Even killer Nintendo games couldn't keep the Wii U from having a horrible year
Things have been looking grim for Nintendo and Wii U owners for a while, but now it just looks bad.
Nintendo posted an operating loss of $457 million over the past year, the company announced today. Simply put, people just aren't buying the Wii U—only 6.17 million have been sold to date, since the console's launch a year and a half ago. Sony's PlayStation 4, by contrast, moved seven million units by April—a mere five months after launch. Microsoft's Xbox One sold five million units by mid-April.
Worse: In the entire three-month quarter that ended March 31, Nintendo only moved 310,000 Wii Us. The Xbox One sold more units (311,000) just in March.
Something needs to be done. This is the third year Nintendo has posted a loss, and while that's not a "sky-is-falling-world-is-ending" situation to be in—Nintendo is still sitting on a hefty pile of cash—it's not desirable, and it directly affects the game selection for the Wii U.
Trouble in Mushroom Kingdom
The old Nintendo wisdom is showing its cracks this generation, that wisdom being "Just wait until Nintendo's games release and then the system will sell gangbusters."
The Wii U certainly started out strong. Ubisoft kicked things off with ZombiiU, which was far more unique and interesting than any game that launched alongside the Xbox One and PS4. Nobody cared and the system didn't sell. And as a result, third-party support slowed to a trickle faster than any other Nintendo platform I can think of, with virtually all top publishers snubbing the console in one way or another. Heck, Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4—the follow-up to Unreal Engine 3, a graphics engine that's very widely used in the games industry— isn't even designed to run on the Wii U.
With developer support stalling, the hope was that first-party Nintendo games would get the Wii U selling. Nintendo released New Super Mario Bros. U and then followed it up with a one-two punch of Super Mario 3D World—one of the best-rated titles of last year—and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, sprucing up one of the best-rated titles of all time. Nobody cared and the system still didn't sell.
What do you want, Nintendo fans? Do you want Mario Kart? Do you want Smash Bros? Nintendo hopes you want Mario Kart and Smash Bros. They hope you want those games badly.
Because the other option here is putting the pillow over poor, sweet Wii U's face and starting over.
And Nintendo knows it. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata is already on-record discussing the company's increased research and development budget. Does Nintendo do like the original Xbox and aim for a shortened lifecycle for the Wii U, rolling out a successor in short order? Focus on mysterious "non-wearable" health technology? Or is it possible for Smash Bros and other Nintendo games to save this sinking ship and pull Nintendo back into profitability?
Once I might have backed that last possibility, hoping against hope the Wii U could pull itself back up by its digital bootstraps. Nowadays, I don't even know if the Wii U can afford boots.