Talking Point: The GamePad and its Role Defining the Wii U

Strong concept or pricey issue?

We're stepping into a vital period on the market for the Wii U. It's certainly far too early to say it's the definitive moment for the system, as releases such as Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. will also be maximised by Nintendo to achieve notable sales and momentum. With that in mind, it should still be recognised that the arrival of Super Mario 3D World, alongside other major releases and a series of hardware bundles, are important in giving the Wii U a strong end-of-year shopping season and, by extension, some momentum into 2014.

The level of competition is fierce, of course, and the outcome will be fascinating. Recent weeks have seen some positive examples of perceptions shifting in the mainstream press, along with the occasional instance of negativity as well, but that matters as it's those noises that reach the wider market, rather than enthusiast and game-specific press that, to an extent, is speaking to and preaching to the converted. Nintendo's advertising, in multiple regions, has also gone the only way it could — up. After a dry year of limited marketing, the company has upped its game to spread the word and convince those looking for a new home console that the Wii U offers the most fun and affordable option.

In North America, particularly, messaging has focused on the 'upgrade' angle, targeting Wii owners that perhaps still don't see the value of the Wii U offering or, in the worst case scenario, think it's simply a tablet-style add-on for the previous system. This confusion can be put down to various factors — the name itself, the marketing of the product, the similarity (albeit rounded) of the console's shell — and the GamePad has, to an extent, been an unfortunate victim. There's also a loud argument, often heard in debates in the Nintendo Life office, that the concept has been muddied, and simply releasing a 'Wii 2' or 'Wii HD' that utilised the same controllers would have been cheap, cheerful, and a big seller.

We're not going to focus on the name debate here, but the idea that a new system without the GamePad may have achieved success. The reasoning is very simple for what could have happened — combine a new name with a relatively budget price, with £199 / €250, $250 being the magical numbers, and watch the sales follow. It's an argument suggesting that simplicity and low cost is all that was required, as Nintendo had already helped reshape the home console industry with the Wii and Remote and, essentially, just needed to improve — rather than rewrite — the existing formula.

Yet that's not the modus operandi of Nintendo in recent generations, as the company — under Satoru Iwata's leadership — has purposefully stepped away from the graphical arms-race and opted to focus on innovation and new gaming experiences. It was a focus that delivered spectacular results with the DS and Wii — Iwata-san's critics have a habit of overlooking the significant profits of those years — and has worked to a reasonable degree, after a rescue-mission and lots of hard work, with the 3DS. The current handheld will have a tough time matching the DS family in raw numbers but, frankly, those sales may never happen again with the rise of smartphones and tablets. Debate over figures aside, the general sense is that the 3DS has evolved into a successful platform for Nintendo, defying plenty of cynics in the process.

The same scale of challenge — perhaps greater — faces the Wii U. Perhaps it's the innovation of the product, the GamePad, that raises the most questions. Of course the system innovates in other ways, but the new controller is the new input to take the spotlight from the Wii Remote and Nunchuk; yet it's undeniably divisive. Some, such as this writer, are big fans of the concept — expect a Soapbox from multiple members of the team in the coming period — while others are less so. In some cases the sentiment is that, though functionally reasonable and with potential for new game ideas, doesn't do enough to justify its price and prominence; others just don't like it, and we do have some of the community asking whether they have to use the controller in certain games, like it's a punishment to do so.

We've outlined the uses of the controller in the past in our article "The GamePad - From Waggling Remotes to Dual Sticks and a Touchscreen, and it would be churlish to say that it doesn't offer some new styles of play not possible before. Those ideas aren't always used to their potential, however, and it can be asked whether the Wii U has partly struggled due to failing to hit the Wii launch price of 2006, even if recent price drops bring it close. Throw in consumer confusion and the lack of immediacy compared to what the Wii Remote delivered, and the argument that the new system would have been better $100 cheaper and using legacy controllers has some legs.

And the price of the GamePad comes to bear, with estimates earlier in the year placing its manufacturing cost at $80, though that may not be spot on in addition to the fact that it could have been brought down since. In any case, it's a scenario that's perhaps similar to that seen with the Xbox One and Kinect, with the mandatory camera sensor seemingly driving the cost of Microsoft's system above the PS4. With a year now passed of the Wii U's time in the market, perhaps we can reflect on whether the controller's contribution to the concept has justified the cost it's undoubtedly added to research, development, manufacturing and then, of course, the consumer.

Yet with Microsoft and Sony's efforts bearing a number of similarities, and tablets such a familiar concept in the market, perhaps a Wii U with its lower price and expanding library stands a better chance of standing out, giving it sustainability and a concept that Wii 2 at $200 and minus the GamePad would have failed to deliver. There's also the perspective that the GamePad should have been an optional accessory, though its odds of having any sort of role with that status — it would be a pricey extra controller — are surely slim.

These are hypotheticals, of course, but as Nintendo gears up for a vital second year with its home console they may have appeared within some minds in Kyoto.

We'd love to know where you stand on this in the poll and comments below. Is the GamePad an important part in the Wii U's long-term success, or would a cheaper HD console without a new controller have served Nintendo better over the past year? We'll never know, but it's fun to wonder.

Would you have preferred a 'Wii 2' or 'Wii HD', minus the GamePad, at a lower price? (510 votes)

Absolutely, I think it would have been a big success

11%

I think so, though it's hard to say whether it would have outperformed Wii U

9%

Not really, but it may have performed well

18%

Not really, and I'm not convinced it would have sold well

16%

Definitely not, Nintendo was right to switch it up

40%

I'm not sure

6%

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Are you pleased that the Wii U included the GamePad as a new control method? (507 votes)

Definitely, I love it and think it'll play a big role in future Wii U success

50%

Quite pleased, it's been a good controller so far

28%

I'm on the fence and not sure yet

6%

Not fully, it's not quite hit the mark in my opinion

8%

No, I'm not a fan of the GamePad and think it's disappointing

5%

I've never played a Wii U, so how would I know?

3%

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