Looking back at the Wii, the WiiU and the Switch and their respective success or failure I think I see three major points influencing them. To be clear, other may identify other points and they may have more or less influence than the ones I note, but for me it looks like a somewhat plausible explanation of their respective sales.
The three points I want to discuss are:
- Does Nintendo know what to do with the device/the controller?
- How much perceived value does the device offer for the customer?
- games, games, games
Does Nintendo know what to do with the device/the controller?
This is an interesting point, which became only clearer for me recently. Nintendo tends to try new stuff for the controller or the device. But do they know how to utilize these changes? I came to realize, that this actually is very important. Let's look at the three consoles.
The Wii introduced a range of control-options with the Wiimote and the optional Nunchuk. These controllers were included with the system, so no additional purchase needed as long as you played alone. The introduced gaming options were:
- buttons/triggers/stick: The Wiimote had buttons, although not as much as a classic controller and not in a classic layout. Only the Nunchuk offered a stick though.
- gesture control: This was the main selling point of the Wii. Gesture control was mimicking some motions while holding the Wiimote (and in some cases the Nunchuk in the other hand).
- pointer/light gun control: The Wiimote also included pointer controls, which were realized through a IR-camera and a separate sensor-bar which basically is only a set of IR-LEDs.
- gyro control: You could hold the Wiimote sideways and tilt it. Four directions of tilts are detected this way.
- speakers: The Wiimote actually had speakers, which could output different sounds than the main sound output.
These new control possibilities were obviously the main selling point. And Nintendo used them in many ways. Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort used the gesture input. Shooters (like Metroid Prime) used the pointer controls, which were also used in the interface (as sort of mouse). The gyro control could be used as a steering wheel, which was used by racers like Mario Kart Wii (and was solidified with additional acessory you could plug the Wiimote into which had the shape of a wheel).
I like to add, that in my opinion the pointer controls (at least for me) are the best controls for aiming after a mouse. As a mouse needs a flat surface though, the pointer controls of the Wii still are the best shooter controls for console I know. Just my personal taste, but it is great how fast and precise you can aim with the Wiimote.
Sadly Nintendo also overused some of the usages. They put in gesture control in places where buttons still were better. So in some games you used the gestures as activators for stuff in more classic games, which would be easier to activate through buttons. I think Nintendo aimed for immersive experiences, but actually I think immersiveness in gaming is often overrated. But you probably fall out of the immersion faster if you do something awkward than all the actions are fluid, even if they don't reflect on the gamers side the stuff done in the game.
Another shortcoming is the missing classic control. Back at the time I thought they included it with the classic controller. But today I understand, that the classic controller was to be bought separately, and that is a big hurdle. Game devs who use more classic control schemes would reduce their potential userbase, if they demand classic controls. So it is clear they had to map the games actions somehow onto the Wiimote, even if they offered support for classic controls.
Anyways, in conclusion I think Nintendo did understand the possibilities of the controller(s) they introduced here. They had different games using the different forms of inputs. They were unclear about the limitations though or thought they needed to emphasize the use of these controls for every gaming actions, which lead to overuse in some games. Also the speaker in the Wiimote was barely used, it was basically useless.
The main new thing for the WiiU was the gamepad, the only included controller. Wiimotes were supported, but not included which meant effectively few games actually used them (and that in result meant the WiiU was a gaming device that was experienced as something very different from the Wii. The optins offered by the gamepad were:
- classic buttons/triggers/sticks: The gamepad had the classic control scheme with all the stuff in the right place, although the gamepad itself was much bulkier than classic controllers.
- touchscreen: A resitive touchscreen was included, even with a stylus. The touchscreen could be used as a main screen, but also as a second screen, depending on the game. Nintendo also talked about assymetric gaming in regards to the second screen.
- speaker/microphone: As the Wiimote, the gamepad included an additional speaker and also a microphone.
- NFC input: The gamepad had an NFC reader which were used for Amiibos.
- sensor bar: The gamepad has it's own small sensor bar, which worked with a Wiimote. Makes it more strange they didn't include a Wiimote.
- camera: The gamepad had a camera.
- gyro control: Again gyro sensors were included.
So, on paper the WiiU with the gamepad included a whole lot of gaming options. But did Nintendo knew what to do with all that?
The most obvious part is that they again had a classic control scheme that was utilized by many games. This made porting of multiplatform gamesmuch easier than on the Wii, which in turn meant the WiiU initially got quite some of these ports, until they dried up because the device failed to sell much.
The touchscreen was used for the interface, for drawing stuff in Miiverse and Art Academy and for written number recognition in Brain Academy.. Besides that it saw not much usage in games, a little inventory management in ZombiU (but as the later ports to other platforms showed the game could work without it), or some gameplay options in Pikmin 3, superjumps to other players in Splatoon. But besides that the touch controls did not saw much use in games. All the main examples are games that came from the DS (Art Academy, Brain Academy). Only late in the WiiUs lifetime they actually found another usage: for Mario Maker. In classic games the touch-input was underused, mostly optional besides classic controls or for additional functions like inventory control or menus.
The second screen function was used quite some time. Some games used it for inventory management, a map, menus or similar stuff. This was indeed a comfortable function from time to time, but seldomly in a way that felt essential. The most usage was probably playing the game while the TV was occupied differently or gave you more options to play (in bed for instance). This was a bit restricted, as you needed to stay close to the base console, but it worked.
The speaker was a bit more used than in the Wiimote, I remember a Batman game used it as a walkie-talkie. But it wasn't important for gameplay. I can't remember any bigger usage. Similarly microphone and also camera went mostly unused, Nintendo had a video chat included, which pretty much was the only usage for camera and mic.
Including the sensor bar in the gamepad was probably the strangest decision, as they didn't ever pack-in a Wiimote. So it was as far as I know only ever used in Wii compatibility mode.
The NFC reader was used for Amiibos which seemingly were a great source of revenue for Nintendo. Games used Amiibos in different ways. Smash Bros clearly is the most advanced usage. Many other games offered simpler usage: content locked behind the Amiibo or random rewards like in Hyrule Warriors.
The gyro controls were used in some shooters like ZombiU. Usually that meant aiming with the gamepad while the gamepad screen showed the crosshair, maybe viewed through a telescope. The shape of the gamepad makes the feature less usable for racers though.
So in conclusion, how well was it all used? Basically, the classic controls were used best. The touch-input was used in ways explored before on the DS. Speaker, microphone and camera were clearly underused. The inclusion of the sensor bar was basically pointless. Second screen functionality was a little used. But the assymetric gameplay Nintendo was talking about never realized, so clearly Nintendo had no plan and just talked some stuff here. The only really useful stuff was playing without the TV. Amiibos were OK, but no game-changer. Gyro control was used in some games and made sense. So yeah, Nintendo included a lot of stuff, but wasn't even really knowing what to do with all of it. They had usages ready for some of the functions, but others went underused. Basically they hoped some of the 3rd-parties had an idea how to use the gamepad.
Again Nintendo offered some new gaming options for the device:
- classic buttons/triggers/sticks: The Joycons offer the classic array of inputs.
- mobile/home/tabletop: Games can be played docked at home and then undocked mobile without much differences. Tabletop offers mobile multiplayer usage.
- touchscreen: Again Nintendo includes a touch screen.
- NFC-reader: Again Nintendo wants to sell us Amiibos.
- gesture control: The Joycons also incorporate gesture control.
- gyro control: And again also gyro control is included.
- IR-sensor: One Joycon has an IR-camera.
- HD-rumble: As Nintendo released the Switch, they spoke a lot of the more finetuned rumble feature.
I want to emphasize how the classic control scheme is implemented. In mobile mode it is obvious, the Joycons are attached to the sides of the screen and offer a similar experience to the WiiU gamepad (somewhat sleeker design though). In docked mode you can detach the Joycons and put them in the grip which is included with the Switch. This creates a funny-looking but fully functional classic controller. This is in difference to the Wii, for which you needed to purchase that controller separately.
In result there are again no hindrances to port games with classic control schemes. And oh boy does this get used for the Switch. Indies, older classics and some of the newer games are all ported to the console. First of all is Nintendo itself, who basically ported the whole WiiU library.
The main draw obviously is the switching between mobile and docked mode. Basically all games use this. The exception are some mobile ports which don't include a control scheme without touch screen. Also I want to point out, that I didn't list a second screen as an option for Switch. Because it doesn't have one. If you undock, you lose the TV-screen. So the assymetric games that we never saw on WiiU can't materialize on Switch. But the most important usage of the WiiU-gamepad - playing without a TV - is still possible with Switch and vastly improved, because of the higher mobility. Lastly, tabletop-mode enables to play local multiplayer games mobile. I personally don't do that, but many multiplayer games support this.
The touch-screen of the Switch has a major disadvantage compared to the gamepad of the WiiU: it doesn't work docked. This obviously restricts the usage a lot. Still some games like Brain Training, Mario Party or mobile ports use it. Other games include the input scheme in mobile mode, like Civilization.
The usage of Amiibos has reduced since the WiiU, but still some games like Smash do.
Gesture control was initially used in 1-2-Switch and incorporated in some other games like Just Dance. It is used much more sparingly than in Wii-times. Nintendo doesn't shove the scheme down our throat as back then, and even many games that use them (like Arms) have it as an option and offer also a more classic control scheme. Seemingly Nintendo has learned from their overuse in Wii-times. That makes the feature on the other hand often seem useless. But newer games like Ring Fit Adventure and Labo used it. Interestingly enough, Labo didn't track gestures directly, but movement in parts the Joycon was plugged into. Ring Fit Adventure also didn't use it for hand tracking, but instead for leg tracking. Still, a real gesture game like Wii Sports is still missing. Well, you have Just Dance, but that works with about everything.
Gyro-control is a feature that is kept in usage from the WiiU. It is widely used for aiming, starting right off the bat with Breath of the Wild. I see the feature less used as tilt control in racers. Another nice usage is tilt control in Arms, but that is optional.
The most surprising is the IR-sensor. It doesn't support pointer functionality, like with the Wii (no sensor bar). And initially only some mini-game in 1-2-Switch used. Than Nintendo surprised me with the usage in Labo. With reflective stripes and the IR-sensor it was interestingly used for instance with the piano. And another year later Nintendo used it as heart beat monitor in RFA. It is clear, that the Joycons were designed with this in mind. For instance Wiimote can't sense heart beat, that is why Nintendo planned the vitality sensor. And the form of the Joycon allows exactly the usage in RFA. Nintendo had already planned for this, but waited until year three with a game. Similarly HD-rumble initially seemed like a silly feature, but then got surprising usage in Labo, like moving a cardboard bug and with finetuned rumbling it could turn left and right.
It is clear, that Nintendo carefully planned the features of the Switch and Joycons with ideas in mind what to do with it. It was a bit surprising though, that they took their time to utilize it with Labo and Ring Fit adventure. Only the NFC reader and partly the gesture input are underused. The touchscreen input is a bit restricted, as it only works mobile, but in that mode actually it adds a nice control option to matching games, which exist and use it.
Nintendo knew what to do with the new features of the Wii, although they sometimes overdid it and used it in places where classic controls would've worked fine. On the WiiU though it was mixed. Some features were utilized by Nintendo, others not. Seemingly Nintendo threw together some technical features, but had no real plan. On Switch though again everything in the hardware seems to be built in with a plan how to use it and Nintendo demonstrate that with games.
Wii and Switch are successes, the WiiU was a failure. It seems useful if Nintendo actually know why they build a feature into the hardware and demonstrate that through games.
How much perceived value does the device offer for the customer?
Here the perceived value matters. Not the cost of the components, not what is actually possible, but what the customer feels the device is worth or what the device is offering. This is to be seen in relation to the price.
The Wii mainly offered (and was advertised as much) as a gaming device which offered new and intuitive ways to play. These ways were seen as fun, especially in a group. This was clearly an offering for people who at that point didn't play often and were intimidated by complicated control schemes. For more classic gamers the value looked more mixed, as some classic games did work, but not always in a way as they were used.
The WiiU offered a more classical way to play with a nebulous promise of assymetric gameplay. In the end the main value came from playing without a TV. The WiiU clearly was again intimidating all the newly won gamers that played with a Wii. The offering was clearly directed at more classic gamers, but with little added value and a bulky looking gamepad (as it was very light it actually was comfortable, but to know that you had to buy one first).
The Switch offers a classic way to play, but with the added value of playing the same games mobile. This actually turns out to be such a huge value that many bought the games they already owned again for Switch, just for this added mobility. It also draws in partially people with some new ways to play, but clearly isn't as welcoming to new players as the Wii was.
Now these values have to be set into relation to the launch prices:
- Wii: 250 €/$
- WiiU: 300-350 €/$
- Switch: 300$/320€
So, clearly the Wii offered a high value to new groups of customers for little price. The WiiU offered medium to small value to a more classic group of gamers for a medium price. The Switch offers high value to classic gamers and some value to less classical groups of gamers to a lower price.
Again, Wii and Switch were succesful with this perceived value, WiiU wasn't.
And finally games. I look at important games (possible system sellers) in about the first year. I list games of which I think Nintendo planned them as system sellers. Not all these games always worked out in that way, but with placement and advertisement I think Nintendo planned them as system sellers. I also look mostly at Nintendo games, as they can't influence 3rd-parties and it is on Nintendo to sell the system. Collaboration I count though, as Nintendo was involved in planning them. Quarters are meant as the quarters after launch.
|launch month/holidays||Wii Sports, Zelda Twilight Princess||NSMBU, Nintendo Land||Zelda BOTW, 1-2 Switch|
|Q1||Wii Play||Mario Kart 8, Arms|
|Q2||Mario Party 8, Big Brain Academy||Splatoon 2, Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Pokken Tournament|
|Q3||Pikmin 3||Super Mario Odyssey|
|Q4||Super Mario Galaxy, Mario&Sonic at the Olympic Games, Animal Crossing||Super Mario 3D World, Zelda Windwaker, Wii Party U, Mario&Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games|
All three consoles started out with two big titles at launch. Not everything worked as well (Nintendo Land), but all there at least decent sellers and they all there clearly intended as system sellers. But then it starts to differ. Wii and Switch followed up with strong titles in the months after the launch. The WiiU on the other hand had for almost a year nothing, until the following holidays saw some big releases.
Again this matches up with the sales success.
So what do you think? Were these points important for the success of these systems? Are other things more important?