Nintendo consoles have cycles. No, not those kinds of cycles–the other kind of cycle. Most platforms released by the console-maker have followed a predictable evolution with minor–and expected–idiosyncrasies. They have experienced softer starts followed by strong boosts several months after launch, lasting until the console finally starts sputtering out four or five years after launch.
Of course, there are recent examples like the DS and the 3DS that have started somewhat slow–especially so for the 3DS–and picked up steam a year or two after release. For the record, I’m considering the Wii anomalous. Some people like to discount it because it demonstrates that Nintendo can succeed and that could never happen, but I’m not using it because the Wii’s publicity amongst all levels of media has not been replicated… ever–especially by the Wii U. But let’s take a look at the lowly GameCube. Nintendo had high expectations for the GameCube–they once expected the console to generate 50 millions sales by 2005–but these hopes never materialized into reality. However, the GameCube started rather slowly, generating only three million in sales in its first year; the second and third years were the strongest for the console, doubling first year sales for both 2004 and 2005.
While this came nowhere near the forecast of 50 million units, the console epitomized Nintendo’s normal console life. After 2005, the GameCube sputtered out, much like the DS did, the Wii did, and the 3DS will.
Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that the Wii U will follow this established cycle. Using this blueprint, the Wii U will pick up with this year’s holiday season. But, while I could sit here and use Nintendo History 101 to conjecture about the Wii U’s future, let’s look at why the Wii U will succeed based off of its unique design. The pattern is a good indicator of what the Wii U will do next, but it does not predict the magnitude; after all, we’ve had everything from the flaming hot 3DS to the lukewarm GameCube.
Firstly, the Wii U has the advantage of utilizing the Wii’s wide-ranging userbase. I know that I said that the Wii was anomalous with regards to its sales, but we’re not using the Wii as an abstract indicator here. We’re using it as a statistic. The Wii created a userbase that the Wii U can pull from. Nintendo built name familiarity and–with the ingenuity of the Wii–a good name at that. When Nintendo starts the advertising blitz they’ve hinted at earlier this year, the Wii U will be standing on the shoulders of a giant. Families and groups that were enticed by the Wii’s motion controls will have plenty of reason to try an upgraded console, much like many of them dish out money for the new iPhone every year.
Next, there are the games that are either rumored or confirmed to be released this year. The confirmed releases are not exactly blockbuster titles, but, at the moment, the Wii U realistically has no title worth buying the console for yet. Fortunately, Pikmin 3 will likely change that as the amount of time and energy put into the game will pay dividends among experienced games–allured by the gameplay–and casuals–enticed by the graphics and quintessential first-party Nintendo look–looking to buy a Wii U.
However, the real pinnacles that the Wii U will be looking for will release from the middle of this year through the end of next year; these titles include Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda, X, and other yet-to-be-announced third-party titles. With a title like Mario Kart, consumers will flock to the Wii U. Games like X and The Legend of Zelda (amongst others) will likely draw in the more dedicated gaming crowd. While I realize I am generalizing a bit here, the sales figures from last gen validate these assertions; Mario Kart Wii sold more than 30 million copies and might make it to 40 million before it is finally retired.
The Wii U’s “other” features will provide that extra “oomph” to set it apart from the other consoles this generation. So far, the PS4 and Xbox One have done little to demonstrate that they desire to be anything other than overconnected powerhouses, so the Wii U has plenty of room to market its GamePad as unique. Any family will buy into the PG-ness of the console.
Nintendo can easily sculpt the Wii U into a comprehensively qualified console with consistent, sweeping, and well-implemented updates. It is highly likely that the Wii U will eventually have the same system dedication that the 3DS has now. Nintendo’s very consistent and impressive with regards to their support of the 3DS, so it is not all that much of a stretch to assume the Wii U will receive the same treatment in the next few months. Moreover, the Wii U has much more versatility than the already-successful 3DS with large pluses like the polished Nintendo Network and superb TVii.
So, just how well is the Wii U going to do? I would expect it to do slightly better than the 360 and PS3 did last gen. Not just because the Wii U is a better console, but also because of the growth in the overall market.
The Wii U is certainly not in a rosy situation now–as I’ve detailed with subjects ranging from their controller problems to Nintendo’s complete refusal to market the console–but that’s hardly indicative of the future. Nintendo has been Nintendoomed since 2001, and those who say that Nintendo will be getting out of the console business after the Wii U are deluded. Nintendo looks nothing like Sega did in 2000. There’s no reason to have a doomsday perception of the Wii U.
After all, the Xbox One just shot itself in the foot and the PS4 is hardly any more competitive than the PS3–the Wii U’s looking better with every passing day.