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The Wii U name is still hurting Nintendo

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Dan Adelman used to be the head of Nintendo's indie program, and has since taken to social media to discuss his new business working with indie developers while also giving some thoughts on his old employer.

One answer to a question about Wii U sales on Ask.FM stood out.

"Wii U is not selling as well as it deserves to. It has a lot to offer with great games you can't get anywhere else," Adelman said, answering a question about whether Nintendo was to blame for the "mess" it's in. "The value of the GamePad hasn't been justified. But the name Wii U is abysmal. I think that cut sales in half right there."

The name of the console cut sales in half? That's a bold claim, but it's a narrative that even Nintendo believes to some extent. You may like the name, or have at least gotten used to saying it, but the Wii U name has long been an albatross around the company's neck.

What's in a name?

"It's a system we will all enjoy together but also one that's tailor-made for you," Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo America, said during the hardware's announcement. "Is it unique, unifying, maybe even utopian? The answer is also yes to all of this."

The confusion began immediately. People assumed it was a peripheral for the existing Wii hardware. Jimmy Fallon didn't seem to understand the hardware on his show. "This is the new system. You add it to your Wii or you don't even need to use the Wii. Do you need to use the Wii? You can just use it on your own, but you can also use it with the Wii," Fallon said. He was later corrected.

CNN ran a story saying the Wii U was "a solid accessory that will bring a fresh element to Nintendo gaming." The story was soon updated, but the comments discussing the issue live on.

"With the Wii U, it had two major problems," Matt Scott, founder and CEO of family games-focused publisher Little Orbit, told Polygon at E3 this year. "One is that they didn't lock the demographic down, they had just a bunch of everything. And two, I believe that they mismarketed it. By calling it the Wii U, everybody thought it was an accessory for the Wii, they thought it was a tablet for the Wii.

"Why not call it the Wii 2?" he continued. "I just think there was consumer confusion and it's hard to un-ring that bell now since they've been out for almost two years." Scott was optimistic about the system's chances, but called it "challenged" in the marketplace.

Nintendo even released a commercial to try to explain the differences, and to make it clear that it was a new system.

"Some have the misunderstanding that Wii U is just Wii with a pad for games, and others even consider Wii U GamePad as a peripheral device connectable to Wii," Nintendo's Satoru Iwata said during an earnings briefing. "We feel deeply responsible for not having tried hard enough to have consumers understand the product." Another video was released that explained that the Wii U was a "whole new system," driving the point home once again. This was in December of 2013.

One analyst even shared stories of retailers telling her to just buy the Wii, since it was cheaper and there was no difference in the hardware.

"I think one of the things that was a real indicator of that was just, anecdotally, if you went into a retailer and you talked to somebody in the games department, they didn't even understand what it was," she said. "I did the secret shopper kind of thing, and they would say, 'Well, there's no difference between the Wii and Wii U.'"

The name isn't going anywhere in 2014, but sales are still sluggish, the company is still reporting losses and the industry is still talking about how badly the Wii U name hurt the system upon release, and continues to hurt it. The name sounded silly, sure, but even worse was the fact it didn't differentiate itself from a system that was already a huge hit but was rapidly losing favor with consumers and retailers.

You can't trust that a clerk at a local Target will know or understand what each system can and can't do, and the name made it seem like it was little more than an upgrade to an existing system.

It's a criticism that's repeated to this day. Even if most individuals aren't as bold as Adelman's claim that the name halved system sales, nearly everyone agrees that the name and accompanying confusion hurt the system to some degree.

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