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What Can Save the Wii U?

Nintendo's flagging system

It's no secret that Nintendo's Wii U console has not been a smash hit, but the reality is even worse than Nintendo's modest predictions. The system, which launched in November, has only just crossed the million-unit threshold.

The data comes from Nintendo's own internal sales figures, which reveal that the Japanese gaming giant sold only 160,000 units globally over the last three months. To date, consumers have purchased 1.3 million units — weak numbers, especially considering that the original Wii sold approximately 10 million systems in just its first seven months on sale.

In spite of the Wii U's relative unpopularity, Nintendo is still making money, largely thanks to its 3DS handheld system and its first-party games for that system. Now that Nintendo has a little financial wiggle room, it may be time for the company to take a long, hard look at what it can do to get gamers excited about its quirky home console.

The Wii U has had an image problem from the start. Unlike Nintendo's previous machines, the original Wii appealed to casual gamers and nongamers, instead of to a traditional core audience. This accounts for its unparalleled success, but also helps explain Nintendo's difficulties in keeping casual gamers' attention.

Rather than being an entry point into the wider world of gaming, the Wii was mostly a novelty purchase. Its low price tag and accessible games meant that older adults, small children and curious casual fans could play Wii Sports to their hearts' content. Core games — action, adventure, role-playing and strategy titles — did not interest them much.

Consequently, when the Wii U launched, most people did not understand that this was a whole new console, not just the same box with a new attachment — the tabletlike GamePad. The fact that it plays original Wii games and utilizes original Wii controllers in addition to its novel controller did not help to show how it is different.

Many core gamers, on the other hand, scoffed at the system's specs (barely better than the Xbox 360's and PS3's, and much harder to leverage, thanks to the difficulty of making a game compatible with a tablet controller) and lineup of launch games, many of which were slightly upgraded versions of titles they'd already played on other consoles.

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