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5 things Sony and Microsoft can learn from the Wii U

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Wii U (Credit: Getty Images)

It hasn’t been a smooth ride for Nintendo’s Wii U. It’s premature to call the system a flop, but it’s undoubtedly been a disappointment thus far.

Nintendo's new console system had a decent start, selling 463,000 systems in December of last year, but that paled compared to the 890,000 Wiis that were sold during that console's debut. Worse yet, the Wii U sales drop since then has been dizzying. In January and February combined, only 112,000 Wii Us were sold, according to The NPD Group. To put that in perspective, the Wii sold 683,000 in that time frame. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have thoroughly outsold the Wii U in 2013.

Sony and (presumably) Microsoft are gearing up to launch their own next-generation systems this year, and there's a lot they can learn from Nintendo's mistakes. Here are five of the most important.

Keep the games coming
When the Wii U launched, Nintendo promised up and down that it would maintain a consistent flow of new software.

It didn't.

Despite a hefty launch lineup, there has been a real drought of new Wii U offerings in 2013. A number of big games slipped out of the launch window, and major third-party partners have yanked console exclusives (as Ubisoft did with Rayman Legends), frustrated by poor hardware sales.

In late January, Nintendo announced a slew of new first-party games, but none imminently. Analysts wonder if anyone will care when they finally do come out.

"It is highly unlikely that any of these titles will be sufficient to drive meaningfully higher Wii U hardware sales, as the Wii U may have lost what little momentum it still has left by the time the new games are eventually released," said Wedbush's Michael Pachter.

Don't squander your advantages
By releasing in 2012, Nintendo enjoyed a huge head start over its competitors, giving it a chance to establish a large base of customers before the PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox could start wooing them. But, to date, it has not really taken advantage of that advantage.

By delaying top-tier exclusive games like Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101 until later in the year -- and failing to deliver any innovative, system-selling games from icons like Mario (New Super Mario Bros. U notwithstanding) or The Legend of Zelda -- Nintendo has potentially squandered away its lead. By the time these games come out, consumers might be saving their dollars for other systems.

"We would expect Wii U releases to perform better if PS4 and Xbox 720 games are not yet available," notes Pachter.

Keep the message simple
Nintendo has a solid track record of being clear and direct when it comes to explaining their game systems. The Wii? Swing the controller, hit the ball. The 3DS? It’s 3D without glasses. Boom.

But the Wii U? Well, it’s a console with a tablet controller that isn’t an actual tablet but sort of works like one, though you also can use Wii controllers with it, but it’s not a Wii. Oh also there’s a network, though that wasn’t available at launch.

The lack of clarity in the weeks and months leading up to the Wii U’s release confused consumers, many of whom weren’t sure if the system was a brand new console or just an optional add-on. Even commercials for the system showed segmented groups of players doing totally different things, a far cry from the “everyone plays together” vibe of the Wii. Four months later, that confusion hasn't diminished at all.

Sony and Microsoft face an uphill battle here since both next-gen systems seem poised to further the swiss-army knife functionality of the Xbox 360 and PS3. Hopefully they can head off confusion at the pass by clearly laying out what their consoles can and cannot do.

Don’t compare your product to your other products
Recently, Nintendo launched a new marketing campaign for the Wii U by touting its many unique features. That's not unusual. Most companies, at some point, provide consumers with a checklist of the features of their product versus the competition.

Only Nintendo didn't target Sony or Microsoft. It went after itself.

GameTrailers' Geoff Keighley was the first to post the flyer, which appeared at retail stores. And while this indeed clears up some confusion between the Wii and Wii U (which, probably, could have been avoided with a better name for the system), to downplay your own console when it's still on the market? That's just baffling.

Ease the digital transition
Digital purchases are an increasing part of the console experience. People buy games through digital storefronts and expect to be able to play them on future systems.

They also expect to be able to continue their saved games, something they're unable to do on the Wii U. Transferring the games themselves isn’t painless, either, requiring users to buy an SD card or pay a fee to redownload them.

Digital distribution is supposed to be seamless, and both Microsoft and Sony already have big stakes in this area. Let's hope they make it a smoother experience for existing users.

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