Before I start, let me preface by saying that I own and love both of the consoles described in this article. That said, even if you love something you have to be honest, and if I’m being honest the Wii U and Vita are failing in the marketplace. The problem is not with the systems themselves, but rather their manufacturers and interestingly enough it’s because both companies made the same mistakes with their respective consoles. While of course neither Sony nor Nintendo were looking over the other’s shoulders to make these mistakes, I find it ironic that each company’s console failed where the other company was the king: Sony’s handheld and Nintendo’s home console. I’ll look at the two big shared mistakes, then get into individual mistakes that both made. Let’s get to it.
The first mistake is terrible marketing. While you can always count on having your rabid fans purchase your wares with only a modicum of announcement, if you want to have a legitimate hit console on your hands you must advertise and do so properly. Nintendo did an absolutely fantastic job of this with the original Wii, which helped get it into the hands of many consumers who not only wouldn’t normally buy a video game but have never owned a console period. However, they utterly failed to connect with this huge market of non-gamers by having the Wii U sound like a Wii peripheral. I will accept that people should do even the beginnings of basic research before purchasing any home electronic, but the name cost Nintendo a lot of sales. They further hurt themselves by failing to showcase the absolutely brilliant first party releases for the console, and the unique third party offerings. While they have improved on this front, I wonder if it’s a case of “too little, too late” to save the struggling console.
On the other side Sony apparently had no damned idea of how to market the Vita. They initially tried to market it almost as a portable PS3, and attempted to have AAA titles that showed off the handheld’s impressive power. While titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 were impressive they still weren’t console level quality, at least graphics wise. It featured a Remote Play ability to use with actual PS3 consoles, but it was only supported by a handful of titles. This actually would have helped the console live up to its reputation, but sadly this wasn’t really supported until the PS4 which allowed any game to be used with Vita Remote Play. Sony later tried to market the Vita as the penultimate peripheral for any Playstation player (that’s alliteration, assholes!) but at the normal sticker price of $150 it was too expensive to market to most PS4 owners and thus the marketing fell on its face twice. That’s got to be some kind of a record in dubious distinctions if there ever was one. Lately, Sony seems content to drop random indie games, a metric shitload of JRPGs and a bunch of anime fanservice wankfests while pretending the Vita doesn’t exist otherwise. Kind of like how metal fans do with that St. Anger album.
That’s just one of the two big mistakes. The next one is what really kills any video game console and that’s a lack of good third party games. Nobody buys a console just because it looks nice on a shelf – at least nobody with an IQ above room temperature. If a console doesn’t have games worth playing, then why are you shelling out hundreds to buy it?
Nintendo at least has a bit of a cushion in this department as they’re far and away the greatest first party developer in the history of video games, but the lack of third party games has most certainly hurt the sales of the Wii U. While the lower price and excellent backwards compatibility helped convince many to buy it as a second system, very few chose it as their only console because you miss out on the vast majority of third party games. While this is not to say there aren’t a lot of great games on Wii U – it has more highly rated exclusives that any other system – but the majority of games released are third party and aren’t on Wii U. While I couldn’t give any less of a crap about the last Call-of-Medal-of-Fields or Madden-XX, I don’t think it’s a shot in the dark to say that others may be turned off of the Wii U for that very reason. In fact, I’d go ahead and say that’s likely the biggest reason that the Wii U hasn’t broken records like the Wii did. Nintendo appears to be trying to change this for the NX, but only time will tell.
This rolls right over to the Vita. Now, just like the Wii U there are a lot of excellent games available on the handheld including TWO Earth Defense Force games and some rather well done ports of PS2/3 games. For a while the Vita was becoming a handheld indie powerhouse, but even that has slowed down more than a stoner metal band on Unisom. Sony has essentially said they are no longer making first party titles for the system, and I can’t tell you the last AAA title that released on this system without taking a jaunt over to Wikipedia. For a system that’s priced a bit between the 3DS and New 3DS – another system that has no games to make you want to buy it – but with individual games roughly the same price as 3DS titles, there’s very little to grab new owners unless they happen to be anime or JRPG fans.
That’s not to say those are the only mistakes each manufacturer made, but it’s ironic that two companies made the same two huge mistakes that led to their consoles being a losing proposition. I’m going to finish this article by looking at the two individual mistakes each company has made that helped secure their console’s path down the highway to Hell.
Sony, we get it. Proprietary memory formats leave you at full mast and the idea of people not being able to buy cheap memory is like downing a full bottle of Spanish Fly. I don’t know why in the wide world of sports you didn’t learn the lesson of the PSP about expensive proprietary memory, you only made it worse with the Vita. While you have been pretty awesome about flash sales and such, offering great deals on digital download games, it makes it meaningless when you have to pay around $20 for a 4 GB card. Meanwhile, for nearly the same price I can get literally 16 times that on a standard SD card, i.e. what the 3DS uses for storage. Even as the Vita tanks quicker than the approval rating for Trump/Clinton – take your pick, both of them suck – you keep the price of Vita memory high. At least it was somewhat better on the PSP as Memory Sticks were used in your fairly good line of cameras and camcorders which sometimes led to good deals on memory. Sony, stop this crap.
Nintendo, you are normally one of the best at designing hardware that works great and is easy to use. I get that you wanted to try an innovative way of playing games and thus developed the Game Pad, but it wasn’t your best work. The game streaming without a TV is brilliant, but the WiFi reception is sub-par. My bedroom is adjacent to my living room yet I still sometimes have trouble with the feature. The battery life is also terrible, though ameliorated some by the release of an extended battery. This looks even worse when compared to your own Pro Controller, which is absolutely fantastic with a battery life, in the tens of hours on a charge. I honestly consider it the best controller of this generation. I admit this is a bit nitpicky, but I wanted to give Nintendo an individual mistake as well and this was the worst of the rest. I would mention their horrible copyright policy, but that’s not a Wii U thing so I’ll save that for another day. That said, don’t think I’ll forget it, Nintendo. Your time will come.
Even with all the mistakes and missteps I’ve mentioned in this article, I don’t want anyone thinking I believe either console is bad. I actually think both are wonderful gaming machines that I wished more gamers would own. Beyond that, either one of these failing in the marketplace would mean less choices available for gamers and more choice is always a good thing. The only ones who honestly believe we shouldn’t have as many options are dyed in the wool fanboys for whom logic and reason are as foreign a concept as talent in modern music. However, there’s a reason why the phrase “tough love” exists and sometimes you have to take your own side to task. I’m not writing this because I’m mad at either company for making a bad device, I’m writing this because I know both companies are capable of doing better and I wanted to express that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got XCOM to play on my Vita.