The Nintendo Wii U debuted to a lukewarm response at E3 2011 (check out our hands-on impressions)Â - mainly due to the lack of tangible software. While still a strong performer, Wii sales have started to slip – and Nintendo knew they needed to show investors and fans alike that they already have something in the works. Unfortunately, Wii U details were slim – leaving many in attendance scratching their heads at the reveal – which raised more questions than answers.
As a result, Nintendo has been steadily clarifying details on their system as well as discussing a lot of “possibilities” – further corroborating the position that the Wii U reveal was more of a “proof of concept” unveiling – not a fully-formed announcement. That said, whether or not the Wii U made a strong debut at E3 – there’s no doubt that Nintendo has successfully kept the console on the front page of video game news blogs around the internet, with one Wii U detail after another.
Despite the lackluster response from hardcore gamers, and a somewhat wishy-washy sense of what kind of game experiences we’ll actually see at launch, Nintendo of America president and chief operating officer,Â Reggie Fils-Aime believes the Wii U is definitely poised for success – even after the heavy Wii market-saturation.
Speaking with Forbes Magazine, Fils-Aime asserted that not only does the console offer a “new gameplay experience” – Nintendo doesn’t anticipate the Wii U will be “a difficult sell,” even with the Wii still on the market.
“What we are doing with Wii U is creating an ability for games to leverage two different screens; the big screen in your room, and the smaller handheld screen in front of you. By doing so it opens up all of these different experiences…Â Itâ€™s a great experience. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s going to be a hard sell. I think that communicating to consumers through the magic of the second window, you can have a totally unique experience, with another player still in the roomâ€¦ I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a difficult sell.”
That said, don’t expect everything on the big screen to seamlessly translate to the Wii U controller. When asked whether or not Netflix (or other media) could be streamed to the Wii U handheld, Fils-Aime landed back on the less-clear company line that dominated the E3 press conference:
“Theoretically, thatâ€™s possible…Â Itâ€™s not handheld, itâ€™s not a tablet, itâ€™s a different type of experience. Itâ€™s an experience that most consumers have said, wow, Iâ€™d love to do that. Iâ€™d love to be able to have my home console gaming experience while my spouse is watching something else, whether thatâ€™s live sports, whether thatâ€™s some other entertainment option. Once itâ€™s described, people are tremendously excited about it.”
Based on Fils-Aime’s example regarding transferring a game to the Wii U controller (when his wife wants to watch something else on the big screen) and combined with the uncertainty for Netflix streaming, it’s becoming increasingly clear that, aside from games, Nintendo isn’t intending on streaming a lot of media-heavy content to the device (especially since the console won’t play Blu-rays or DVDs). While the controller, based on the E3 press conference trailer, will be capable of displaying YouTube videos and other limited content on the big screen, it does sound as if, when it comes to streaming content to the controller, Nintendo is open to the idea but primarily focused on gameplay – especially since the controller is receiving all of its data from the console.
For example, when the user sends a YouTube video to their big screen from the Wii U controller, they’re not actually sending the file back and forth – only telling the console where to display it – since the video was on the Wii U the entire time. In this way, the Wii U itself acts a lot like an Apple TV – i.e. a digital hub. However, unlike Apple’s devices, which each have their own individual identities, the Wii U controller is inoperable if carried into another room – or used without the console powered-on.
Similarly, while other Nintendo devices will interact with the Wii U, gamers shouldn’t expect a robust multi-peripheral experience. Speaking about Wii U/3DS interactivity, Fils-Aime once again hinted at the upcoming Super Smash Bros. cross platform title between Wii U and 3DS. However, at a recent Nintendo shareholders meeting, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was a bit more reserved on the idea:
“First, I would like to answer from the perspective of whether it is technically possible or not. I will say that it is technically possible. However, there are some limitations: While the Nintendo 3DS is communicating with the Wii or the Wii U, the Wii or the Wii U will not be able to access the Internet, and this technical restriction will remain unless we add some special hardware.”
That said, whether or not the Wii U will be able to connect with other Nintendo peripherals or stream Netflix to the Wii U controller is, for some people, beside the point – since Nintendo is a game company. To that end, Iwata fielded a question regarding the lack of third-party support for the Wii at launch, asserting that Nintendo has learned their lesson:
“First, in the first half of 2009, when the Wii lost its momentum, we could not offer new titles for a certain period of time. We ourselves have to reflect on this situation…Â We think it very important to make several hits from the third-party software publishers within the first year from the release of the platform, while offering Nintendo software seamlessly.Â In order to achieve this goal, we have shared information about the new hardware with the software publishers earlier than we did previously and built a cooperative structure, and we are developing several titles in collaboration with these publishers…Â I cannot talk in detail about the names of the titles, or with which publishers we are currently collaborating, because we have not announced this information yet, but what we are aiming for with the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U is, platforms which have much more software and a wider variety of software than the former Nintendo DS or Wii.”
Gearbox co-founder Brian Martel,Â is one such developer – who, speaking with IGN, praised the system as well as the utility of the second controller:
“Right now we’re still finding out what kind of final tech specs the Wii U is going to have. But we like the system a lot; we think it’s going to be a really cool stop-gap in between this generation and the next generation…Â We think it’s really smart of Nintendo, and the fact that as a platform it’s a lot more capable for hardcore first-person shooter-style gaming – for us that’s fantastic…Â But the thing we’re most excited about is: what can we do with the controller? So the obvious thing for us is that we can do the motion tracker [on the controller screen], or the sentry gun information – all that kind of stuff.”
Martel’s comments also reinforce the notion that the Wii U is still in flux, without firm technical benchmarks – not to mention getting relegated as a “stop-gap” between generations. It’s hard to ignore that the Wii U, much like its predecessor, is set to rely heavily on a gimmick, the two-screen experience, rather than high-powered tech – which could, once again, pay-off big time with the casual market.Â However, will the consumers that made the Wii a hit feel the same itch to buy a new console from Nintendo?
With so many details up in the air, it’s still very possible that Nintendo’s focus on a new “gimmick” may not ignite their casual fans in the same way – while also putting them behind the graphics and online-play curve once again – since high-powered next generation consoles, the Xbox 720 and PS4, will likely be arriving in the next few years.
Follow me on TwitterÂ @benkendrick and let us know what Wii U details you’re hoping to see unveiled in the next year.