Identity Theft

Nintendo's decision to carry its Wii and DS branding into the next generation will confuse more consumers than it attracts.

Prior to Nintendo's E3 conference, a number of names floated around for the home console which would be unveiled. Project Cafe, of course, was the development codename for the device. A few ideas were suggested for what the final title would be, including the peculiar but interesting concept that the system itself might just be called "Nintendo". Nobody guessed at "Wii U". Nintendo, unlike its gaming rivals, seems to retain the capability to play its cards close to its chest.

By christening the device using the Wii branding, Nintendo returns to a strategy abandoned long ago. This is the first Nintendo home console to be branded as a continuation of its successor since the venerable Super NES.

Actually, had the company decided to give its older fans a grin of recognition by unveiling a platform called the "Super Wii", it might have been a better move. At least then we'd have avoided the confusion that followed in the wake of the Wii U announcement, which left many observers confused about what was actually being unveiled - with the idea that this was a new controller for the Wii rather than a brand new console being a popular misconception.

At this stage, a few days after the conference and with tons of explanatory coverage appearing across the Web, anyone who frequents gaming sites and is still purporting to be confused over this issue is obviously simply being obtuse. Yet we can't dismiss the confusion that was evident across social networks and comment threads during the conference itself. Many perfectly earnest and intelligent people simply didn't get what Nintendo was trying to tell them - and these are people who are into gaming. What's going to happen when Nintendo tries to explain Wii U to its broader audience?

Part of the problem was that the announcement itself was poorly designed and executed. In their haste to show off the flexibility of the controller, the team writing the scripts failed to set out the basis of what they were presenting from the outset, and then proceeded to bounce around between features and concepts like a giddy child at a birthday party. Contrasted with the measured, explanatory tone of the original Wiimote unveiling at TGS many moons ago, this frenetic and unfocused presentation did its subject few favours.

That, however, is a temporary setback at best. It's just one presentation - an important one, of course, but there'll be plenty more public outings for the Wii U and plenty of chances for the company to get its story straight and its explanations rehearsed, focus tested and rehearsed again. The Wii U desperately needed an elevator pitch this week, and Nintendo didn't seem to have one - but I don't doubt that the company is busy thinking of one right now.

What's more worrying, though, is the second source of confusion - the name. Certainly, some of the audience weren't sure if this was an upgrade to the Wii or a whole new console because the presentation was a bit slapdash - but that idea was reinforced and expanded by the fact that the branding is essentially the same as the previous console.

It's easy to see why Nintendo decided to do that, of course. The Wii is the best-selling home console of the generation, and it doesn't want to abandon the value it's built up in the brand. Throwing away the GameCube branding was easy, but dumping "Wii" would be painful, perhaps even wasteful.

Yet there's a problem with this decision making process - and with the thinking behind it. It's perfectly illustrated by something I've experienced personally a couple of times in the past few weeks, buying new software for my 3DS. I'm not sure when it started, but of late, retailers in Japan have started asking "are you sure you have a 3DS?" when you buy a game for the system. I've heard similar reports from the UK and elsewhere.

In other words, there's enough confusion in the market right now between the DS and the 3DS that it's actually causing consumers to buy the wrong software - and often enough for it to have become a problem for retailers. That's entirely unsurprising, actually, given the nature of many of the responses I've heard to the system in conversations. There's a surprisingly broad perception that the 3DS is a simple upgrade to the DS, adding 3D to the device in the same way that the DS LL added a bigger screen and the DSi added a camera - but still being essentially the same hardware underneath.

"I don't really care about the 3D stuff so I'll just keep playing on my DS" is a common line - followed by genuine surprise at the discovery that they won't be able to put 3DS carts in their existing DS. I should clarify that the lion's share of conversations like this I've had have been with Japanese men in their twenties, so it's not like we're talking about people alien to Nintendo's products here.

Why has this occurred? How has Nintendo allowed the launch of a new console, a successor to one of the most successful pieces of consumer hardware in history, to get so confused that many consumers don't even realise it's happened? The answer is simple - the company, buoyed by the immense success of the DS, wanted to hang on to that brand. Not only did it stick with the DS name, it also stuck with the form factor (almost exactly so), the game packaging, and much of the branding. Here in Japan, it even kept the same celebrities in its advertising campaigns. Who can blame consumers - especially those in the more casual, less engaged audience that the DS so successfully cultivated - for thinking this is just another DSi-esque hardware revision?

Does this litany of problems sound familiar? If so, it's because it's a script which was repeated in Los Angeles this week. The Wii U doesn't just retain the name of its predecessor, it also hangs on to the brand identity. It goes even further than the 3DS, in fact - like 3DS, the console hardware looks very similar to the previous system, but in the case of Wii U, it also uses Wii controller hardware as a core part of its experience. Consumers will see a console called "Wii U", which looks almost exactly like a Wii, and is controlled with Wiimotes, and sports many of the same game franchises - and what will they think, other than "oh, this is a new bolt-on for my Wii"?

Nintendo would argue that this is no different to what Sony and Microsoft do - that they're simply using the DS and Wii brands in the same way that PlayStation and Xbox are used. This isn't the case, however. Each time Sony or Microsoft launch a new system under those brands, they redefine the brand substantially - vastly overhauling the logo and the design of the hardware, and using enormous marketing campaigns to emphasise the difference of the new system from the old, not its similarity.

Besides, the reason why Sony and Microsoft use those brands is simple - it's because they're the only gaming brands they've got. Sony is a consumer electronics brand. Microsoft is a corporate software brand. It was a necessity for them to create separate brands for gaming. Nintendo, on the other hand, already owns one of the most globally recognisable and valuable brands in gaming - "Nintendo". It can retain all of the goodwill and recognition it built with Wii and DS simply through its own corporate name, an advantage which Sony and Microsoft lack.

Yet instead, Nintendo wants to cling to the name and identity of its recent successes. It's an obvious move, but I suspect that it's a very bad one. Spending the first year of its new hardware launches trying to explain to consumers what it's selling is going to be a millstone around the company's neck. It's hard to see how the remaining power of the DS and Wii brands is going to counterbalance that - not when the firm could just be exploiting the power of its own name instead.

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Latest comments (23)

Callum Roberts Junior Artist, FuturLab9 years ago
A fantastic article and one that highlights an issue which I myself have seen first hand over the past few months.

It's worrying that a company as successful as Nintendo have such simple issues as their customers not even knowing what they're buying from them. It raises the old debate, 'can Nintendo advertise properly', that was rife in the days of the N64 - while the console was facing off against the media onslaught that was the PlayStation.
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Roberto Allocco9 years ago
I can't realy understand how people could be mislead by the presentation.
Before E3, Nintendo said it would launch a new CONSOLE. Simply on the presentation they concentrated on showing the controller.

Neither i can understand who buy games for 3ds whyle having a normal ds.
Don't you know what you've bought?
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Dean Hulton9 years ago
I personally had no confusion over what was being shown at the Nintendo presentation and the fly through of the Japanese garden or the footage of what could be a new Zelda title in development should have provided clarity to any one confused to weather this was a Wii. Maybe some found it hard to concern trait on what was said at the presentation when the American chap turned every sentence into a catchphrase, sending people to sleep.

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game9 years ago
@Roberto. Not everyone who watches E3 spent the last month reading speculations and teasers on here, develop, Eurogamer or Kotaku. Not everyone who watched the Nintendo conference new that a console reveal was on it's way.

Likewise, there are a lot of DS owners that don't read gaming press, or industry blogs, and when they see something that looks like a DS game, has the same DSlogo only with a 3 added, and often is kept on a shelf on the same shelving unit as the DS games, could be forgiven for not getting it. You seem to be painting everyone with your perspective.

They should have gone with Ultra NES.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments9 years ago
The point about the 3DS is fair enough, but isn't this a bit early to be assuming the Wii U will have the same problem? We don't even know if we've seen what the final hardware looks like, and we've no idea how nintendo will market it.
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I really don't see the problem. Consumers didn't get confused when the Playstation 2 or Xbox 360 came out.
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University9 years ago
How long and through how many interations did Nintendo hang onto the GameBoy brand? They even kept the same GameBoy logo for each iteration through to GameBoy Micro--though of course the change in form factor from the original models to Advance will have helped, I feel the confusion regarding 3DS and Wii U will be short lived. Nintendo can get a foothold with both of these machines through early adopters, consumers who buy new hardware simply because it's new hardware, as well as the core Nintendo fans that will buy the systems and wait it out for the quality first party software to arrive. Word of mouth did wonders for both DS and Wii--I bet Nintendo are hoping this will help them with their new systems.

Though it's a problem for now, I think we're all under-estimating the average consumer if we assume that over time, they simply won't get the message that these are new systems. We're also under-estimating Nintendo by assuming they won't figure this problem out--Iwata has already admitted to this confusion with 3DS, and has said that in the near future, Nintendo will outsource their marketing for the device to rectify the problem and more clearly communicate the new device to consumers. If they already understand this problem exists with 3DS, and given the confused feedback they've received from E3, is it so far-fetched that in the 12 or more months they have until Wii U's launch, they won't research how to market this device and avoid the confusion that is apparent and anticipated by some?

It's a stumbling block, for sure, but I don't think it's one that Nintendo and consumers will fail to overcome. It will take a little time, but then given the price and software so far on 3DS, I don't think Nintendo are intent on capturing the 'casual' market from the off. They're willing to build up a base of core consumers first, before they move onto the wider market, as they did with DS--perhaps they believe that in the current financial climate, consumers who have bought a Wii or DS in recent years for titles like Wii Fit or Brain Training are in no rush to upgrade. I think we should have a little more confidence in the ability of Nintendo to advertise their devices in the coming months and years, and much more confidence in the intelligence of mass market consumers. It won't click straight away, but they will get the idea soon enough.
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Antony Cain Lecturer, Teesside University9 years ago
They made it more than clear during the presentation, people are just eager for some reason to slate Nintendo. Some of the comments next to the live stream were just embarrassing; how anyone clued up enough to be watching the live stream could listen to the talk, watch the bird/fish demo and then still be under the impression that the controller is just an extention to the Wii is beyond me.

It's to be expected I suppose. It's seems every Nintendo release is doomed to failure, they ultimately prove that wrong and analysts make the same prediction next time. If I had any money I'd be throwing it at those low-cost shares. The 3DS will obviously pick up in the run up to Christmas and the WiiU will hit the audience that most people didn't expect (or possibly even consider).
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Stephen Richards Game Deisgner 9 years ago
Nintendo could have easily avoided this problem by simply calling it 'Wii 2' instead. When playstation does that it's clear something completely new is on offer, and when Apple does it people go crazy with excitement no matter what's been changed. Compare: Wii/Wii 2 with ipad/ipad 2.
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Roberto Allocco9 years ago
@andrew I'm aware that not everyone follow specialized press and so on, but man, words are words. I mean, how many time did Iwata or Reggie pronounced the term "controller"?
I suppose that who precipitate to event like this one it's almost specialized press or anyway some sort of gamer that at last know the difference between those two terms.

On the ds/3ds trouble I think that even if you don't read specialized press you should be able to understand the deference between two different words (again).

Although I agree with you that the almost identical packaging could be misleading.
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Stephen McCarthy Studying Games Technology, Kingston University9 years ago
some how i think calling it the super wii will be the joke of the net for some time.

but any way, Nintendo was going to try to win back the hardcore gamers when they got pust off with the wii and now they call the new one Wii U? that will not go over well i tell you.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game9 years ago
Regardless of whether you think it ubsurd that people should get confused, the fact remains that people are getting confused. With the 3DS, I've had to explain to a number of people it's not just a DS with a 3D screen. On the day of E3 I had to explain to keen gamers that Wii U wasn't a standalone handheld which connected to the Wii as an option. As to how confusing the conference was, I can't comment directly, as I only read about it, and the following interviews, I haven't watched the video yet, but what I can comment on is people I know who I don't consider to be stupid, were confused.
And whether you think adding 3 to DS or U to Wii is the same as what Sony or MS do, the fact is somehow those two companys have managed to generate much less confusion, even with Kinect, which as an extention that at launch was aimed at an audience that often wasn't sure what an Xbox was, could have generate a lot of confusion, MS managed to get enough information across. Partially becuase MS and Sony understand the importance of marketing as more than an afterthought. Nintendo lucked out with Wii and DS, that the audience itself helped market the devices to friends and family, but now expect it to happen again, which may happen, but seems like a risk.
And the success of the Wii and DS has driven everyone to act like Nintendo always come out top, but although GC was profitable due to low cost, it was third place world wide. N64 may have been second place to PS one, but a very distant second place despite ruling the 16 bit era in some territories, and following Sega very closely in others. So Wii U and 3DS could explode, but it's not guarenteed.
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Roberto Allocco9 years ago
I don't know what to say, i realy don't understand how can people confuse one product for another (note, with this i'm not implying that they are stupid or things like that), if one want an iphone 3g doesn't buy a 4g :\

Talking about marketing, surely nintendo wasn't too much of a competitor back in the n64/gc period, but with wii, ds and 3ds learned how to adress to the right audience and in the right way (wii and ds with delivering the "easy experience" to the player and letting people try directly with the 3ds).

Least, the success of wii and ds were made by planification, differentiation, marketing and of course luck.
Expecting something like this with this new console, seen the background of the company, it's just obvious.

The success will be determined by the market although, but seeing the early response at e3 i think will not let down my expectation.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
First the E3 ps3/xbox footage, now this... Well if its backward compatible and all controllers, perephirals and games games work on it, I dont see the big deal. Its still Wii.

I think the best they can do is keep the Wii brand and not scare the established install base away making them think that this is something totally new and what they have is totally old. The install base is huge and i think its a good move to promote this as an extention to what is already there. I think it was a smart move not to deviate from what is already established. No need to. To me its just an extension of what already exists and not a change. They just added the new controller and higher tech specs making the transition from Wii to WiiU not much of a hastle. They are still riding on Wii's success and that is a smart move.

People still find reasons to bash Nintendo... and if one thing is clear, you cant please everybody.

ON E3:
Ultimatly as a gamer, I was more impressed with Sony's E3, simply because they had the games I wanted. But Nintendo E3 showing was probably just as good simply because they raised the bar in what you can do with gaming. And Zelda HD demo was brilliant. Microsoft, had a nice showing, halo 4 was awsome... but kinect has a problem. i find that since it has no phisical controls there is a problem with creating games for it. Its why i still prefer wii Motion and Sony Move... The kinect is limited in the fact that you use the body to create actions but its hard to displace your character on screen to different locations on the field, so most games end up being on rails, like kinect star wars.
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@ Roberto
"if one want an iphone 3g doesn't buy a 4g"

The fact you referred to the iPhone 4 as the '4g' illustrates that people can and do get confused by these naming issues. I've seen a lot of people call it that, and it may lead to confusion whereby people wrongly assume it can make use of 4G cellular networks.
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Benn Achilleas CEO and Founder, Playabl9 years ago
I think this is a good article with some very valid points. Not everyone here seems to understand the points made - or they dismiss them - but I hope Nintendo are considering them.

I think the fact that the share price took a battering shows that the Market did not understand the difference.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Benn Achilleas on 10th June 2011 6:01pm

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Rob Stevens Managing Director, Strangelands Ltd.9 years ago
I have to say that I'm 100% behind Rob on this one.

Don't think that everyone in the audience is 1/ a developer 2/ technically minded 3/ even someone who regularly plays games. There are CEOs, marketing execs and journalists from the popular press and often these people are not fluent in gaming parlance (even if they probably should be). Of course WE (people who visit this site) can tell the difference during the presentation. We knew Nintendo was going to announce a new console for a start.

To everyone who thought the bird flight demo made it obvious that this isn’t a Wii, the technicalities of the graphics in this sort of demo mean nothing to most people. They’ll never recognize a system from its graphics (aside from between a black and white GameBoy and a color GameBoy Advance).

In response to Roberto “Don’t you know what you’ve bought?” - YES, there are people out there who don’t really know! They go into the store, they see a DS logo on a box, they’ve seen 4 different versions of DS released already without causing problems so they assume they can buy the game. THEY shouldn’t be the ones made to make the effort to know, Nintendo should make it clear. They can do this with user interfaces, why do they have so much trouble with marketing?

Most people rely on names and logos to differentiate between products, not technical know-how or industry background. These are your future customers and consumers people – if you don’t realize that they are not tech heads and game nerds you are in the wrong business! YOU are going to have the same problem as Nintendo if you don’t change your thought patterns.

I’m totally with Rob, the same thing is going to happen with the Wii U. If the controller is sold separately, some people are going to try to buy it for their Wii, with the current branding strategy I don’t see how it can’t.
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Rick Cody PBnGames-Board Member 9 years ago
Great article and opinion!
It's crazy, it basically alienates the casual crowd they've been after the past 5 years.
That said, Microsoft and Sony are much more experienced at branding. Their products go far beyond video games. Nintendo's naming scheme has always been a little wonky.
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Tony Johns9 years ago
It is not the first time a problem like this has happened.

Back in the Atari 2600 days I am sure a few people has mistakenly brought Atari 5200 games instead of the Atari 2600 games for their classic Atari 2600 console

And not to forget about the Atari 7800 that looked so similar to the Atari 2600 Junior.

Then there is the confusion between the PS1 and PS2 games.

Then the confusion between XBox and XBox360 games.

Most people in the gaming circle will easily know the difference, I have more concern over the expanded audience who may never had any experience between one console transition from another to be more confused when they realize that they could not use their new WiiU Tablet with their older Wii.

But that is something that everyone must come across with technology, We have Console Hardware generations that last between 5 to 6 years in the market.

It was like that in the 80's, and it will be like that now.
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Adam Campbell Studying Games Technology, City University London9 years ago
As I said before, they should have called it the 'Nintendo U', different console platform, different philosophy. We don't want a repeat of the 3DS identity crisis..
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Christopher J Pearse Studying Computer Games Modelling and Animation, University of Derby9 years ago
This is a great article and one that addresses the many problems with Nintendo's way of branding their new products.
I for one have had less and less faith in Nintendo ever since they released the Wii as they have completely changed their core gaming audience - which in turn has been a great move for them in terms of success, but for the old-school Nintendo fans like myself who thinks they shouldn't have given up with the GameBoy branding, the new hardware is just not appealing.

I have 0 interest in the 3DS because I don't find it appealing and the way they sell it does in fact make it sound like a simple 3D upgrade to the DSi, like stated in the article. As for the Wii U announcement, this has been the first time I have not been curious as to what this "new" Nintendo console can do, because it very much so seems like another add-on. If, however, they named it something like the Wii 2, that would make the consumer think wow, its a NEW console. It's the simple way to keep the brand name and yet show that it's a successor to the previous, the same way a sequel is named in a film or game, it's natural for one to believe its new.
It's easy to tell people not to get confused and do their research before coming to a conclusion, but we're talking about a brand that is aimed at such a broad audience that most Wii players these days just won't understand what Nintendo are trying to do here.
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Jarryd Key Analyst 9 years ago
I think one of the issues leading to all the confusion is how they prominently they presented the new controller. Think about the visuals that were presented in the conference. They consisted primarily of using the controller in "remote" mode, and in conjunction with existing Wii peripherals. The Wii U controller was featured so prominently there was little to show that it was not a device similar to a Wii balance board. The console itself was barely depicted at all.
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Jed Ashforth Senior Game Designer, Immersive Technology Group, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe9 years ago
"It's worrying that a company as successful as Nintendo have such simple issues as their customers not even knowing what they're buying from them."

They're not ready to bring this to market yet. Some observers didn't follow a media presentation reveal - this isn't the same thing as 'their customers not even knowing what they're buying from them'. By the time it's ready to go into retail, they'll have had plenty of time to educate potential customers.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jed Ashforth on 15th June 2011 4:06pm

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