Editorial: Is the Wii U Doomed?

by Matthew Kato on Jul 16, 2012 at 11:13 AM

At last week's Develop Conference in Brighton, England, industry analyst and managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities Michael Pachter once again stated his skepticism regarding Nintendo and its upcoming Wii console. "I don't think they [Nintendo] suck," he told Edge, "I just think that they really believe that, 'If we're still novel, everything we do will work.' This isn't going to work."

Pachter is known for straight-talking opinions, and has not shied away from detailing how he thinks Nintendo has erred with its approach to the Wii U. At the Develop Conference, Pachter elaborated that he thinks that the hardcore crowd will buy the system simply because it says Nintendo on it, and that the company wouldn't strike lightning twice between the Wii and the Wii U. "I don't think they're getting lucky with Wii U." he said.

He also questions the console's basic design and fuctionality. "I think that essentially this is a solution in search of a problem," said Pachter. "I mean, somebody had an idea – 'Let's make the controller a tablet' – and there aren't many games that are going to take advantage of that."

Is Pachter's doomsday prediction for the Wii U correct?

Despite the obstacles in front of it and the valid criticisms of the company, I disagree with Pachter in that I think Nintendo has a chance of success with the Wii U.

First, one important factor in the Wii U's success or failure which not even Pachter knows yet is its price. The Wii's low price was instrumental to that console's success in this console generation, and I think that the attractiveness of the Wii U's features and the platform as a whole depends on how much it costs.

To be clear, it's not going to be easy – especially after the embarrassing job the company has done marketing the system the past two E3s – but the platform's functionality could be sufficiently attractive not because it's new and sexy, but because it falls in line with current trends. The Wii U's touchscreen, remote and interoperable gameplay options, and Nintendo's stated commitment to improve its online functionality fall in line with the trending usage habits of many potential buyers.

I think the Wii U's features are better served in other platforms, but I'm sure there is a segment of the population (apart from the hardcore that Pachter mentioned) that doesn't have a smartphone, a tablet, and either an Xbox 360 or a PS3 who could see the Wii U as enough of a ubiquitous device to consider it quite attractive.

Similar to Pachter, however, I question Nintendo's overall thinking. The company has historically had problems attracting strong and sustained third-party software support for its recent systems and so far I don't see that changing with the Wii U. Instead, Nintendo continues to build the systems first and worry about support later.

The Wii U's Pro Controller helps in more traditional gameplay experiences, but with the Wii U Nintendo still appears to be playing catch-up to the content on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and the console could find itself stranded between two generations when Microsoft and Sony release their next systems.

Could this work? Nintendo has always found a way to survive if not thrive with consoles and decisions that many of us in the industry scoff at – myself included. Both Pachter and I would be the first to admit that we've been wrong in second-guessing Nintendo, and it looks like that is going to have to happen again if the Wii U is to succeed.