The Wii U is struggling. It’s a lovely looking console with some great games, but large developers whose names don’t start with “Nin” and end with “Tendo” are hardly queuing up to make software for the system, and there's little publicly visible to change that situation; the download-only scene is, thankfully, much stronger. If only Nintendo had some sort of internationally-acclaimed and incredibly popular hardware already in the hands of millions of gamers that it could somehow use to try and entice people over to the touch screen-equipped home hardware…
We are, of course, talking about the 3DS. Unlike the Wii U, Nintendo’s handheld is doing rather well in the market – there’s a slew of amazing games out there from Nintendo and other publishers, making for a diverse library of quality titles no matter what your tastes are or where you happen to live. In contrast to the Wii U the 3DS has a solid userbase and is well loved; Nintendo is really missing a trick by not doing more to unify its customers under one giant Mario-branded gaming umbrella.
Some progress has been made, with the arrival of Nintendo Network IDs and Miiverse on the portable bringing the communities closer together. What we really want to see, however, is Nintendo tapping into that expansive 3DS userbase and actively encouraging those gamers to go the whole hog and throw their lot in with the legendary Japanese gaming company at home, as well as when they’re out and about. There’s a relatively straightforward two-step process to this, so let’s go over some key points in turn.
The first thing would be to sever the link between hardware and downloads and gather everything and everyone up under the universal Nintendo Network account – this would mean fewer headaches all round. With that done, and with all eShop purchases now tied to just one user ID / password in the cloud that gamers can use across multiple formats, Nintendo has just given its customers peace of mind that their purchases are valid and accessible so long as they can remember their login details. All those new Nintendo account users now have a digital future with the company and confidence in a service that doesn’t require a twenty-two step procedure just to use games they’ve already paid for on the latest limited edition 3DS XL they were loyal enough to buy. We've banged this drum a few times, but that's because it's the modern way to deal with consumers — switch smartphones with Android or iOS and see how quickly you can move apps and content to your new device.
With that done it’s now time to incentivize those 3DS gamers towards the Wii U, and although it sounds a little crass we’re going to suggest doing it by copying a few basic features from Sony’s PSN service.
Sony essentially has the same problem as Nintendo, just in reverse – the PlayStation 3 (and by all accounts so far, the PlayStation 4) are selling well and get a lot of third-party support, while the Vita struggles for shelf space in US and European shops. It’s highly unlikely that the Vita will ever come close to the sales figures Nintendo’s portable device enjoys, but one simple PlayStation Network policy means that the door is always open for Vita-curious PlayStation owners to make the leap, and that policy is its cross-buy system.
Let's get the aspirational, unlikely example out of the way first. PlayStation 3 gamers who purchase titles such as Smash Bros-alike Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale or indie games such as Lone Survivor and Limbo receive not only the console version of their chosen game but a free digital Vita copy too, ready and waiting for gamers should they choose to invest in Sony’s handheld. Some games, such as beautiful 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up Dragon’s Crown may require separate purchases to play across the two formats, but they do feature the ability to play with users of either version of the game – this keeps the Vita side of online play more viable and vibrant for far longer that it would be by itself, and also reinforcing the notion that Sony’s handheld is a capable and relevant piece of kit by having it play the exact same games as its home counterpart.
The issue for 3DS and Wii U, in this respect, is the greater gulf in technology. Yet we've seen with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate that cross-platform games can be done; unfortunately, aside from some retail promotions gamers still had to buy the game twice. The upcoming Super Smash Bros. also shows why we tagged this as "unrealistic", with cross-play ruled out. If there was a promotion for loyal gamers to get both versions for the price of one, however, it would sure motivate potential Wii U owners. It's one for the accountants, as it'll clearly be a big-selling game at full price for both, yet it's also a valuable opportunity to boost the HD system's userbase.
Now to the most realistic option that could bring customer satisfaction. Let's consider Sony’s Virtual Console equivalent, stuffed full of classic PlayStation titles as popular or as obscure as anyone could wish for. Just a single purchase allows you to play any classic PS1 game you choose across PlayStation 3, Vita, and even the good old PSP with no fuss or extra fees. Practice Tekken 2 on your lunch break at work, then come home and impress your loved ones with a perfectly executed ten hit combo to their (virtual) faces on PlayStation 3. We aren’t going to pretend that the thought of playing early 90’s polygonal beat ‘em ups is a real system seller in its own right but it does add a sense of value to PSN purchases that Nintendo could easily match without much effort; surely popularity of the (now-retro) Game Boy Player has already showed that cross-compatible Nintendo gaming was a feature fans liked to use?
If Nintendo brought out a similar cross-buy system gamers that had already invested even just a small amount of money into eShop would be able to look at the Wii U and think of it as an extension of their existing entertainment library, not a closed system that can’t even recognise the 3DS content they've been enjoying, never mind Wii content. Even moving beyond unlikely dreams of playing 3DS games on the TV through a Wii U adaptor — we doubt it's even possible — allowing gamers to enjoy Virtual Console games across platforms without buying each individually would get positive attention. At the moment there is a promotion to get VC games for less on Wii U if you've transferred your Wii data, which is a positive. Again it's all about balance, as Nintendo will consider just how many times it can sell us Super Mario Bros. before we stop buying. It's about the value proposition for gamers, and if buying a Wii U allowed gamers to access additional copies of the VC games they'd downloaded on Wii and 3DS (with a quick ID-driven recognition of content on the latter) without forking out more money, it adds a feel-good factor.
Arguments can be made for Nintendo to charge fresh fees for each Virtual Console iteration, but in a fiercely competitive market can more be gained by matching the promotions of rivals with top-notch big N content?
Nobody’s ever doubted the overall quality of Nintendo’s games or hardware, but there is an increasing gulf between its handheld and home console divisions that the likes of Super Mario 3D World can’t fix by itself. There are limits to what can be done, and the company has made clear that such gaps will be closed in the next generation of hardware. Yet a few simple steps and small incentives could unify not just accounts but Nintendo gamers as a whole in this generation – and give millions of 3DS owners a gentle nudge in the direction of the company’s latest home console.
What do you think about these issues? Do you want more shared content between 3DS and Wii U, in particular with the Virtual Console?