The Wii is a Wiiner

(These “Wii” titles practically write themselves.)

YES kids, it’s another Wii post. Please bear with me.

Nintendo was well aware of their underdog status with the GameCube. In terms of units sold, the system was in third place behind the PS2 and XBox. How would you have planned to rebound from that position? The GameCube was decidedly underpowered compared to the competition. Nintendo could have invested heavily in building a powerhouse of a console, one that would give them a decided advantage over the next generation XBox and Playstation 3. But they didn’t. Nintendo has always stressed that their system is focused on making games fun and that is the primary motivation for their design. So instead of pouring their money into performance, they focused instead on a core element of the gaming experience: the controller.

I can’t stress enough how brilliant this move was. At the same time, it doesn’t surprise me. Lets not forget that Nintendo is the innovator in this market. They’re not averse to taking risks. And the Wii’s controller was an incredibly risky move. It’s success or failure would determine the success of the Wii. Without the ‘Wiimote’, the Wii is a modest improvement over the GameCube. With the Wiimote, it’s a whole new way to play games. The Wii’s codename “Revolution” did not refer to the console, but to the controller.

The controller is key to the success of the Wii, and in more ways than one. It’s a distinguishing feature— no other console has anything like it. This means that any games developed for the Wii have to be uniquely customized to function with the Wiimote. Due to this, Nintendo can guarantee that all Wii games are in this respect Wii exclusives. This is already working to their advantage. Madden ‘07 was released for the XBox 360, PS2 and the Wii, but got the highest marks by IGN (a popular game review site) for their Wii version— one where you motion with the controller to snap the football, for instance. The controller provides a more immersive experience— something traditional controllers can’t.

Nintendo’s decision to bundle Wii Sports with the Wii system was also brilliant. Sports is a simple and inviting way to learn how to use the Wii controller and it’s a lot of fun! What better way to introduce your friends and family to the Wii. And the tennis game is the killer app. Here, Nintendo creates an intentionally “low-fi” game that incorporates the “Mii” characters (little digital characters you create to represent yourself or persona), the Wiimote, and 4-player game play together. The game play is fast and addictive. This game— by itself— can sell Wii systems. And not just the system— the system plus 3 additional Wiimotes.

And herein lies another genius move by Nintendo: placing enough value in the remote to justify a premium price for the accessory. An accessory that you want to own four of. Lets face it, you will eventually want to play four-player Tennis. Everyone will. So, for $249.99, you have bought a Nintendo Wii plus 1 Wiimote. An additional Wiimote is $39.99. So if you buy 3 more, that brings your total to $369.96. Now, if you bought the nunchucks as well (at $19.99 each), you just spent $429.93. More than the XBox 360 premium package sells for. I guarantee that Nintendo does not plan to allow any third-party companies to sell Wiimotes clones. You see, Nintendo will be making lots of money off the additional Wiimote sales— not just the profits from the Wii systems alone.

The name “Wii” was also risky. It was first met with much skepticism and ridicule. By now, it’s been accepted and you see it all over the gaming industry. People love making new words with “Wii” in them all of a sudden. For example: “I think I’m going to buy a ‘Wii60’ for Christmas.” (referring to buying both a Wii and an XBox 360— a popular combination). The name is simple, and approachable. It conveys inclusiveness and sharing. Contrast that with “XBox 360”, which conveys nothing (The name “XBox 360” is annoyingly contradictory— ‘360’ implies something circular and XBox implies… well, something boxy. What is a circular box? While the original name “XBox” was uninspired, “XBox 360” is even more so.).

The name is also a reference to the console’s size. It’s very small, both in size and weight (under 4 pounds). Miniscule compared to the hefty XBox 360 (just shy of 10 pounds) and the behemoth PlayStation 3 (11 pounds).

Nintendo made another bold move with the default networking option: wireless. To get a wired connection, you’ll have to buy an accessory. Wireless controllers, wireless networking. The Wii requires 3 wires— one for power, one for your audio/video connection and one for the sensor bar you place on your TV.

The Virtual Console system that is part of the Wii is also a killer application. Nintendo has a huge library of top selling games. Where all previous Nintendo consoles have not provided backward compatibility, the Wii all of a sudden is backward compatible with every generation of Nintendo console from the NES through to the GameCube. Now that doesn’t mean you can put your Nintendo 64 cartridges in the Wii, but you can purchase digital versions of some of those games for a reasonable price. Now, if I could just trade my physical cartridges with Nintendo for Wii points, that would be great. Here’s a thought, Nintendo: allow game stores (the ones that trade in used games) to buy Wii Virtual Store point cards (at the 500, 600 and 800 price points) at a volume discount. They can then trade them for the physical NES, Super NES and Nintendo 64 cartridges, which they can then resell to those that want them.

Their launch site, wii.com has also surprised me. In one sense, it’s under-marketing. It lets you explore a series of “Experience” videos they’ve collected of regular people playing and experiencing the Wii. It’s obvious they’re having fun and are playing the game and system for the first time. It’s very compelling.

All in all, an excellent system for the next generation. My only concern is the third party titles and how well they execute on making games that fully utilize the Wiimote. Other than that, I look forward to what Nintendo has in store for us this year.

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This article was published on January 2, 2007 11:50 AM.

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