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What the Wii U needs to succeed

Can the Wii U be a hit despite a lackluster reception at E3? There's a way to compete with the likes of Microsoft, Sony, and Apple but it isn't easy.

Dan Ackerman / Libe Goad

It's trendy at this year's E3 to trash the Wii U. Nintendo's next-gen console has its work cut out for it: strange tablet-like GamePad controller, the challenge of making games for its dual-screen potential, the unknown price, and the looming question of whether Nintendo's core casual-gaming crowd has moved on to Apple's iPastures.

What if the Wii U were to succeed?

Nintendo has had a way of pulling rabbits out hats with strange hardware. I remember hating the Nintendo DS when it first was released; it became my favorite handheld. The original Wii was mocked for its name, its lack of HD, and its games-for-everyone mantra. It only became a household name.

If these things come to pass, I think the Wii U could succeed, too.

It won't be easy, and it may require compromise. More importantly, Nintendo will have to acknowledge that its primary mission is to win gamers -- and the public at large -- back.

  1. Be a great, small set-top box. Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube. Only four apps, but together they cover nearly all bases for streaming video content for the average person. Rent a movie or buy a TV show? Amazon. Indie films, TV shows, and catch-all streaming subscriptions? Hulu and Netflix. YouTube for the zeitgeist. It may lack HBO Go or ESPN, but those require cable subscriptions. If Nintendo can double down on streaming services, the Wii U has a distinct advantage over the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3: it's small and innocuous. Don't underestimate that advantage. The Wii appealed to many households who didn't want a large game console cluttering up their living room. The Wii U needs to compete with Roku and the Apple TV. 
  2. Be affordable, at any cost. The Wii U may be next-gen for Nintendo, but it'll be last-gen compared to anything Microsoft and Sony put out next. The Wii U needs to undercut the competition and be practically an impulse purchase. Is that even possible? 
  3. Make the GamePad an optional purchase. Sacrilege, you say? I think, as Dan Ackerman has said, that the GamePad adds complication to Nintendo's simplicity. Some will like it; others will be alienated. Also, that GamePad's sure to add to the console box price. Why not offer one system with the GamePad, and one without for those who just want to enjoy a few games and streaming video? 
  4. Ensure that all games are GamePad-optional, too. Nintendo did something funny with the Nintendo 3DS: by insisting that all games didn't require 3D to be played, it seems like they took their greatest asset and ignored it. Instead, what happened is that those who were annoyed by glasses-free 3D could sidestep it and still play Nintendo games. Some will be annoyed by second-screen gaming: let them enjoy Wii U games too, or you might lose them as customers. 
  5. Make lots and lots of incredible, online-playable games. Nintendo's odd relationship with the Internet has to end. Miiverse seems like a solid first step, but every Wii U gamer needs great games to play online with others. Moreover, the Wii U needs great games. Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U and NintendoLand aren't enough. These games need to born from Nintendo's fertile brain, not third-party publishers. Nintendo's always succeeded based on its own content. 
  6. Woo indie developers, fast. The App Store has the lion's share of incredible and affordable small-scale games. Nintendo needs to wrangle these minds and unleash the power of the Wii U and its second-screen gaming, and do it or games that cost $5 as well as $50. Compilation discs like NintendoLand are nice as a pack-in, but small, cute games are destined for Wii U online downloading.

Do you agree?

Now playing: Watch this: Wii U at E3 2012