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The Wii U could become the BlackBerry of video games

Sections: Consoles, Features, Opinions, Wii U

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I purchased a Wii U about two weeks ago. I bought it because I believe Nintendo could have something very special with the Wii U GamePad. My faith led me to choose ZombiU as my first game since it’s one of the few that puts a huge emphasis on utilizing the GamePad in a meaningful way. But the more I messed around with the Wii U, the more depressing it became. It’s in danger of being outclassed in every way by Sony and Microsoft, its software selection is severely lacking and it’s missing obvious features. In a way, the Wii U is becoming the BlackBerry of the video game industry.

BlackBerry (formally known as Research in Motion) was one of the most prominent cell phone manufacturers in the world. There was a time when owning a BlackBerry meant you had style, good taste and a premium product that was a force to be reckoned with. Nintendo had a similar appeal since the NES leading up to the Wii. As time went on, BlackBerry gained some competition from the Android operating system and the iPhone. These devices were still very young and held a small portion of the market compared to BlackBerry when they were introduced. BlackBerry’s leadership were convinced consumers would become disinterested in downloading apps and typing on virtual keyboards. BlackBerry believed people wanted physical keyboards, an easy messaging system and security above all else. It largely ignored the massive landscape changes that was happening right before its eyes. By the time BlackBerry realized it was time to change its outlook on smart devices, it was already too late. Most people don’t want a BlackBerry phone now. Top developers aren’t interested in the BlackBerry ecosystem. BlackBerry is traveling further down the road of irrelevance.  Do you know why? It spent too much time resting on its laurels.

This is how I feel about Nintendo and the Wii U. For too long, Nintendo waited to embrace the importance of having an online presence. Instead of figuring out a way to build an online infrastructure that could rival Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, Nintendo stood in awe of the massive money pile it amassed from Wii sales. Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft kept investing in its online presence. Microsoft essentially transformed Xbox Live into an entertainment hub with several video applications, music services and Kinect support. Sony spent its time promoting PlayStation Plus to get its customers to spend $50 a year on free games and discounts. Sony also runs its own music and video services. These features will live on and expand in the PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox console. Meanwhile, Nintendo is just getting started. It’s like Google vs. Apple vs. BlackBerry all over again.

The Nintendo Network was Nintendo’s first real attempt at building an online presence. It started life on the 3DS, but things didn’t start getting serious until the Wii U came along. I say that because the Wii U finally got Nintendo to drop its Friend Code system in favor of a unique Nintendo Network ID. The problem is Nintendo is way late to the party – just like BlackBerry. The Wii U eShop is extremely thin on content. It gets even worse if you don’t count the number of downloadable games that are also available at retail.

You get more variety if you shop for some classic games through WiiWare, but you can’t even access it without a Wii Remote. Since I don’t own a Wii, I had to purchase a Wii Remote for this very purpose. Nintendo promised to remedy this once it rolls out an update this spring. This reminds me of when the BlackBerry PlayBook shipped without a native email client. You had to use a BlackBerry phone in order to bridge a connection between the two devices. It took BlackBerry nearly a year to bring native email to the PlayBook. We also can’t forget about the massive patch that’s still required to bring the Wii U online. The fact that online functionality isn’t built into the Wii U’s software by default shows this console’s release was mostly an urgent reactionary response to stay relevant.

The number of non-gaming applications further exemplifies Nintendo’s position. The Wii U has Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Wii Street U and maybe a couple others. This is abysmal compared to the competition.

The TVii application doesn’t make things any better. It’s sluggish and there’s no easy way to tell if a particular show supports TV Tag. TV Tag could become a big feature if Nintendo ever gets it to work properly. This is another application that will receive improvements later down the line.

For all of its failings, Nintendo and BlackBerry do still possess unique characteristics that its competitors haven’t taken away from them. BlackBerry is still praised for handling messaging and emails very well. Nintendo can get people together in the same room to play a game like no other console maker of this generation. These are great staples to have, but it needs more to survive.

I honestly don’t know if Nintendo can work fast enough bring the Wii U up to speed with what’s already available. Its CEO is already apologizing for the lack of software. This is exactly what’s causing the Wii U to stay on store shelves. Nintendo isn’t as far down the hole as BlackBerry, but if we’re singing the same song by this time next year, Nintendo may find itself sticking to software in the future.

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