Let me start off by saying that I am a huge fan of Nintendo. I was to young to remember exactly when I got my NES, but it was early enough that one of my all time favorite games is a gold cartridge Legend of Zelda. My parent’s basement was essentially my gaming room (complete with an oh so 80s faux wood panel TV). We had a Nintendo Power subscription (we miss you Nintendo Power). I have owned all the consoles except the Game Cube and that’s because I was to busy in college to play anything. So it only makes sense that I would be right at the beginning of the Wii U. After all, the Wii was a runaway success. Why would this next console be any different?
But now we know. In all the gory detail. The Wii U is shaping up to be an embarrassing failure for Nintendo. But this article is not about the sales figures, or the idea of a tablet based controller. It is about the super important out of the box, day one experience. One that has left me filled with rage.
I did not have the Wii U on launch day. My husband got it for me as a Christmas gift. It’s not easy to find gifts for each other. So this year I made it easy and held back. So on Christmas night, upon returning home from a weekend with family, I finally opened the box.
So far so good. The Wii U uses the same sensor bar, so I didn’t need to move the one already attached to the TV. And Nintendo, unlike most electronics companies, includes an HDMI cable in the box. Nice touch. I didn’t need it as I essentially replaced my long disused HD-DVD player (yes, I actually had one of those things).
At this point I knew I would still need my Wii so I left it in place. But for a moment, imagine I didn’t. I think most people would assume that in the age of App Stores, that there would be some easy way to move data.
So I plug in the console and turn it on. And almost immediately there it is, the massive, slow, day one firmware update. Nothing shows how badly rushed this console was more than this multi hour download. Thankfully I am an adult, who has a reasonable degree of patience. I feel terrible for those with small children who had to be told to wait for hours to do anything with their new toy. Not a fun night in those households I suspect.
After two hours I was finally done. Time to play! But wait, I need my old games first. But how hard could that be, right? Well, the scourge of modern digital goods would make an appearance and completely derail the rest of the night. I speak, of course, of DRM. If my disdain for DRM was not in the stratosphere before this, it has now left the solar system.
I am just going to go through the process here for a second, before I talk about where it went very, very wrong.
- Open the Wii Transfer Channel on the Wii U
- Insert an SD card
- Go back to your Wii
- Install the Wii U Channel
- Insert the SD card
- Copy games and saves to the card
- Go back to the Wii U
- Insert the SD card
- Transfer the games and saves to the Wii U
Why do I have to do all this? Why? My Wii and Wii U were both on the same network, could we not just transfer this over the air? Better yet, since I bought all the games I was transferring myself, why not give me a way to log in and just redownload, the way Apple and Google do with their stores?
Because, you see, you are a dirty, dirty thief, and Nintendo must go to great lengths to prevent you from acting on the insatiable urge to pirate their software (or rather, in this case, make it available to pirate). So instead of taking the reasonably sane route of allowing me to attach my games to my own account, the DRM works by bonding itself to the actual, individual console that downloaded it. So if I, for example, sold my Wii to purchase my Wii U, too bad. The games are gone. There have been numerous stories around the internet of consoles that broke just in time for this transfer to happen, and the owners were forced to pay Nintendo to fix the console they no longer wanted in order to transfer their games. How many people in the general public who don’t read gadget blogs would expect it to happen this way? It is the very definition of consumer hostile.
And it’s not that they couldn’t just let you redownload. You likely did it during this transfer actually. Because the original Wii only had 512MB of space, many of us had to resort to storing games on an SD card. But you can’t just use this card for the transfer, oh no, that would be too easy. Instead, those games do not move to the “transfer” SD card. The Wii U just downloads them new on the new console. So WHY THE F@#$ can’t we just skip this step and redownload to begin with?
But not like that would have helped me anyway. Almost as soon as I started this process, Nintendo’s servers started to crash hard. Apparently not expecting to have so much traffic on Christmas night (because who gets a game console as a gift ever), all the transfers and firmware downloads were too much for them. Now I understand server issues, but here is where my blood started to boil; my transfer, FROM THE SD CARD, was stopped when the servers went down. Please, someone tell me why I was forced to copy all these games to physical media, if it still needed a damn internet connection anyway. What was the flippin point of moving all these games (slowly I might add) to the card?
So almost four hours after starting this process, I gave up and went to bed. Meanwhile Will, who got an iPad mini from me as a gift, needed a mere 10 minutes to set it up, download everything from his old iPad, and start using it. It was not until the next afternoon that I was actually able to use the Wii U. Why didn’t I just play a disc based game? Well I tried, but as soon as I inserted New Super Mario Bros U, I was immediately hit with an update, one I could not download due to the server issues. Ahhhh!!! I am aware I could have just skipped it and downloaded it later, but by this point the comedy of errors was too much. I was done with this thing. Not good.
I mentioned the App Store a few times so far. I know that Nintendo is not Apple, but that is the problem. Like it or not, the App Store model is how consumers expect software to work now. You can either adapt to this new model, or fall by the wayside. I can’t help but shake the feeling that Nintendo has its head buried in the sand here, hoping no one else will notice that they have become an anachronism of software purchasing and management. This is the reason they are losing the gaming market to a company that does not even position themselves as a player.
I waited almost three months to post this, in the hopes that things would get better. They have not gotten better. I have discovered even more to boggle the ming.
Nintendo has not been historically good at User Interface design. But the UI of the Wii U is one of the heaviest, most confusing I have ever used. It is horribly slow, even when moving between simple menu screens. Almost all the user interaction takes place on the Gamepad, making me wonder why the TV part even exists at all. Sometimes it can be genuinely confusing when to look up and when to look down.
One of the best illustrations of the sub par UI is when you download from the store. After downloading a game or app…nothing. From where do I launch my new game? It is nowhere to be seen. The reason, you see, is that while you have downloaded the game, you still need to install it. And those are two different actions. Again, compare to the App Store. Tap Buy, and you are done. Download, install, and ready to go with a single tap. But not here. I need to ask the console to install my new purchase (the only reason I can come up with is that someone at Nintendo though to themselves, “How can we make this more like Windows XP, that would be awesome”. Hell, even XP gives you the option to immediately run your install upon download.
But to complicate matters further, the download is placed in a hidden location. To find your download, you need to first hit the Home button on the Gamepad (even if you are already on the home screen), and then tap Downloads to see and install your download. By this point I became convinced that Nintendo was running an experiment to see how long people would suffer before going to Google (yes I had to actually Google this one because I could not figure it out).
But this gets better. Try to redownload something. Oh boy. I downloaded the free Google Maps app to try it out. But the download failed to complete. No biggie, right, just try again. But no, of course not, that would be too easy. When I go back to the store, the app simply showed itself as “purchased” with no option to download it. No matter what I tried, I could not make a redownload option appear. So back to Google Again. Here is the menu structure you need to navigate to redownload: Open the eShop, then select Menu, then select Profile, then select Account Activity, then find your purchase. Obvious right? Its like the Da Vinci Code, for your software downloads. I think even the Illuminati themselves are thinking “Why be so secretive guys?”.
And then there are my old Wii games. After FINALLY transferring everything, I was dismayed to find that the Wii existed as an emulator of the old console. You need to switch modes to do anything in the Wii (and like everything else, it takes forever to open). And with this comes all the limitations of the old hardware, right down to the 512MB storage limit. That’s right, the 32GB in my new console is useless for all the old games. So I STILL need that damn SD card in the console to store all my old games. I basically never launch the Wii anymore, because I just don’t care enough to go through all this.
On the positive side, the Mario game is pretty good, and it looks stunning in full HD, it’s about time we get to play this game in full quality. Unfortunately, there are no other games that excite me, none. The launch window has seen a shocking number of its games delayed. I was really hoping for Wii Fit U to be out soon, but no. Still waiting.
This console is a mess. And the sales figures are showing this. Where it took me months to get the original Wii, ultimately waiting in long lines in the freezing cold TWICE, the Wii U is available everywhere. Will got one for me, just before Christmas mind you, on the first try. The 8-year-old, about to be retired Xbox 360 is beating the Wii U in sales. Not good at all. I am getting worried about Nintendo. I do not want them to go under, but this is a mess of their own design.
If Nintendo is to survive, they NEED to move into the modern world. Ditch the arcane DRM system they have designed. It created an unnecessary barrier to users actually enjoying their games. I honestly have no intention to purchase any digital games from them, lest I have to go through all this again. I would rather discs, which at least I can easily move to a new console (for now at least). But this is not good for them. Think about how much software you have purchases through an easily accessible, always available App Store. Now think about buying a physical copy, how many of those do you get on a whim these days?
I am a nerd and this console has often left me confused and frustrated. I can only imagine what a regular person must feel trying to use this thing. Apple has changed everything since the original Wii launched. We no longer tolerate this kind of substandard usability. This is the reason Apple and Google are wiping the floor with everyone else. They have made everything work well out of the box. Its simple and intuitive to use iOS or Android. Not here.
And stop promising updates to fix everything. Maybe it will, but the damage is already done. Negative press (like this blog post) will haunt you. And I don’t believe it anyway. I have had this happen once too often where a device I purchased was going to get better over time with updates. It almost never happens. If the device is not good on day one, it is highly unlikely it will be good on day one hundred, or one thousand. I hope I am wrong this time, but I will believe it when I see it.
Please Nintendo, I want you to make it. It is time to look at your competition (not the other consoles, the smartphones and tablets that are selling by the truckload) and figure out how to modernize. I want to like this console, and there have been moments where I have. But the out of the box experience, which is crucial, was not good. And things are not improving in any way I can see. Get it together guys, you never get a second chance at a first impression, but there are still plenty of first impressions left, to find a silver lining you can use to your advantage. I am looking forward to writing a follow-up post soon where I tell everyone how much better things have gotten. Please, PLEASE make it happen.