Identity Theft

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

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

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?

"The announcement itself was poorly designed and executed."

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.

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