Nintendo Co’s President Satoru Iwata poses with the company’s Wii U game controller at the company headquarters after an interview with Reuters in Kyoto, western Japan January 7, 2013. Nintendo’s year-end sales of its Wii U games console were steady, though not as strong as when its Wii predecessor was first launched, Iwata said on Monday.
Last week, only three months after the launch of Nintendo’s Wii U console, Michael Pachter, the highest-profile analyst of the game industry, put the product, and the company, on death watch.
“They misfired on the Wii U,” he said to VentureBeat. “They made a mistake, it’s something they probably can’t recover from…and their handheld business can’t save them in the face of cannibalization from smartphones and tablets.”
The numbers back him up, at least for the time being. Wii U sold 57,000 units in January, 200,000-odd fewer copies than the Xbox 360, which is seven years old. And it’s not as if the commercial dubiousness of the Wii U only became apparent after its release. Nintendo’s stock dropped 10% the day after the console was announced in 2011.
Because the system has fared so poorly, so quickly, you’d probably assume that the coverage of the Wii U by the gaming and tech press, from its announcement to the reviews at its release, was characterized by skepticism, if not outright negativity. You’d be totally wrong. Here’s a sampling of things major game and tech sites have written about the moribund console:
VG24/7: “This is exciting technology, people. When someone starts showing some actual games, we can expect to be very impressed indeed.”
IGN: “I’m quite excited to pick up my own Deluxe Wii U on November 18, and can already foresee many sleepless night at the mercy of my entertainment center’s new centerpiece.”
Penny Arcade Report: “I adore the system so far.”
Destructoid: “I’m a believer. I am a bigger believer in the Wii U than I ever was with the Wii, and I think that, at least in terms of usability, Nintendo has concocted for itself the perfect storm.”
PC Mag: “Excellent…The Wii U, Nintendo’s first step into high-definition gaming, is an ambitious console that’s brimming with potential, even if that potential hasn’t quite been realized yet.”
Even those outlets that were more circumspect in no way recognized that this product (which as of this writing has a single major exclusive title — a 2-D Mario game, which have been extant since 1983 — that is rated above an 80 on the reviews aggregation site Metacritic) would totally fail to resonate with consumers. Kotaku did not give the system a “must buy” recommendation, but wrote:
“We can only say that for those who only have a Wii, the Wii U is everything the Wii was and more. We can’t, however, say that it demands the immediate attention the Wii did. We can’t say its games right now are the games you have to play this season. If you get a Wii U, you’ll likely be at least as content as the people who bought an Xbox 360 on day one were.”
Those systems, of course, are both more than six years old. Polygon expressed disappointment that the Wii U didn’t break any new ground for Nintendo, but conceded that it would still host great games: “The Wii U is poised to deliver the same thing Nintendo always has, but we’re still waiting to see if it can deliver more.”
So how did the gaming and tech press get this so wrong? How did journalists fail to see what investors and consumers discerned immediately?
It’s not a simple question, but it’s one that relates directly to a major debate going on in game journalism circles right now. Bear with me. Last week, Gearbox Games released a game called Alien: Colonial Marines to universal scorn from critics. The bad reviews were surprising: The game was made by a well-regarded developer, based on a beloved movie (James Cameron’s Aliens), and had been the subject of glowing previews from some of the game establishment’s most respected journalists.
Over the past week, embarrassed by their credulous writing about the game, games journalists have been debating the role of the game preview in their publications. At issue is the idea that game publishers typically show game journalists extremely polished, sometimes non-playable slivers of their forthcoming games, and that covering such events, even neutrally, inevitably leads to overly positive, if not fawning, stories. Jenn Frank summarized the attitude of many when she tweeted that “the previews process…is the last vestige of enthusiast press,” meaning it’s one of the only places remaining in games journalism in which the legacy persists of uncritical fans queueing up to see new games early. Kotaku issued a long explanation of its preview policy with the weirdly defensive headline “Apologies if We Wasted Your Time with that Preview.”
Frank may be right that previews are the last structural vestige of the enthusiast press. But let’s not delude ourselves: There is the vestige of the enthusiast in the heart of every game journalist. No one gets into games writing because they are completely dispassionate about games. It’s a natural instinct for people who grew up cherishing games to want games, and game systems, to be good. (This phenomenon is obviously not limited to games. For a great example in tech, read PC Magazine’s 2008 review of the Samsung Instinct. Money quote: “If you want an iPhone, but you don’t want to switch from Sprint, the Instinct is almost as good.”)
Look: I want the PlayStation 4 to be good. I want the new Xbox to be good. I wish Wii U had more good games, and that the handheld peripheral wasn’t so obviously a mistake. But this is an instinct that people who aspire to cover games honestly for a wide audience need to be incredibly aware of, and vigilant about either acknowledging or suppressing. Because this is exactly the reason that game journalists failed to see plainly what an insufficient product the Wii U was going to be for months after its release, and perhaps forever. Nintendo has earned an enormous reservoir of positive feelings from gamers (and game/tech journalists) who grew up on their wonderful products. People want Nintendo to succeed. It is telling that the people who were clear-eyed about the Wii U — investors and consumers — both had money on the line. Significant purchasing decisions have a way of turning beliefs into questions.
That’s an important lesson to keep in mind on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, as we digest the coverage of Sony’s announcement of the new PlayStation. Let’s ask ourselves some very basic questions: Does the technology seem like something that people will want to use? Are there games for the system that people will play? Are there features that seem transparently unnecessary or cumbersome? Does the system, and its games, do things that people will want to pay hundreds of dollars for? The thing these questions have in common is called common sense, and when we evaluate new gaming technology, we need to start believing in it.
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I understand what he’s saying but he’s cleverly politic’d an escape route for pop fanbase and supporting claims.
Sure journo’s said positive, vaguely informative things about the Wii U but almost to the day before release the fanboy fukwits waxed a crescendo and those journo’s helped proliferate the web with rants galore. The systems been barely out but everyones predicting futures - oh btw, fuck U Pachter, just nicely. Onya for completely fucking up a Nintendo launch for its fans, you wouldn’t believe what they’ve had to put up with. The fact is you are a fucking fascist miser and social terrorist. Nah, game journo’s let Nintendo fans down. How? because you failed to promote moderation over the console and deliberately programmed readers against the Wii U; not those fuckwit fanboys no one gives a shit about them, but readers. I personally can’t wait til those people start looking back and asking why. Who cares why when you throw someone under a bus, you lose all credibility, but I’m gonna enjoy watching all the backtracking. Coz you cheated them out of an option.
Gotta ask ya’ll - Did you enjoy the response? Constructive was it? No different with A:CM. You all knew what was going on and said no-thiiing. You can wax lyrical all you want about all this inequity, this’n’that but the pure truth is for a little while you sold out. Now ya wanna be all moderate and informative again.
I’ve been gaming since 1978. Never in my history have I witnessed what has occurred first quater of 2013. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.
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Way to pull quotes out of context from articles which also note strong skepticism about the prospects of the Wii U. It’s hilarious to me that in an article that attempts to admonish the gaming press for not doing their job, you utterly failed to follow some of the most basic rules of journalistic ethics and integrity. Have fun being blasted apart by those journalists whose quotes you pulled for this laughable article.
I have a wii u and enjoy it immensely, I did have Rayman preorder but it moved.
All new products need time, me and all the other wii u owners are happy with our purchase and will wait.
Game player and game journalists are totally different, we don’t get swayed by a goodie bag and a free buffet.
In your critique of games journalism being optimistic, you defended your own stance by being optimistic. ” Look: I want the PlayStation 4 to be good. I want the new Xbox to be good. I wish Wii U had more good games, and that the handheld peripheral wasn’t so obviously a mistake.” More egregiously, you called into question the very validity of games journalists because they were hopeful for a historically innovative and successful companies risky endeavor. Even in your article you point out instances were this was not the case and contradict your point that games journalist are pandering liars (at least I think that’s your point, as this “story” has no led). Look, the world as a whole doubts the WiiU’s future success, especially gamers, but that is not news. Consoles aren’t phones, they are judged on content - on games. And that remains to be seen and thus, there is nothing wrong with pointing out exciting future content or … not! Both have been done by games journalist covering this systems release. Saying, “we hope there are games that take advantage of this” isn’t favoritism, its admitting falibility in judging a book by its cover, which you are clearly advocating since no one is honestly saying the WiiU is a smash hit, not even in your examples. And coming from Buzzfeed to top it all off? The home of “Copycat Journalism”. This article feels wrong, hypocritical and pandering. Bonus: Listen to the “Gamers With Jobs” podcast from the first week of February and you’ll hear them talk to a fan who feels the gaming press has been extremely negative to the WiiU, to which they admit, because it’s true, no matter how hard you try to earn views by shamelessly upsetting my day with confusing, led burying Buzzfeed “news”.
The WiiU is amazing and fun. Slow sales are not the same as a customer rejecting the product. People are spread thin for money. Also Nintendo is offering all the connectivity of xbox live with out the extra fee. Once the WiiU’s library improves, There isn’t really anything ground breaking microsoft or sony can do to catch up.
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