On Friday, November 15th, Sony had a perfect day. What was so perfect about it? Friday was the North American release of the PlayStation 4, Sony’s highly anticipated next-gen console. On that day, 1 million units were sold within 24 hours. It’s an impressive and record-breaking debut for the PS4, a console aiming to take Sony back to their PS2 heyday.
When it comes to the Wii U, Nintendo hasn’t exactly had a perfect day since its release last year. The Wii U has failed to retain or expand upon the sales made by its predecessor, the Wii, and has only sold 3.9 million worldwide. Despite having a one-year headstart, the PS4 is expected to easily eclipse total sales of the Wii U in only a few months once it becomes available internationally. It’s an embarrassing defeat for the Wii U and, once the Xbox One is released on November 22nd, things will only get harder for the struggling console. Even with the $299 price cut and the release of Super Mario 3D World, it’s extremely unlikely that the Wii U will reach its projected sales of 9 million by March 14th, the end of Nintendo’s fiscal year.
With all this, one can’t help but wonder how Nintendo let Sony get the better of them. Why is everyone flocking to the PS4 and not the Wii U? Where did Nintendo go wrong and what did Sony do right? Well, here’s are few things Nintendo could learn from Sony and the PS4 regarding the Wii U.
I’m not one who likes to throw around the word “sexy” when describing an inanimate object, let alone a gaming console, but there’s no denying that the PS4 is a very attractive system. The sleek, angular design and jet black color gives a terrific look to the system. While it shares some design influences from the PS2, the rhombus-like PS4 stands out from previous PlayStation models. At first glance, there’s no way consumers will mistaken the PS4 from the PS2 or PS3. Overall, the PS4 captures the futuristic vibe Sony is pushing.
In comparison to the PS4, the Wii U’s design is as bland as a vanilla wafer cookie. The Wii U isn’t an ugly-looking system, but its design doesn’t ignite any excitement from the viewer. It’s honestly just a retread of the Wii’s design. It’s understandable why Nintendo would want to design their next console after the sales phenomenon that was the Wii, but its influence on the Wii U is too much. Visually, there’s little distinction between the Wii U and Wii and that has led to consumer confusion.
I’ve written about the Wii U needing a makeover before, but to reiterate: if Nintendo wants the Wii U to stop being mistaken for a Wii peripheral, they need to give it a significant redesign. So far, all Nintendo has done is discontinue the white Wii U model and push the black version. It’s a small step forward, but the black Wii U model at least separates itself from the commonly white Wii, if only by a little bit.
Sony has always been good at marketing since the PS1 era, but around the time the PS3 kicked off, they seriously lost their mojo. Luckily, they gained it back tenfold in time for the PS4. The PS4 marketing campaign started out subtly enough with mobile ads mocking Wii Fit and Kinect while hyping the February 20th PS4 meeting in New York.
However, things quickly heated up at Sony’s E3 1023 conference. Sony took advantage of the bad press Microsoft received for the Xbox One supporting DRM (a decision later reversed) by announcing the PS4 will play used games. The E3 crowd loved it and Sony was quick to follow it up with two commercials after their conference: one hilariously viral video explaining how to trade PS4 games with a friend and another commercial kicking off the “Greatness Awaits” campaign.
Sony UK took it further with their #4ThePlayers campaign, by evoking fond nostalgic memories to longtime PlayStation players in their ads. The last one titled “This Is For The Players” is an eye candy of PlayStation references that would make any gamer’s mouth water. It’s hard not to be infected with excitement as soon as the announcer starts yelling, “This is for the game changers!” There were some low blows, like bragging about Call of Duty: Ghosts being in 1080p, even though it suffered from frame rate issues. However, Sony deserves credit for running an effective marketing campaign that definitely captured everyone’s attention.
In contrast, the marketing for the Wii U has been poor. The Wii U cubicle commercial failed to generate any excitement for the system, but succeeded in annoying viewers with its terrible “wub, wub” dubstep music. Nintendo’s next slew of Wii U ads, focusing on three families trying out the new system, didn’t fare any better. It didn’t find a coherent message to sell audiences on the Wii U and continued the previous focus on the system’s tablet controller, making it look like a Wii add-on. Then came the “Why Wii U” flyer that spelled out the difference between the Wii and Wii U, amusingly shortchanging the previous Nintendo console.
Despite these examples, Nintendo’s Wii U advertising has been rare this year. Sans Pikmin 3, game commercials for the Wii U or the system itself are barely played on the airwaves. Granted, the Wii U went through a severe game drought this year, but when the games did arrive, there was no telling they were here. Where were the TV ads for The Wonderful 101 or Sonic Lost World? There wasn’t even much marketing for the high-definition remake of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker or the $299 console bundle that came with it.
Nintendo has gotten their act together recently by heavily promoting Super Mario 3D World and the new Super Mario Wii U bundle, but their commercials are still too cringe-worthy to enjoy. Nintendo could easily trump Sony in the nostalgia field or produce ads far more cooler and cleverer than what they’re showing now. Instead, Nintendo is determined to sell the Wii U to families found in a cheesy 90s sitcom.
1. Third-Party Support
The biggest advantage the PS4 has over the Wii U is its third-party support. Ever since the Nintendo 64 came into fruition, Nintendo consoles have received less third-party support than its competitors. There are many reasons for this: publisher’s target audience (usually adults) not found on Nintendo consoles, weaker hardware, or inferior online support. For the Wii U, third-party support is worse. Bad Wii U sales has caused major publishers like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft to withdraw support for the system.
Recently, there was a rumor that Ubisoft was giving up on the Wii U, due to disappointing sales of Splinter Cell: Blacklist. While Ubisoft later debunked that rumor, the fact remains their 2014 support for Wii U is severely slim when compared to the other consoles. Adding more on the estranged relationship between Nintendo and third-party publishers, Bethesda’s VP of Development, Pete Hines, said this:
The time for convincing publishers and developers to support Wii U has long past. The box is out. You have to do what Sony and Microsoft have been doing with us for a long time.
And it’s not that every time we met with them we got all the answers we wanted. But they involved us very early on, and talking to folks like Bethesda and Gearbox, they say ‘here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we’re planning, here’s how we think it’s going to work’ to hear what we thought – from our tech guys and from an experience standpoint.
You have to spend an unbelievable amount of time upfront doing that. If you’re just going sort off deciding ‘we’re going to make a box and this is how it works and you should make games for it.’ Well, no. No is my answer, I’m going to focus on other ones that better support what it is we’re trying to do.
Sony, on the other hand, has earned strong third-party support for their consoles over the years. When they launched the difficult-to-develop-for PS3 to the market, they did lose out on past exclusives and suffered technical problems with third-party games, but they’ve learned their lesson. The PS4 is much more developer-friendly than the PS3 ever was with multiple studios praising the system. On top of that, Sony has secured exclusive PlayStation content from 21 publishers. Perhaps the biggest difference between how Sony and Nintendo hand third-party publishers is how Sony took Gearbox President Randy Pitchford’s advice on using 8GB of GDDR5 for the PS4 instead of 4GB.
“If you go with 4GB of GDDR5, you are done,” Pitchford told Adam Boyes, VP of Publisher Relations at SCEA. After seeing others agree with Pitchford and realizing the PS4 needed to be the best in every category to succeed, Boyes went back to the development team to ask for 8GB of RAM. Pitchford later commented on the story Twitter, “You know it was only because I love you guys @amboyes. Can we call them ‘Gearbytes’?”