by Ben Gilbert

Nintendo’s latest home video game console, the Wii U, is a retail failure.

The Wii U simply isn’t competitive with the likes of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4. Despite the Wii U launching a full year ahead of competition from Microsoft and Sony, Wii U sales lag far behind those of its competitors: the Wii U has sold around 7.5 million units worldwide, while the PlayStation 4 topped 20 million this past February, and the Xbox One is somewhere north of 10 million units as of last holiday.

Nintendo’s chocked up the failure of the Wii U to a handful of factors across the past few years, but has largely settled on one reason: a poor job explaining what the Wii U is and why you should buy it.

The name, for one, makes the Wii U sound like an extension of the original Wii – the wildly popular Nintendo console that pre-dates the Wii U. The fact that the Wii U’s gamepad looks like a weird iPad didn’t help with the perception that the Wii U was simply an extension of the original Wii.

The man who created Super Mario and Donkey Kong, Shigeru Miyamoto – who now oversees the entire games department at Nintendo – offered a more thorough explanation for the Wii U’s failure in a recent interview with NPR. His first reason comes down to price:

“Unfortunately with our latest system, the Wii U, the price point was one that ended up getting a little higher than we wanted.”

But the Wii U launched at a relatively affordable price: $300 for the base model, and $350 for the “deluxe” version (which came with more space to store digital games). That’s at least $50 lower than the price of the PlayStation 4, which launched one year later. Not only did Nintendo have a jump on the competition in terms of launch timing, but also the cost of the system to consumers.


Thankfully, Miyamoto wasn’t done explaining why he thinks the Wii U failed. The bigger issue, he says, is that the defining tech is a tablet-like gamepad, and actual tablets were far, far more powerful.

“What ended up happening was that tablets themselves appeared in the marketplace and evolved very, very rapidly, and unfortunately the Wii [U] 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.”

In short: the Wii U’s “unique” characteristic was trumped by the companies that invented the category. Companies like Apple and Samsung were releasing newer, shinier, more powerful tablets every year while Nintendo was simply reacting to the popularity of the tablet phenomena. That remains the case today.

Miyamoto didn’t say anything about Nintendo’s next steps in the hardware world. The company’s repeatedly discussed its successor to the Wii U – currently codenamed “NX” – as well as some form of “Quality of Life” initiative.

He did, however, express his hope for a more positive reception from consumers next time around: “After Wii U, we’re hoping that next time it will be a very big hit.”

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