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Nintendo’s Wii U is having quite a gaggle of problems in its first few weeks of life.  A games library made up almost entirely of games easily found on other platforms and are worse on the Wii U.  Egregiously long load times that rival the early days of CD-based consoles.  Extremely common full hard-locks of the system, requiring the power plug to be pulled to shut it off.  Created accounts being locked to the system they are created on.  USB devices formatted for a Wii U being tied to just that Wii U, preventing save moving.

These problems are all terrible blows for the Wii U, but I think there is a bigger problem that will hinder sales the most and in the demographic that matters most to Nintendo now – the market confusion about the product.

What do I mean by market confusion?  As of right now, there are three separate products with Wii in the name: the original Wii, the newer Wii U, and the soon-to-be released (in some regions) Wii Mini.  The differences between them really aren’t that apparent from the name, certainly not as apparent as the jump from the Playstation to the Playstation 2 or the Nintendo to the Super Nintendo.

Another factor in the market confusion is Nintendo’s focus on the GamePad controller over the system itself.  When shown at E3 this year (and the year before), it wasn’t made entirely clear that there was actually a new system to go with the GamePad.  It almost seemed to be a peripheral for the older Wii system.  Even those who live and breathe this industry were a little confused at first. 

More recently, the commercials for the device on television put the GamePad up front and center and relegate the system’s appearance to the back.  You can see glimpses of the hardware itself, but the glances are fleeting.  Even if you do manage to spot it, it looks pretty similar to the older Wii.  Good luck getting someone that isn’t very intimate with the hardware to notice they look different.

It is widely known that the Wii made millions of sales on selling consoles to people who wouldn’t be expected to buy a gaming system.  This became Nintendo’s bread-and-butter market.  With all this market confusion out there now, those same people aren’t going to know what to get if they want the new Wi or what they are even getting.  It isn’t a huge leap to imagine someone going into a store and asking for just the GamePad, not knowing that a whole new console is involved.

I’ve heard several stories from people I know personally and people online of this confusion being a real issue.  Many “regular” people just don’t know that the Wii U is an entirely new system; they assume it’s the name of the new GamePad.  Now consider that the Wii Mini is coming out after the Wii U.  If someone tried to walk into a store near the holidays and asked for the “new Wii,” they might just get a Wii Mini instead of a Wii U.  Depends on how intelligent the salesperson is (not much hope there).

Nintendo has created some interesting problems for itself with the success of the Wii.  They now have (or feel they have) to cater to a more casual crowd of gamer, one that might not be as informed about new hardware.  Their advertising clearly shows that they didn’t account for this problem, and I could see it cause more lost sales/angry customers than anything else. 

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe Nintendo will succeed again and surprise everyone with how much money it makes.  Or maybe the Wii U will tank because of this market confusion.  Only time will tell.