The lights are on
Nintendo’s E3 2011 press conference left more than a few attendees confused. Was the newly announced Wii U a Wii accessory? Was it a new console? A console was indeed ever-so-briefly shown during the company’s presentation, but Nintendo didn’t linger on that detail. Instead, it highlighted the system’s backwards compatibility with older peripherals such as the Wii’s controller and balance board, while showing off the Wii U’s touchscreen. Afterward, there were rumblings that Nintendo was less than pleased with the post-E3 reaction. Months later, there was chatter online that Nintendo was considering a name change for the system. Was that just a silly rumor, or could it happen at this year’s E3? The Game Informer offices are divided on this one, and here are our arguments for and against.
The case for a name change:
Late-game name changes aren’t exactly uncharted territory for the big N. If you followed Nintendo 64 coverage before the console was released, you know that it was originally called the Ultra 64. This wasn’t just an internal code name, either (that was Project Reality). Early renders of the hardware released by Nintendo were even branded with the Ultra 64 logo. Nintendo of Japan changed the name to the Nintendo 64 at its Shoshinkai Expo in November, but the company planned on sticking with the Ultra 64 name in Europe and North America. Game Informer interviewed Nintendo of America’s then-CEO Howard Lincoln in January 1996, and he was still calling it the Ultra 64 a mere eight months before the system’s U.S. launch. It’s been speculated that Nintendo was forced to change the name because Konami had a trademark on the Ultra brand (which Konami used to circumvent Nintendo’s policy that third-party publishers could only release five NES games annually).
At any rate, that’s a long-winded way to at least establish some degree of precedent in the name-changing department. Of course, Nintendo probably has better lawyers at this point, so the Wii U name isn’t likely to be derailed over a trademark issue. So why change it? It’s simple, argue proponents of name change: It stinks.
With the Wii U, Nintendo is courting a more hardcore player base. Nintendo hasn’t confirmed its exact specifications, but developers working with the hardware have told us that it is a significant upgrade over the Wii. Couple that with those earlier rumors that Nintendo wasn’t happy with the Wii U’s reception, and you have the case for a relaunch.
Core gamers, who may have been cool to the Wii brand and its focus on casual audiences, may be drawn to Nintendo’s willingness to start with a clean slate. And calling it something else would eliminate that pesky confusion about whether this new system was an extension of the Wii or an entirely new entity.
Which leads to…
The case against a name change:
Nintendo blew its chance at starting fresh when it incorporated support for the Wii remote and balance board. At least, that’s what the folks in our office against the name change argue. People who don’t follow every turn of the screw in the video game industry already know about the Wii. It has tremendous name recognition, and that E3 2011 presentation made it clear that Nintendo’s strategy was about widening audiences more than ever.
Wii U is the best of both worlds. It keeps mom and dad informed about what this thing is, while separating it from the Wii in the eyes of core gamers. Nintendo has an established track record of manipulating previous brand names rather than starting from scratch. The NES was succeeded by the Super NES. The Game Boy Advance followed the Game Boy. Nintendo can’t resist the occasional play on words, either, as demonstrated by the DS’ latest iteration, the 3DS. The Wii U follows that path, phonetically adding a “you” to the “we.” (At the same time, don’t forget that “GameCube” sprang out of nowhere, and the DS shed all attachment from the Game Boy brand.)
A leaked image of a Wii U test kit shows that the controller was emblazoned with the Wii U logo. While that doesn’t mean that a rebranding isn’t possible, it makes it increasingly unlikely. At least, that’s how that argument goes.
Personally, I’m completely on the fence on this one. I know it’s a copout, but I think the cases both for and against are interesting. We’ll only have to wait a few weeks to see what Nintendo decides to do. In the meantime, what do you think? Are we going to see a new name for this sucker? If you think we will, do you have any suggestions? Commence speculation in the comments.
Email the author Jeff Cork, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.
You can keep it Nintendo, I've done enough with your sub-par products over the past few years.
I think they'd have an easier time marketing it if they changed the name, due to brand confusion. They already had a presentation last year where some people came away thinking the Wii U was a controller rather than a console -- how are they going to make sure Wii U games are branded in such a way that casual gamers won't get confused and wonder why these new Wii U games won't play on their Wii?
I'm not sure adding a letter after the name is going to be as clear an indication for them of this being a sequel as would adding a number (PS2, Xbox 360, Nintendo 64) or a word before it (Super Nintendo). If they go with the name Wii U, it's going to be an uphill battle for the marketing department.
On the other hand, it's Nintendo, so they'll do it anyways. As much as they claim they want to reach out to "core" gamers, their sticking with the Wii brand indicates to me that they're only interested in "core" gamers right now because they need those early adopters for a strong first year launch, and once they've gotten past the first year or two it will go back to being the casual system. I hope the release of Xenoblade, etc. in the US means that I'm wrong, but I could easily see Nintendo once again holding back on releasing anything remotely "core" in the US, as they have such a long history of doing.
It's hard to predict what a company will do when the company in question probably doesn't know what they're doing half the time.
On the argument that the hardcore won't be attracted to a machine with the 'casual' Wii title, I believe the case is actually the opposite. The hardcore should be the ones following the incremental changes of the industry, so its those hardcore people that are capable of realizing the console's potential and its shift into their hands. While it is, as Jeff Cork puts it, mom and dad who rely on a name to identify with, those who will respond to the sight of 'Nintendo's new console' in a flyer with a puzzled face. So if there is a name change, simply on the merit of Wii U sounding ridiculous, I believe it will still bear the Wii moniker and just knock out the 'U'.
I'm positive i've seen an article on destructoid that mentions a wii u facebook page set up by nintendo for e3, so either they really really really want to keep that name change a big surprise, or, more likely, the name's final. I'm fine with that. I don't really like the name, but Nintendo has never really had good names for systems, have they?