There is nothing drastically wrong with the hardware; it combines high-definition graphics with an intriguing tablet controller for what should be original and compelling gameplay experiences. It’s not the most powerful system in the world, but neither was the Nintendo DS, which went on to become the top-selling handheld platform of all time.
The company is failing to market the system effectively, however. Television adverts have lacked direction and the continuation of the Wii branding has made consumers question whether it’s a new system entirely, or just a new controller like the Wii Balance Board.
What the Wii U needs is some hype. Some excitement. Players sharing their experiences on Facebook, Twitter, Vine and any other number of social networks to show the rest of the world what they’re missing out on.
What it doesn’t need, at least right now, is Miiverse.
The promise of Miiverse
When Nintendo President Satoru Iwata first announced the company’s vision for a ‘Mii universe’, it made sense. Nintendo is known for producing family-friendly consoles, a hardware ecosystem where parents can let their children run riot without fearing the verbal abuse prevalent on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network.
Miiverse also seemed like a rather novel feature. Players can write and draw images using the tablet controller, before posting it to a social feed dedicated to a particular game or franchise. Combined with the ability to post screenshots from a multitude of games, Miiverse looked to be the perfect sanctuary for Nintendo gamers.
Miiverse is more of a fortress though.
If you don’t own a Nintendo Wii U, it’s almost impossible to see what’s happening in the Miiverse. There’s now a browser-based version of the service, which outsiders can visit to see a sample of posts, but it lacks the finesse and polish offered by Twitter, Facebook or Vine.
Most importantly, this walled-off approach means that new and potential customers never see the unique features and stand-out moments offered by the Nintendo Wii U system.
Embracing Twitter, Facebook and Vine
Imagine if instead of Miiverse, the Nintendo Wii U connected to other social networks and apps. Players could post six second videos of the crazy neighbor they’ve just encountered in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, or a nostalgic dungeon in upcoming eShop release Earthbound.
The advantages are twofold. Players get to share their content with all of their friends, on the social networks they already use on a regular basis. This improves the player’s overarching experience and also helps to incentivize further engagement with the Nintendo Wii U system.
For Nintendo, this integration would ensure that the maximum number of people are sharing and talking about its new system. One of its biggest problems has been about messaging; why not let players – those who are most passionate and knowledgable about Nintendo – do the heavy lifting and spread the word organically?
Miiverse, as it stands, doesn’t support widespread sharing.
It’s got to the point where players are being forced to use their smartphones and tablets to shoot videos of their Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. The process is arduous, however, and low quality compared to hardware that offers direct integration with these services.
Nintendo has promised to launch some form of mobile app for Miiverse, which has the potential to solve some of these issues. If it’s a read-only service similar to the browser-based incarnation, however (users can’t post anything new through this portal) it will be an opportunity wasted.
Nintendo isn’t an app developer
Nintendo is a fantastic video game developer and publisher. The first-party content for all of its systems is always sublime, and that’s partly how the company has managed to maintain its market position over the last two decades.
Nintendo also makes unique, compelling hardware. What it doesn’t excel in, however, is apps and firmware. The operating system on the Nintendo Wii U is lousy. It’s slow, to the point where the company has been forced to issue dedicated system updates to address the issue. Communicating with friends and navigating the eShop is adequate, but never an industry-leading experience either.
Microsoft and Sony have the ability to offer pretty compelling user interfaces by drawing on their experience with other hardware platforms far removed from gaming. Nintendo doesn’t enjoy this privilege, unfortunately.
So why waste valuable time and resources on Miiverse?
Nintendo has two choices moving forward. The first is to continue to improve Miiverse, and hope it grows to the point where it has a critical mass of users that can rival Facebook and Twitter. At the very least, players need to be able to share their Miiverse posts directly to other services. Without this functionality, Nintendo could miss out on the crucial ‘word of mouth’ needed to improve Wii U sales.
The second is to abandon Miiverse. It’s an alarming thought, given how much work Nintendo has already put into the service and its current position as one of the few unique selling points for the Nintendo Wii U. The company might need to take such drastic action, however, to prioritize existing social services as the default method of sharing in-game experiences.
Feedback time: Should Nintendo throw Miiverse out, or find a way to integrate existing social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Vine? Sound off in the comments section below.
Published May 29, 2013 — 11:30 UTC