Nintendo may be running out of extra lives.
The legendary Japanese video game maker, which gave us Mario, Donkey Kong and a host of other game icons, announced Friday that sales of its Wii U game console are falling far, far short of what the company had hoped.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said his company is forecasting sales of 2.8 million Wii U consoles over the year ending March 31, versus an original target of 9 million. By comparison, the new and more expensive Xbox One and PlayStation 4 game consoles have sold at least 3 million and 4.2 million units, respectively, in less than two months.
It’s a grim time for Nintendo, the company that once dominated living room video games with the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo and, more recently, the original Wii console, which sold like gangbusters for years after its 2006 launch.
Released in November 2012 and currently priced at $299, the Wii U isn’t a bad games machine – in fact, you could argue it’s a more compelling buy right now than its higher-tech competitors from Microsoft and Sony.
But it’s definitely been the victim of bad decisions and bad luck. Here are five reasons the Wii U is in desperate need of a 1-Up mushroom.
1. Nintendo didn’t explain what the Wii U was
Thanks to mixed messages leading up to its launch, some casual gamers – Nintendo’s bread and butter – thought the Wii U was an accessory for the original Wii, rather than a brand new console with high-definition graphics. The company also had a tough time explaining how the Wii U GamePad, with its built-in touchscreen, would be used in games.
2. It’s technologically behind the times
In terms of the visual fidelity of its games, the Wii U barely matched the last-generation Xbox 360 and PS3. Now, its graphics look positively dated next to the new Xbox One and PS4. Nintendo was also late to the online gaming craze, and has yet to catch up to the robust multiplayer networks and features offered by Microsoft and Sony.
3. The games weren’t there
Unlike the Wii, which came with the incredibly fun and intuitive Wii Sports game, the Wii U didn’t have a standout title to immediately make it a must-buy. And other than the recent release of the outstanding Super Mario 3D World, essential games have been sparse.
4. Developers are jumping ship
It’s a vicious cycle: a game console doesn’t sell well, which means game makers lose money on the titles they make for that console, which means they stop making games for the console, which causes the console to sell even more poorly. This is the whirlpool Nintendo is in, with some publishers having all but given up on making Wii U games.
5. There’s been no shakeup at the top
When a team performs poorly, the coach gets fired. But there’s been very little movement in Nintendo’s upper executive ranks, with company president Iwata, in particular, refusing to resign. Fresh blood might be what Nintendo needs to turn the Wii U around. Or it might be time for the company to swallow its pride and abandon the Wii U in favour of concentrating on its much more successful handheld gaming machines. Whatever course it charts, the Wii U is in for a rough voyage in 2014. Here’s hoping it finds a safe harbour at the end.