xbox were Ryse Son of Rome and Assassins Creed Black Flag. You can not use this argument any longer as it does not matter because the developers aren't using any more power than they did last generation with the exception of Nintendo. While I agree that Nintendo has an uphill battle, all the things you mention in your article that Nintendo can change themselves they are doing. Nintendo is working on a brand new franchise that we have not seen before as made public by their CEO. Bottom line is, Nintendo and their competitors are just different. Nintendo isn't interested in games that require you to wear the same button out the entire game and I appreciate that. While apples are apples they aren't oranges and that is where all of you make the same mistake.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 1:40 AM, robnyce83 wrote:

    The reality is very clear the reign of Nintindo is over. It's hard to argue the tech is not in line with todays games. I completly agree with the article especially when you consider the point made about Nintendo's strong ties to its past. I own a PS4 and the XBox One and would only consider buying a Wii U for my children because it really has no games that apply to adults. If you can't win back the adult crowd I can see the futcher for Nintendo falling back to simply creating hand held games. Im sorry but Mario cart or any variation is simply unappeling to and adult male. I dont know the statictics off hand but last I cheaked the bulk of todays gamers are young adult males between the age of 15 and 25.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 4:10 AM, judemathis123 wrote:

    I'm sorry, but the second comment talking about how Nintendo doesn't have any games that apply to adults sounds just plain ignorant! Maybe the games don't appeal to you, but there's millions of adults all around the world who love playing many different kinds of Nintendo games! What kinds of games do you think appeal to adults? I love Nintendo for the very reason that they always do things differently! They don't need to rely on hundreds of FPS games to make fun and innovative games with memorable experiences! I couldn't even try to name five Nintendo games that I wasn't satisfied with because they always make them with quality and care! They definitely tend to rely on using their key franchises over and over again to make new games, but it's not like they aren't any less fun or lack any less quality! Games made by Nintendo are always amazing games that can be enjoyed by almost anybody, no matter the age or gender!

    I just hope that third-party games start coming in for it, but it's been a few generations now where publishers have slowly stopped coming out with their games on a Nintendo home console! Sometimes they even come out with gutted versions of their game for Nintendo and then they wonder why don't don't sell as well! I know they don't make as much money as they would on the other two companies' consoles, but they kind of generate that very outcome with their careless methods! I always buy a Nintendo console for the exclusives, but I know that many people don't have the income to buy more than one system, so hopefully Nintendo gets some much deserved love from third-party publishers during this year!

    I really think that people will start buying Wii U's eventually after maybe one more $50 price cut and after this year when a lot of good games come out! I live in a big city and I couldn't find any stores with any Wii U's in stock by the time the holidays came around! I think they'll be fine just as long as people don't give up on them! Look at what happened with the Nintendo 3DS! Once they started coming out with the games they should have come out with on release, it started selling like crazy! They probably wouldn't have had to cut their prices if they'd done that in the beginning! Now I have so many Nintendo 3DS games in my backlog because there's so many good games! I can't wait for the Wii U to be like that by the end of this year! =D

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 6:31 AM, majinsnake wrote:

    An article that agrees with 1 point I have known for several years.

    Quote "Repeatedly parading its flagship characters through the same fighting, sports, racing, and party games simply won't be enough to save Nintendo from Sony and Microsoft"

    All those mario party games after the 3rd game should have stopped.

    Their was no need for mario party sunshine, a few of the mario kart versions.

    I miss the old-school nes / snes games, but majority of those were made by third party developers. The same developers who shifted to the playstation.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 8:37 AM, BHGamer wrote:

    it's to late now that the PS4 and ONE have been released. Nintendo historically has always been dependent on 3rd party titles, even going back to the 8-bit years, what were the biggest titles on the system besides Mario? All 3rd party. You will have a system that no Mature games will be released for because they won't sell. You think game publishers are going to make the same mistake as the GTA DS game that completely bombed? There's no market for that stuff with Nintendo, since the Wii, it's the "kiddie" system and that's a stigma I don't think they will ever shake off. They caught fire with the Wii, which was a short term win, long term disaster, my opinion they should've stuck with direct competition. The Gamecube was AWESOME, graphically better than the PS2, but with the smaller data area on the smaller disc, lack of DVD playback, Nintendo screwed that up. It's kind of scary to think that Nintendo hasn't had a winner of a system since the SNES.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 8:43 AM, BHGamer wrote:

    @ jjwelborn, I'm assuming you are not a student of gaming history. Every new system, go all the way back to Atari 2600, developers need time to learn and practice code, get new game engines, etc. So yes a less powerful system that has been released over a year before a more powerful new system may have a handful of games that look better, let's have this discussion next year or two years from now and see if you still think the Wii-U is on par.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 8:58 AM, captAhab02 wrote:

    Wii u will sell and already started selling ok.

    No price cut needed, only Nintendo games. And when their programmers now more used to it wie will See more games.

    Nintendo rose more than microsoft and rose dispite nikkei going down. The money believes in Nintendo as do i

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 9:01 AM, captAhab02 wrote:

    Plus GTA isnt coming for any net gen console and Wii u owners are happy for not having ea.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 9:04 AM, captAhab02 wrote:

    The tablet isnt just a gimmick. Why else did 80 Million people buy a ds, why did sony copy the remote pllay function

    I think u invent just topics for the reason of dwntalking Nintendo

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 10:06 AM, ewro wrote:

    I love Nintendo, but the strategy of adding a gimmick and then releasing last gen hardware and charging next gen prices stopped working when grandma lost her interest in gaming.

    The problem with Nintendo is everything they do someone else does better. WiiU has a tablet, PS4 has Vita and remote play for example.

    The other problem Nintendo faces is people are burned out on Mario. We want fresh new experiences.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 10:14 AM, JulianM wrote:

    This is one of the better articles that I have read in a while when discussing Nintendo, and I'm not going to get into the cut cost debate...I want to focus on the first point made in this article...Nintendo should focus on Innovation and fewer Gimmicks...Nintendo has always been at the forefront of innovation...Gameplay is to play a game is innovation...shiny new graphics are just that shiny new graphics.....there is nothing Innovative about better graphics...The problem with todays gamers is that they aren't really gamers....they like to play a specific genre or two and that's it...Real Gamers like everything...I can pick a Call of Duty and enjoy the game just as much as I can Mario....I am on old school gamer so to me gaming is about games...Even though God of War was a button smasher who can ever deny that the game was beyond awesome the first time you played it...the first time you played GTA you were like Whoah...but you know what....while Mario is a platformer they have found ways to keep the game fresh....and no installment of Zelda has played like any of its' predecessors....Innovation is not graphics....Innovation is the introduction of things like Permadeath in Zombi-U....Wonderful 101....the gamepad and how you use it to gain a tactical advantage in games....or how a game is no longer paused while you make a choice or combining items...etc....this stuff all happens real time so that the game never stops coming after you. This is Innovation...not the sweat that just dripped off of Tom Brady's Face in Madden....don't get me wrong I like a graphically sound game...but graphics comes well behind gameplay, game innovation, story and length of title...I don't want to spend $60 on your rushed and glitchy yet very pretty game...and then watch you nickle and dime with DLC....back in the day a game was released 100% completed and if there was more that a developer wanted to do then they simply made a sequel....these days you can't say spend 60 bucks on a game you beat in 5 hours...WTH is that...that's not a game it's a lengthy demo....stop giving me Pixar Movie worthy cutscenes and put that time and money into making your games complete and aren't going to improve beyond this generation as there is no need for them to, now it's going to come down to the gamepad...gamers today see innovation and call it a gimmick....but I want any young gamer to ask an old school gamer if they thought the Floor pad back in Nintendo or the Nintendo Glove were gimmicks....If the new controller for Nintendo is a gimmick then why did Sony push so hard to make sure that the Vita could do some of what the gamepad can do...why did Microsoft release Smart Glass or whatever it's called..why did sony create the Wand Controllers for Motion Games and why did Microsoft create the Kinect and then forcefeed into the new XboxOne...why did Sony make sure their new controller had a place for players to use as a touchpad even if not quite the same...because they both knew that they could not allow Nintendo to gain a foothold with another great they did what they could...they threw money at 3rd party developers and just like that 3rd party support began to leave Nintendo because as we all know Money talks and everything is wishful get off the graphics train people and stop looking at Nintendo as a kiddie system because I can assure you it's not..I haven't owned a Nintendo system since the Gamecube I have been loyal Microsoft and Sony but Nintendo is definitely a welcome addition back in my home...

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 11:27 AM, HomeTheaterGuy wrote:

    There are couple points the article misses;

    1. Neither the XBox 1 nor the PS4 are backwards compatible, while the Wii U can continue to play all of the Wii games flawlessly.

    2. Not all owners of gaming consoles are adolescent males between the ages of 12 and 20.

    3. Death, gore and soft porn games aren't the focus of Nintendo and consumers are happy that they can purchase games without these titles in the lineup.

    4. The X-Box 1, PS4 and Wii U have similar processors, while the PS4 has the superior memory configuration.

    5. With new X-Box 1 and PS-4 games at $60 each, the Wii U is by far the best bang for the buck on the market.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 1:00 PM, JBean wrote:

    This article misses the entire point of the Wii U's slow sales…

    Nintendo's biggest mistake with the Wii U was not that it wasn't powerful, not that it was a gimmick, because the 2nd screen, and the ability to play games after the TV is shut off, is brilliant in my opinion.

    The issue is that Nintendo did not distinguish or market the Wii U as a BRAND NEW system.

    The average consumer was under the assumption that the Wii U was an updated Wii, or an extension of it.

    It was their worst decision to name the system the Wii U - they should have chosen another name, and made the system look unique to the Wii, and marketed it as a new system altogether.

    Their software lineup doesn't help, but their biggest mistake was their flawed marketing plan for the Wii U.

    Here is an example of how flawed their marketing was - Target released an ad before the Holidays that featured the original Wii system paired with the Wii U screen. Even TARGET didn't understand the difference between Wii and Wii U in placing their ad for the system.

    I feel bad for Nintendo, but they need to think about this critical elements in launching a new system.

    When Nintendo released the Wii, the successor to the Gamecube, EVERYONE including the average non-gaming consumer KNEW that the Wii was a brand new system.

    Wii U - no one had a clue it was the successor to the Wii. It just looked like another version of the Wii system, so people didn't bother.

    I love Nintendo, and will always consider myself a fan of their hardware, and software, and love all their 1st party games, but I truly hope this is a wakeup call to them.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 1:25 PM, captAhab02 wrote:

    I agree the tablet is awesome. This Here is just Propaganda war to make consumers whi by accident read ths believe it.

    Nintendos only Problem is that they need more games, they brought to few because they underestimated the extra work hd needed.

    Nintendo will do fine, and anyone who says Nintendo sells overpriced gimmicks was Never a nintendofan and this site is remarkable dishonest

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 2:50 PM, jdge439 wrote:

    Clumsily designed controller? The Gamecube controller? really. All the wavebirds and Gamecube controllers I have still work. Still use them for smash bros. brawl on the weekends. The are also comfortable and allow for more button pairs than the Diamond configuration. Im not a kid, so hitting the top and bottom buttons together on any other controller is hard, or the left and right. Anyone who played soul caliber 2 on all the systems of the generation would tell you the same.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 4:24 PM, Grendel wrote:

    That's funny... why should Nintendo bother focusing on anything? According to Motley Fool's previous articles, they're already doomed. So what difference does it make now, huh?

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 4:26 PM, captAhab02 wrote:

    I agree the gamecube Controller was awesome, you could see it when playing f zero. Perfect controls

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 11:44 PM, Amberyerno wrote:

    So wait, let me get this straight. Nintendo releasing new games in its flagship franchises (Mario, Zelda, etc.) that maintain the series's core gameplay makes them stale and out of touch. How's that any different from EVERY CALL OF DUTY OR BATTLEFIELD GAME EVER MADE?

    Total hypocrisy.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:44 AM, Davidvin2387 wrote:

    Xbox one has 3 million sold not 2.47. Do better research sir.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:17 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    The VGChartz numbers have been updated since this article was originally published.

    Even so, the Xbox One has not sold 3 million. The new figure is 2.93 milion.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 12:57 PM, targeyone wrote:

    Wait, wait, so you're arguing Nintendo needs to stop using it's flagship characters, but also argue that the Wii U needs 3rd party support, like:

    Call of Duty: Ghosts (annualized series),

    Assassin's Creed 4 (six assassin's creed games in 6 years, planned to be annualized from here on out)

    and Grand Theft Auto V.

    Super Mario 64 seems more innovative compared to past games because it was the first jump for the plumber into 3D. But to argue that Galaxy is just a "fresh coat of paint over an older game" is laughable.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 1:47 PM, Amberyerno wrote:

    @targeyone Yep, pretty much the same point I made. What sort of innovation has the latest COD made, anyway? Oh yeah, that's right, they added a DOG.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 6:13 PM, G8keeping wrote:

    I have a Wii U and I see long-term potential but in some cases, it's getting shovel-ware like the original Wii. "Mario", "Metroid" and "Zelda" can only save Nintendo so many times. Nintendo NEEDS the likes of Rockstar and even EA, but they don't feel like they'd make any money by releasing their games on the Wii U. That's another issue; the name "Wii U" is horrible and it confused a lot of consumers. I HOPE that 2014 will be a better year for the Wii U.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 9:00 PM, jjwelborn wrote:

    @bhgamer. I dont think that I agree with your assertion of developers need time to master the new power of new generation consoles. The Wii U graphics have made leaps in bounds in both 1 party and 3 party developed games. This has even been evident in indie games as well. Look no further than Darksiders II on Wii U which came out really close to release (Also see Batman games as well). It's graphics are better than last gen xbox and PS. I have not found this to be true with Xbox One so far. Maybe you can make the argument that developers are lazy and just want to make a quick buck at porting older games to new consoles. I think we can agree that graphics are only going to get so good. Even Pixar is taping out and the budgets and technology puts games to shame. Its just a waste of technology that drives up the cost of consoles.

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