Could 2014 Be the Year the Wii U Finds its Audience?

Despite reassurances throughout last year that Wii U sales would improve, Nintendo (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) finally admitted last month that sales were coming in significantly slower than the company had hoped. Having already lost support from third-party publishers like Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA  ) and having only a couple of first-party games from major franchises, the future of the Wii U looked bleak.

To be honest, it still looks somewhat bleak. While Nintendo will likely be able to turn around its recent losses and return to profitability over time through software sales, 3DS sales, and the reduction of manufacturing costs, it is obvious even to the company that the Wii U isn't going to become a hit. That doesn't mean that it can't find an audience, however.

The Wii U's problem
Nintendo's greatest strength has largely been its first-party content. While games such as Goldeneye 64 are classics, Nintendo is more widely associated with characters such as Mario and Samus Aran than James Bond. Early Nintendo systems launched with a "Mario" game included, and later consoles typically had a major franchise game coming out relatively close to release. Even the Wii enjoyed a launch with a Wii version of the GameCube's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess available to hold fans over until the Super Mario Galaxy launch a year later.

The Wii U seemed to launch with a softer first-party lineup. The biggest first-party game in its early lineup was New Super Mario Bros U, which offered a few upgrades to New Super Mario Bros Wii but wasn't enough to draw players to the console. The "Zelda" title under development for the console was delayed significantly by the development team scrapping content that they didn't feel provided the quality that gamers wanted, and the HD rerelease of The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker released to tide gamers over wasn't enough to drive sales. The release of Super Mario 3D World a year after the console's launch gave it a fun "Mario" game, but some elements seemed a bit too close to the "New Super Mario Bros" franchise to build the excitement that a unique game might have produced.

In short, the Wii U was lacking in one of the top selling points of any Nintendo console: Nintendo games.

The year of Nintendo
In 2013, Nintendo began a slightly over-a-year-long event known as "The Year of Luigi." While no theme has been announced for a successor promotion yet, the company could almost call 2014 "The Year of Nintendo Games."

Last week, Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze to significant acclaim, with reviewers making comments like "It's an incredibly crafted platformer with an HD sheen and an insane attention to detail..." (Destructoid) and "It has an endearing quality that will capture you, and a challenge level worthy of even the most skilled players..." (Cheat Code Central.) While the game isn't going to suddenly propel the Wii U into new popularity, those Nintendo fans who've held off on buying the console until it had more must-play games will see its release as a positive sign.

The company will also release Mario Kart 8 in May, and both Super Smash Bros and co-developed Hyrule Warriors (a "Dynasty Warriors"-like game set in the world of the "Zelda" series) are expected for release later this year as well. Nintendo has also promised an expanded presence at E3 this year (as compared to its minimal presence last year) so additional core game announcements may be made as the year progresses. One of these games might even be the next full entry in the "Legend of Zelda" franchise.

Luring back the faithful
At this point, Nintendo's plans shouldn't include attempts at competing with the likes of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) or Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) ; both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have left the Wii U behind, and it isn't Nintendo's style to try and compete directly with the big console makers anyway. It's likely that Nintendo is hard at work on designs for a successor to the Wii U (with some rumors saying that there's already a new console in development), and in the meantime the company is trying to make the most out of the Wii U and salvage what it can. This approach won't make the console a massive hit, but producing games that Nintendo fans want to play will at least get the console into the hands of the company's core audience.

The best way for Nintendo to do this is to focus on the games that Nintendo fans want to play. While every conversation about Nintendo's core franchises inevitably has people commenting about how "nobody" likes Mario or Link anymore, these games still tend to be major sellers on Nintendo systems even if they don't sell as well as they did when Nintendo was at the top of its game. While new IP from Nintendo would be wonderful, there's always a risk that new and untested games will flop ... and the Wii U can't afford lackluster first-party games right now.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (0)

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 February 26, 2014, at 3:42 PM, alexharvey14 wrote:

    I almost broke my computer when I read nobody likes Mario or Link anymore

  • Report this Comment On February 26, 2014, at 11:32 PM, Sarentack wrote:

    Motley Fool has a habit of saying some of the most ignorant and stupid ****, viewing how few comments are ever posted on their articles, no one pays attention to them.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 1:41 AM, Vitabrits wrote:

    @alexharvey14

    It's not the people don't like Mario or Link but it seems the innovation engine has gotten a bit rusty: rehash after rehash after rehash. The same could be said to the entertainment industry as a whole.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 6:48 AM, moopert wrote:

    Mario and Zelda games are mostly a victim of their own successes. They've been so well received in their current states, that Nintendo is afraid to try anything different with them. Hyrule Warriors actually kinda has my interest piqued. I like the Dynasty warriors type gameplay, if the Zelda story is solid.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 1:45 PM, Facer5 wrote:

    The Nintendo faithful already own a Wii U.

    The problem Nintendo has is that their hardcore audience, those who would buy anything Nintendo and defend the company like mad, are shrinking with each gen.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 9:02 PM, Bakuryu wrote:

    They need more Donkey Kong games, if they start releasing more DK then I would be more inclined to buy the Wii U

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2014, at 9:58 AM, Wingeddamnation wrote:

    While your comment on people not liking Mario or Zelda sounds biased to some, I have to agree that some people are turning from Nintendo because they won't make the games that made other people fall in love with Nintendo itself (such as F-Zero, Star Fox and Metroid). They are focusing not only the younger audience, but the Japanese audience as well, which is making the people who heavily supported Nintendo in the Western world since they were kids (who are around their 20's to 30's mostly) upset. They see the potential that Nintendo has, but idiotic decisions that they have made for the past 2-3 years have made people turn from them. Not coming out with games fast enough, not having the 3rd Party support they need, and not investing/buying out publishers that sell (like Atlus) have given Nintendo a hefty plate to contend to. They have a good lineup of games (the X game, Bayonetta 2, a Super Smash Brothers, Zelda x Dynasty Warriors, etc.) but they need 3rd party support if they are going to have any chance of making any sort of profit.

  • Report this Comment On March 22, 2014, at 7:04 PM, Layla wrote:

    I can't agree with "Nobody likes link and Mario anymore" That is not true at all.

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