Friday, April 26, 2013

Designing the Wii U

I love Nintendo. I really do. In my opinion, they have the best understanding of game design in the industry. By that, I mean the nuts and bolts type of game design that delves into the nuances of visual communication, psychology, and many other aspects that are not always readily apparent to the player. I would go as far to say they are masters of it.

With this in mind, how did Nintendo make so many missteps with the launch of the Wii U? I have already stated that I love Nintendo, so it pains me to see them make so many seemingly obvious blunders. Especially when they are some of the same blunders they’ve been guilty of in the past. But, I would like to look at one of the new mistakes Nintendo has made with the Wii U.

Putting the lack of Wii U killer-apps aside, how did Nintendo fail to communicate what the Wii U is to the public? This, honestly, blows my mind. In a recent explanation session Mr. Iwata had with investors he admitted that, “Some have the misunderstanding that Wii U is just Wii with a pad for games, and others even consider Wii U GamePad as a peripheral device connectable to Wii. We feel deeply responsible for not having tried hard enough to have consumers understand the product.”

I realize that the game development team is different than the hardware design team, but perhaps they need to cross-pollinate a bit. I understand how they wanted to keep the “Wii” brand and so decided upon the name, Wii U. It may not have been the best idea, but it has logic behind it. The visual design of the console itself, however, has no excuse. The Wii U is essentially a smoother looking version of the Wii – and that is only apparent if you’re really paying attention. At a quick glance, most people could easily mistake a Wii U for a Wii.

This is something the game development group would have avoided. Let’s take the New Super Mario Bros. games, for example. They contain some new power-ups. Even when a new power-up is a variation on an existing theme, it presents itself clearly as something new and different.

Fire Flower

Gold Flower

The new Gold Flower communicates that it is related somehow to the Fire Flower. However, it also makes it very clear that the Gold Flower has unique properties.

Let’s pretend we’re designing the Wii U visual design for a second. Considering the Wii U is a completely new console, and not just a variation on the Wii, you would think a logical conclusion would be to make sure the audience realizes it is a brand new console – especially considering how peripheral-happy the Wii era was. OK, we’ve decided to call our new console Wii U, which is already a little dicey, but we should be able to make this work, right? Afterall, we managed to communicate that sometimes things can produce dramatically different results with mushrooms.

Mini Mushroom

Mega Mushroom

If we look at the way in which the game development department chose to communicate the differences between the flower and the mushroom power-ups we can see that both size and color can be used to dramatic effect.

So, with this in mind it baffles me that Nintendo did not radically redesign the Wii in some way to help communicate that the Wii U is not just a GamePad peripheral for the Wii. When you look at the previous consoles in Nintendo’s history, you can see they are not afraid of being adventurous. Both the Nintendo 64 and GameCube were very unique designs.

Even if there were 100 great reasons to go with the simple design of the Wii U, in spite of it looking practically identical to the Wii, you would at least assume then color could be used to differentiate it from the Wii. Perhaps one of these could have worked... 

Toy Blue

Trendy Green

Executive Silver / Gray

I have faith that Nintendo will get the Wii U back on track with the amazing line up of games they have planned for this year, but perhaps some of the heart-ache could have been avoided by looking at their game design team for inspiration and direction.


  1. Y'know, a silver/grey Wii U as the Deluxe color might have actually helped sales quite a bit.

    At any rate, great post Jools. I can't agree more. Hopefully MMD sells like hotcakes! I'm buying it, I know that much :D

  2. How to fix the Wii U launch:
    1) Make the deluxe bundle the ONLY SKU and make it $300.
    2) Make Wonderful 101 a launch game.

    Problem solved.

  3. Funny, changing the color easily defies it as something else. Guess they tried too hard trying not to change the look on the wii to the wii u as to not scare the casuals away thinking its a console for gamers only. Again. Guess if they used a light blue n pink colored wii u to advertise it or better yet ...OPEN UP MULTIPLE NINTENDO STORES ppl will for there and then you could show off the wii u perfectly

  4. Hi Mr Watsam. Longhtime fan of Renegade Kid (and Nintendo ofcourse) here.
    IMHO Wii U would be at a much better position today (and not just at PS360 levels) if cared to Nintendo offer more options and value.
    Some examples:
    1) Why only Nintendoland? Make a bundle with NSMB U and one with Black Ops 2. Seriously... you know, true and proven mass market games not a compilation tha many ccould scorn a set of tech demos/proofs of concept. There was some Zombii U bundles but due to the mandatory gamepad usage, that bundle cost more.
    2) Have a 32GB SKU WITHOUT a gamepad, include a Wiimote+ and a Classic Controller Pro, retailing for 199$. Amazing value IMHO, for people who like Nintendo's expanded audience software (Wii Sports, Just Dance, NSMB, Mario Kart etc) looking to easily upgrade from Wii. Yeah some may say that the gamepad is what all the U is about, buti i think not. A HD Wii with a NSMB game is more desirable when it is affordable.
    Choice is good.

    My 2 (euro)cents. Regards from Greece, and i hope Cult County blows us away just like Dementium did :)

    1. You need a gamepad for basic functions. You can't even configure the Wii U system settings or browse the eShop channel without a gamepad. Posting on Miiverse would also not work.

      In short, a Wii U without a gamepad would be a crippled system unless completely redesigned.

  5. "Putting the lack of Wii U killer-apps aside, how did Nintendo fail to communicate what the Wii U is to the public?"

    Jools, did you see the ad(s) from NCL for Japan, and the ad(s) in the UK and Europe, compared to the ads in the US?

    I think the reason Mr. Iwata became CEO of the US, is because that region is the one they are most concerned with, IMO.

    Here are some of the launch ads for the Wii U, from the different regions...
    Japan -
    UK -
    US -

    Notice the difference? Two out of the three try to inform consumers what the Wii U is. One of them is lots of music, camera cuts, little information, and doesn't really explain anything.

    Anyway, I'm looking forward to Mutant Mudds Deluxe this summer!

  6. I agree entirely with this. If the system wasn't so identical to the Wii, I doubt we'd have this discussion. This was also a trap they fell into with the 3DS initially, people thought it was just a DS with forced 3D rather then realizing it was an entirely new system that gives you the option of using 3D.

    They really either need to really move away from previous designs or greatly promote what the system is.

  7. "What is a Wii U" my friends would ask me, I had to come up with my own "sales pitch" just to describe it.
    If i was in charge i would create adverts that leave people in a position to discover the difference between the two consoles for themselves...

    ADVERT 1: "How many times have your parents kicked you off the tv? DISCOVER the all new console by Nintendo, Wii U puts the power back in your hand with off tv play. Wii U - The difference is U"

    ADVERT 2: "How many times have your friends beaten you? DISCOVER the all new console by Nintendo, Wii U puts the power back in your hand with the help of your new friends on Miiverse. Wii U - The difference is U"

    ADVERT 3: "How many times have your siblings wanted to play with you? DISCOVER the all new console by Nintendo, Wii U puts the power back in your hand with asymmetric gameplay, all togethere now! Wii U - The difference is U"

  8. I think that if the system was simply called the "Nintendo U" and looked more like those rumored, fake Project Cafe designs from 2011, Nintendo wouldn't be facing these confusion issues with the general consumer.

  9. Thanks for your explanations since I did not grew up when the personal computer grew up. I belong to another generation and the differences from one play console to another one are not obvious to me !

  10. Far out I just got a free Wii points card code and it redeemed just fine! Got it at freewiipointsforever☺ com

  11. Jools, my man, I'm back. I've veiled myself in mystery up to this point as 'Anonymous', but I suppose it's time to reveal who I am. You can usually find me commenting over at IGN, Sega, or N4G sporting other aliases such as Shinobi100, ShinobiJoeTurtle, SolidSnakeEyes. Now that I've properly introduced myself, I'll get to my interests of the day.

    I finally hunted down my old comments on this blog which urged you to dive into the retro 2D side-scrolling realm. I've taken two excerpts, one from Aug. 23, 2010 "You guys need to start looking at making side-scrolling games. I'm a child of Sega Genesis and there's a big surge in that right now" and another from Sep. 23 2010 "Keep expanding your genres. I'm gonna keep pushing for a side scoller or downloadable game from you."

    That was a full 10 months or so before you announced that 'Mutant Muds' had been transformed to a side-scroller. I am curious if my comments did in fact have anything to do with that decision. Not just for my personal records, but to also give a sign to chronic commenters and uber fanboys everywhere that we can make a positive impact in the gaming universe.

    I have one thing to say about Treasurenauts: "You've finally put it all together!" Legendary side-scrollers NEED boss battles. Bowser, Wily, Robotnik, Mother Brain. These names hold a spot in our memories just as high up as the heroes who oppose them. True, I've yet to see the all-important design and difficulty of these bosses. But those elements were handled so well in Mutant Mudds and pretty much every game you've ever crafted that I have few worries.

    As for playable characters, you've given us a scruffy adventurer and a blue ninja. Cliche? Perhaps. Clones of famous characters? Probably. Insanely cool? Most definitely. And that last part is all that matters.

    And this is why I chose you. I didn't badger Bungie about delving into side-scrollers, or kid Konami about going back to their side-scrolling roots. I came to you, and only you. Because I saw the potential. It's all right there in your logo. From deep inside your subconscious, you chose a logo that represented your company to the world with jagged letters and a cartoony skull & crossbones. And for your name you chose two words that appear to go together, but actually have a vast amount of power on their own. Renegade implies that you do things in your own way, and with a healthy heap of attitude. And Kid, while it can be turned into a negative when preceded by 'little', also reeks of 'tude and defiance, as perfectly exemplified in 'Kid Chameleon'. So long story short, I thought you guys were cool, unique, and colorful. The qualities that were endeared to my heart during the Sega Genesis era of the early 90s.

    My last bit of rambling involves an issue from my previous post on your blog. The world needs physical copies. It's a tradition. It's forever a part of gaming history. There are still those, like myself, who live and die by this tradition of boxes and booklets. I am being a touch dramatic, but it is true that there are 3DS owners who never venture onto the eShop, and even more who do venture there but never buy a game because they have no credit card or wherewithal to pick up an eShop card. Your legend as a quality and reliable digital developer grows with every bonus level and deluxe edition. Now that you've developed a large enough line-up of eShop games, I'd like you to extend that legend to traditional gamers with a compilation retail release. MAYBE even toss in an exclusive level or game to spice up the deal. But that last part is only required if you love me.

    We all have a little Renegade Kid inside us. You have just been blessed with the ability and vision to craft those feelings into amazing games

  12. Love Nitendo / Wii and don't like U. Mini Mushroom and Mega Mini Mushroom are awesome ;)

  13. Love Nintendo / Wii and don't like U. Mini Mushroom and Mega Mini Mushroom are awesome ;)

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