I love Nintendo. I really do. In my opinion, they have the best understanding of game design in the industry. By that, I mean the nuts and bolts type of game design that delves into the nuances of visual communication, psychology, and many other aspects that are not always readily apparent to the player. I would go as far to say they are masters of it.
With this in mind, how did Nintendo make so many missteps with the launch of the Wii U? I have already stated that I love Nintendo, so it pains me to see them make so many seemingly obvious blunders. Especially when they are some of the same blunders they’ve been guilty of in the past. But, I would like to look at one of the new mistakes Nintendo has made with the Wii U.
Putting the lack of Wii U killer-apps aside, how did Nintendo fail to communicate what the Wii U is to the public? This, honestly, blows my mind. In a recent explanation session Mr. Iwata had with investors he admitted that, “Some have the misunderstanding that Wii U is just Wii with a pad for games, and others even consider Wii U GamePad as a peripheral device connectable to Wii. We feel deeply responsible for not having tried hard enough to have consumers understand the product.”
I realize that the game development team is different than the hardware design team, but perhaps they need to cross-pollinate a bit. I understand how they wanted to keep the “Wii” brand and so decided upon the name, Wii U. It may not have been the best idea, but it has logic behind it. The visual design of the console itself, however, has no excuse. The Wii U is essentially a smoother looking version of the Wii – and that is only apparent if you’re really paying attention. At a quick glance, most people could easily mistake a Wii U for a Wii.
This is something the game development group would have avoided. Let’s take the New Super Mario Bros. games, for example. They contain some new power-ups. Even when a new power-up is a variation on an existing theme, it presents itself clearly as something new and different.
The new Gold Flower communicates that it is related somehow to the Fire Flower. However, it also makes it very clear that the Gold Flower has unique properties.
Let’s pretend we’re designing the Wii U visual design for a second. Considering the Wii U is a completely new console, and not just a variation on the Wii, you would think a logical conclusion would be to make sure the audience realizes it is a brand new console – especially considering how peripheral-happy the Wii era was. OK, we’ve decided to call our new console Wii U, which is already a little dicey, but we should be able to make this work, right? Afterall, we managed to communicate that sometimes things can produce dramatically different results with mushrooms.
If we look at the way in which the game development department chose to communicate the differences between the flower and the mushroom power-ups we can see that both size and color can be used to dramatic effect.
So, with this in mind it baffles me that Nintendo did not radically redesign the Wii in some way to help communicate that the Wii U is not just a GamePad peripheral for the Wii. When you look at the previous consoles in Nintendo’s history, you can see they are not afraid of being adventurous. Both the Nintendo 64 and GameCube were very unique designs.
Even if there were 100 great reasons to go with the simple design of the Wii U, in spite of it looking practically identical to the Wii, you would at least assume then color could be used to differentiate it from the Wii. Perhaps one of these could have worked...
I have faith that Nintendo will get the Wii U back on track with the amazing line up of games they have planned for this year, but perhaps some of the heart-ache could have been avoided by looking at their game design team for inspiration and direction.