Did Nintendo go in the wrong direction with the Wii mini?
That means no Wii Shop. No Virtual Console. No WiiWare. No online play with friends (via the very horrible Friend Codes). So that Wii Menu stays very, very empty.
Sure, there are still over 1200 games to be bought and played on disc. But it cuts off access to over 400 Virtual Console games, and almost 350 WiiWare games. Over 750 games that were ported, or developed specifically for the Wii have been tossed aside. If you're doing the math, that's almost 40% of the total available Wii games, and that's not counting the library of GameCube titles.
Because of the limited functionality, the Wii mini has garnered some pretty bad critic reviews, and doesn't look to be much of a hot seller either. After all, why buy a hobbled system when a regular Wii can be found for just a bit more (and even cheaper if you buy a used one)?
Given the poor reception, I can't help but wonder if maybe Nintendo went in the wrong direction. They wanted to release a product that was cheaper, but considering the number of people who already own a Wii, and the fact that the Wii U is backwards compatible, it doesn't seem like there's a lot of use for a system that plays discs. Especially as Nintendo announced that they have no new Wii games on the horizon.
So why not eliminate the disc playback and make it a download-only console? That would save even more money on parts, given that the disc mechanism can be one of the more expensive (and fragile parts of the system). It also means they could make the system much smaller—the Wii mini isn't actually that much smaller than a regular Wii. And the popularity of the Ouya proves that the public would in fact, be interested in such a device.
Unfortunately, the reasons to not do it are pretty hefty. There's the obvious brand confusion: someone buys a Wii mini and then is disappointed to discover they can't play Wii Sports on it. Of course, it probably wasn't a good idea to release the Wii mini around the same time as the Wii U; I wonder how many kids asked for the "new Wii" for Christmas and got the Wii mini instead?
Another reason is that WiiWare sales haven't been great, maybe because of a lack of public awareness, or maybe because Wii owners were more interested in the disc-based games, but whatever the reason, sales haven't been enough to justify the time developers have spent making or porting games for WiiWare, and there's no compelling reason for them to continue when there are much more fertile waters to be found.
But the real biggie is this: Nintendo still doesn't get the Internet. The DS and Wii both required ridiculous "friend codes" to connect to other players. The Wii didn't come with enough memory to hold all the games a user might download, and transferring them to an SD card wasn't enabled at first. At first, you needed a disc to stream Netflix! The different systems use different shops. And while your purchases can be tied into a single Club Nintendo account, the games are tied to a Nintendo Network ID that is unique to the system, not the user. So if the system breaks or is stolen, you're screwed. And while Nintendo lets you transfer games from the Wii to the Wii U, the process is a real pain in the ass, and the games are left isolated in their own little corner of the Wii U, meaning that they too, live and die with that particular piece of hardware.
To make a download-only system Nintendo would have to loosen their restrictions; how many gamers would buy a cheap system just for access to the Virtual Console? But they need to know that they can take those games with them elsewhere should the need arise. A 30-year-old NES game can be plugged into another NES console when the first one fails; the same can't be said of anything virtual, especially if it's locked down to that hardware on purpose.
The Ouya comes out in June, so it remains to be seen how its download-only, curated approach will work. But what Nintendo had going for it was a classic library of games that users would pay for access to, and as every gamer knows, it's always about the games.
Nintendo's digital content problems:
I see so many wii mini's on store shelves still, and I just cringe at the thought of it. Even the 2011 redesign was questionable to me. However Nintendo isn't really the only company to regress in features. Sony removed PS2 support relatively early in the console's lifespan, and "other os" support not long after.
I also admit, I have invested in the virtual console enough (to re-buy my old snes/n64 and so on) games that I dread the day my Wii dies, because porting them to the Wii U seems like you said, a pain in the ass. I really wished the Wii U would feature virtual console in the forefront.
I realize I am straying from the topic of this discussion, but maybe this is a factor in slow Wii U sales, that or the lack of Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda, or other fantastic Nintendo titles.
Let Nintendo make its mistake, The Wii Mini will sit on shelves next to the PSP go (is that even still on shelves?)
And holy crap, I just remembered about this, Nintendo made the same mistake 7 years ago:
The PSPGo was discontinued. You're right though; these are all products that honestly, there was no pressing demand for. Both the GB micro and the Wii mini suffer from poor timing as well; do they want people to reinvest in the old generation, or upgrade to the next?