Talking Point: Why Wii U's Image Must Grab Attention

First impressions count

With each passing week we get closer to the arrival of Nintendo’s next home console, Wii U. It’s due by the end of 2012, yet there’s still so much that we don’t know: technical specifications, prices, planned launch games and even the final name. All of these factors will be important to its early success, but perhaps the actual colour of the console will also have a role to play: after all, it’s one of the first features that potential buyers will see.

Appearances of Wii U so far, primarily at E3 2011 but also at other events, have always shown the console and its controller to be white, very similar to Wii. Speaking to Game Informer during last year’s E3, Shigeru Miyamoto explained the reasoning behind this choice with the Wii and the initial Wii U builds.

Based on my background as an industrial designer and Nintendo and my background in creating entertainment, I’ve always wanted to make greater use of colour in our hardware. If you look back on things like the Famicom and the original Super Nintendo, they were a lot more colourful from a hardware perspective.

What we found over the years when we included a lot of different colours in our hardware is people would kind of point to that and use it to paint us as more kid-oriented. So really what we looked at is what are some ways from a design perspective that can make the system appeal to all ages. One of the ways that we found to best do that is to minimize the use of colour. In that process we asked if we’re going to do that, what’s the best way to go? We found that rather than going all black - all white seems to have a broader appeal to people.

We won’t argue with Mr Miyamoto’s authority and experience on the issue, but we will suggest that choosing one colour above all others isn’t necessary.

Give us choice, Nintendo

It was noticeable that the launch of the 3DS came in two very different flavours: Aqua Blue and Cosmos Black. Conversations between early adopters often drifted to discussions about which colour handheld they’d chosen, even descending into a sense of competition over which variation would sell the most. It may be an exaggeration to say that the colour of your handheld is a personal statement similar to the clothes you wear, but many gamers no doubt liked having the option. It’s not gone unnoticed, meanwhile, that there have been a substantial number of limited editions and new 3DS colours in recent months, two examples being Ice White and Misty Pink, amongst others.

A broad range of colours has been common throughout the history of Nintendo handhelds, from DS back to the original Game Boy. As portable devices, perhaps the sense of fashion is more important, but we’ve also seen multi-coloured home consoles, notably with GameCube.

When Miyamoto referred to multi-coloured consoles contributing to a ‘kid-friendly’ image, he may have had GameCube in mind. While PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox portrayed a deliberately mature image, Nintendo’s console included a carry-handle and two separate versions. These launch colours were Indigo (the infamous purple) and Jet Black, Platinum followed later on while Japan had perhaps the most eye-catching Spice (orange) version. It may have been a console that featured a number of game titles more suited to an older audience, but for some it arguably looked more like a toy than a serious gaming machine.

It seems that those concerns, alongside those of Shigeru Miyamoto, led to caution with the image of Wii. Despite a number of colour variations being hinted at before launch, when it hit stores Wii was only available in white, and that remained the case for two and a half years. When the black model was finally released in late 2009 – 2010 in North America – it was followed by a red Mario edition in 2010 and then a blue re-modelled version that arrived in Europe late last year. It’s been a much slower and more reserved process than with 3DS or Nintendo’s handhelds in general, a reflection perhaps of the difference with home consoles and Nintendo’s attempts to make Wii appeal to gamers both experienced and new to the market.

It seems like a clash of ideas, however, that a console with success prominently based on family-gaming, accessibility and broad appeal has been so determined to maintain a generic, universal colour. Not only did new colours take a long time to arrive, but those that were introduced haven’t necessarily been widely available on the high street. The black model is relatively common, but the red and blue models are limited editions, in one case only available in Europe. While similar statements can possibly be made about the 3DS variations, there have also been more editions of the handheld within a short period of time, meaning that consumers can choose the appearance that suits them. We’re deliberately comparing Wii to 3DS because the gaming industry has changed, and the idea of limited colours and console designs seems to be becoming obsolete, even in the living room. There’s a lot of competition in gaming, conventional and otherwise, so bland isn’t an option.

Wii U needs impact, and colours can help

When Wii U launches during this year’s Holidays, Nintendo will no doubt hope that it has an immediate impact. There is little doubt that it will be available in white, carrying on the ‘broad appeal’ that Nintendo targeted with Wii. We would suggest that, like 3DS, an alternative is offered, most likely black. In an age when many TVs, DVD players, Satellite TV boxes and other entertainment units are black, it would surely be appropriate that Nintendo provide an aesthetically pleasing option to match people’s living rooms. It’s not a bold, ‘kid friendly’ colour, but on the contrary can arguably be considered as a stylish, mature choice. If consumers walking into a store on Wii U launch day have a choice of colours, surely that can only be a good thing?

Perhaps Nintendo should also consider a range of themed special edition consoles in the Wii U’s first year, similar to what we have seen with 3DS. If there’s a particularly big title being released, why not offer limited edition bundles with a newly designed console exterior to match? There may be extra production costs, but sometimes we partially judge gaming consoles on how they look, so a broad appeal can be met be a variety of options. It may seem like a trivial issue, but Wii U will face more competition for gamer’s attentions than ever before, especially with the emergence of smartphone and tablet gaming: perhaps it needs to grab attention not just with features and games, but with how it looks.

What do you think? Does a console’s colour, or the variety of options available, matter? What colours do you think Wii U should launch with? Let us know in the comments below.