On the 19th of this month, Shigeru Miyamoto participated in a thorough interview with Laura Sydell of NPR, where he explained his own ideas regarding why the Wii U didn’t see the success its predecessor, among other topics.
It’s a bit of a lengthy read and the interview begins with more general questions covering the inspiration for the earliest iterations of Nintendo’s famous IPs. Eventually they get down to the nitty-gritty, and questions arise about the success (or lack thereof) of the Wii U on the market. For those out of the loop, 2014 was a dismal year for Nintendo, financially, but things have been looking great for them lately. Around April of this year they reported sales figures 20 percent higher than at the same time in 2014 for the Wii U, and a jaw-dropping 80 percent higher for 3DS sales.
Miyamoto told Sydell why he thinks the Wii U didn’t perform as well as expected at its launch:
One of the things about Nintendo that’s always been interesting is you’ve never tried to make a more powerful console with better graphics, and all the stuff that the Xbox has done. Can you explain a little why you’ve kind of stuck with that?
So unfortunately with our latest system, the Wii U, the price point was one that ended up getting a little higher than we wanted. But what we are always striving to do is to find a way to take novel technology that we can take and offer it to people at a price that everybody can afford. And in addition to that, rather than going after the high-end tech spec race and trying to create the most powerful console, really what we want to do is try to find a console that has the best balance of features with the best interface that anyone can use.
The first Wii sold really well; the Wii U, not so much. Do you think part of it is the price that the Wii has not sold so well?
So I don’t think it’s just price, because if the system is appealing enough, people will buy it even if the price is a little bit high. I think with Wii U, our challenge was that perhaps people didn’t understand the system. But also I think that we had a system that’s very unique — and, particularly with video game systems, typically it takes the game system a while to boot up. And we thought that with a tablet-type functionality connected to the system, you could have the rapid boot-up of tablet-type functionality, you could have the convenience of having that touch control with you there on the couch while you’re playing on a device that’s connected to the TV, and it would be a very unique system that could introduce some unique styles of play.
I think unfortunately what ended up happening was that tablets themselves appeared in the marketplace and evolved very, very rapidly, and unfortunately the Wii system launched at a time where the uniqueness of those features were perhaps not as strong as they were when we had first begun developing them. So what I think is unique about Nintendo is we’re constantly trying to do unique and different things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they’re not as big of a hit as we would like to hope. After Wii U, we’re hoping that next time it will be a very big hit.
While it’s easy to bark the original Wii sales statistics and compare them to the relatively dismal Wii U, the Wii U is seeing a bit of a renaissance, if you will. Nintendo deserves a bit of applause for turning the sales trends around with highly demanded titles like Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, and the new Splatoon.
Speaking of Splatoon, check out Polygon’s article regarding sales. In less than a month it’s sold over a million copies. Games are what sell consoles, and Nintendo knows that. Back in March, Mario Party 10 nearly sold 300,000 units in two weeks, which, according to Luke Karmali of IGN, Nintendo also credits for jumps in sales of the console.
The real hero of the past year has been the 3DS, though. Games like Super Smash Bros. 3DS, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and even the New 3DS XL’s introduction and Amiibo functionality are attributed to the success seen recently.
But what about the future? Also from the NPR interview, Miyamoto voiced the opinion of both himself and Nintendo as a whole in regards to the recent buzz around VR hardware.
At this conference, there’s a lot of virtual reality. Have you seen virtual reality? What do you think of it?
Yes, I’ve seen virtual reality, and we experiment with virtual reality and different technologies. We’re quite interested in it, but at the same time, Nintendo’s philosophy is that we create products that are going to be played with everyone in the living room. And we don’t feel that virtual reality is a good fit for that philosophy. And so, while I can’t say whether there will be a technology in the future that’s a virtual-reality-type experience that fits with that or not, we’re here at this conference to showcase the products that we’re going to be selling in the next year or so. We don’t have anything in the near future that fits that, and so that’s why we’re not showing anything in the virtual reality space this year.
The statement is consistent with the one made by Reggie Fils-Aime in an earlier interview with Polygon:
We have knowledge of the technical space, and we’ve been experimenting with this for a long, long time. What we believe is that, in order for this technology to move forward, you need to make it fun and you need to make it social. I haven’t walked the floor, so I can’t say in terms of what’s on the floor today, but at least based on what I’ve seen to date, it’s not fun, and it’s not social. It’s just tech.
So don’t expect to see the next VR console to come from Nintendo, at least not yet. It seems as though they’re waiting for multiplayer VR experiences to be developed and for it to be plausible to expect a household to own more than one headset. Regardless, they aren’t stupid over there at Nintendo, and VR will change a lot of the industry’s landscape but will not be a make-or-break feature.
Needless to say, Nintendo will continue to surprise us all for a long time, and fans have a lot to look forward to after this year’s E3 conference.