Nothing is certain in life except death, taxes and the fact that Nintendo is doomed.
Nintendo is perennially doomed. It was doomed when the N64 launched and doomed during the GameCube years. It was doomed when it announced the DS and doomed when the 3DS had a mediocre first year. It was doomed when Ocarina of Time was delayed. Doomed when people didn't like Mario Sunshine; doomed when it announced Wii Fit. Doomed. Always doomed. According to some folks it was doomed at the peak of the Wii's powers, when Nintendo literally couldn't make enough units to satisfy demand. Doomed I tells you.
So when I say that Nintendo's current situation with the Wii U is bad, I won't blame you for taking it with a grain of salt. But yeah — things aren't great.
Yesterday we posted the above picture; JB Hi-Fi felt the need to explain to its consumers the difference between the Wii and the Wii U. That sign didn't go up by accident. I'm guessing it went up in response to a barrage of mistakes made by parents, made by consumers. Angry folks wondering why NintendoLand didn't work on their Wii. It may seem silly to us, but it's no laughing matter.
Choosing a name for its latest console must have presented Nintendo with a serious conundrum. Do they abandon the hard work and marketing done in the last six years, or preserve the power of newly built-up brand?
History has shown that Nintendo will typically go with the latter. It's served them well in the past.
The Famicom became the Super Famicom. The Game Boy became the Game Boy Color and, later, the Game Boy Advance. The DS became the 3DS. It's in Nintendo genetics to cling to the brands that built them. When it came time to name its new console, it must have felt like a no-brainer. Something Wii or Wii Something.
They went with Wii Something, that 'something' being a 'U'. Hindsight is 20/20, but that was clearly a mistake.
'Super', 'Advance', 'colour', '3D' — all previous additions to Nintendo's established brand names suggested an upgrade of some kind. 'U' means nothing. In normal circumstances that would be fine, but when you're trying to sell a console that looks similar (in terms of design) and also uses the precise same controller as the previous console (GamePad notwithstanding) you can't expect a mainstream audience to instantly understand that this is a product worth buying. Names can be meaningless, that's fine — the word 'Wii' was completely meaningless really — but when a name confuse its target market, then you've got issues.
And the name Wii U is confusing. It doesn't sound like it's a new console. It sounds like an upgrade that isn't essential. When you combine that with a relatively new mobile phone culture that upgrades and sells similar products in increasingly shorter timespans, you can't blame mainstream consumers for thinking that the Wii U was a product they could safely skip. It must have felt like an iPad 2 or an iPhone 4S — the one you don't need unless you have money to burn; early adopters. Suckers with too much cash.
And now Nintendo is in a strange situation. They have a message but no real means to communicate it. Mainstream media isn't interested, the gimmick isn't there. Nintendo isn't as cash rich as it once was, so its spending less on marketing. Once upon a time you couldn't escape Nintendo's savvy advertising, now it's nowhere to be seen.
Of course Nintendo isn't doomed. Nintendo will do what it has always done: retreat into the turtle shell of its stubbornly resistant handheld business and plan for the next disruptive move. And maybe, just maybe, it'll learn from mistakes made in the past.