For the past few years, Nintendo has been in a rut. Coming off of the unprecedented success of the Wii, which managed to interest casual consumers as well as dedicated gamers, the company launched the Wii U, a console that has sold abysmally in the three years it’s been on the market. Even the company’s current handheld device, the Nintendo 3DS, is doing much worse than its predecessor. What’s going wrong? Why can’t Nintendo seem to sell its products anymore?
In an interview with Time, new Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima seems to think many of the company’s problems boil down to poor messaging.
And he’s right. For the past few years, Nintendo has done a terrible job of explaining its products to hardcore gamers — let alone to casual consumers.
Problems with messaging about the Wii U began the very day Nintendo announced it. The presentation didn’t even show the actual console during that unveiling; it just showed the GamePad. After the presentation, many people who watched it weren’t sure what they had just seen. Was the GamePad just an add-on to the existing Wii? If not, why didn’t they show the thing you put the discs in?
The issue hasn’t gotten better with more recent products and announcements. Nintendo’s Amiibo line of figurines was intended to be used in conjunction with Wii U and 3DS games. But that’s not how most buyers use Amiibos. Most people, Kimishima told Time, buy them as collectibles and simply set them on their shelves. Based on what I’ve seen on social media, he seems to be right.
Nintendo’s latest big announcement was supposed to be about how the company would shake up the mobile gaming space. After all, earlier this year, Nintendo said that it would create a handful of mobile games based on beloved franchises like Mario, Metroid, and Zelda. The first and only mobile app Nintendo has announced is Miitomo, a messaging app that uses Mii characters. Why Nintendo decided to build a messaging app at all, and why it unveiled the app before showcasing any of its upcoming mobile games, is anyone’s guess. The takeaway for most Nintendo fans was that the company doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing.
I get it. Marketing is tough, even for companies that make easy-to-understand products. It’s much harder for a Japanese company to make unique video games and hardware and explain to a worldwide audience exactly how they’re meant to be used.
But still, that’s Nintendo’s job, right? If it wants to make products, it has to let people know why they should care. Just look at Sony. Sony is a Japanese company, and it has no problem convincing millions of people around the world to buy a PlayStation 4. Sony has sold over 30 million PS4s in the past two years. In comparison, Nintendo has sold only 10 million Wii U consoles, and it’s been on the market a year longer than the PS4.
Nintendo’s real challenge will come in 2016, when the company plans to unveil its next piece of gaming hardware, currently codenamed NX. According to reports, the NX will be a unique gaming console that will work on television sets like a standard console, but it will also have a portable component so you can play games on the go. Explaining a new product like that to the general public would be a challenge for any company, let alone one that has struggled to inform people about relatively simple ideas like mobile apps and figurines.
All eyes will be on Nintendo in 2016. Let’s hope it can get its messaging in order so it doesn’t mess things up again.