Could the Wii fail?

Article

posted 8/9/2006 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: Wii

It seems like years since E3 ’06, when it’s only been a few months.  As we struggle through the summer drought, it becomes simple to lose sight of the imminent and enormous change that is ready to overtake the entire gaming industry.  We’ve had a good taste of the coming generation with Xbox 360, and while it has fared much better than the Dreamcast, round two is approaching quickly.  In a few months, Sony will unleash its Playstation 3 entertainment powerhouse, and Nintendo’s Wii will finally be on store shelves.  While there are plenty of questions about the PS3, Nintendo Wii seems to be gaining strength towards it’s release later this year.

As the Nintendo guy, I’m zeroing in on Wii.  You might predict that I have a positive slant toward Nintendo and you would be correct.  After all, developer support is the strongest in years, there’s a radical and compelling new dynamic to the console, and people are proably still standing in line to see the Wii in the LA Convention Center.  So, it’s pretty easy to presume success for the House of Mario, right?  Wrong.  Not by a long shot.  Today, we examine the question…”Could the Wii Fail?”

Dumb mistakes.  Nintendo’s made plenty of them in the past.  From cringe-worthy advertising to burning bridges with developers, the gaming veteran has hit most of the metaphorical potholes.  Does disaster loom?  Well, that all depends on the new Nintendo, the Satoru Iwata Nintendo, and if the risks he’s taking are right.  Iwata has done a good job to cleanse Hiroshi Yamauchi’s imperialistic Nintendo image, making amends with scorned developers and paying some honest-to-god attention to the American market (Reggie, anyone?) 

These improvements considered, the Wii is still Nintendo’s biggest risk since the NES.  A massive philosophy change is sweeping the company, and here I’ll examine how disastrous it could be if the overhaul isn’t handled with the utmost care.  Let’s look at some key elements of this new movement.

 

1: Bigger ideas, not bigger budgets.

Iwata stated that Wii will embrace more creative game concepts that haven’t been tried before, focusing on fresh gameplay instead of graphics.  This seems like a good idea in principle, but a firm balance must be maintained.  We need a healthy, diverse collection of software—the low-budget quirk games, the pick-up-and-play titles, and most importantly, the epics.  The magnum opuses that fuel the industry and stir speculation must not be abandoned.  Is Nintendo doing just that?  Not entirely, but there is reason for concern.

As an example, Wii Sports garnered as much criticism as praise during its E3 showing, from diametrically opposed factions in gaming fandom.  Nintendo loyalists were shouting rhetoric, while the PS3 fans from just across the way were smirking and guffawing at the simplistic visuals.  Wii Sports is admittedly low-tech in its presentation, almost embarrassingly so.

However, the most telling response has come from Nintendo’s new target market: the non-gamers.  E3 was dominated by gamers and gaming journalists, but I saw an older man and some other uninitiated passersby who were truly engrossed.  Even some of the booth babes, hired to understand the game only to the extent that they could show someone else how to play it, couldn’t put Wii Sports down.

Do I think Wii Sports is a good idea?  Certainly.  But it has to be executed correctly.  Nintendo can’t charge top dollar for this low-tech game, and they can’t expect the Wii to stand on simple content alone.  It’d be perfect as a pack in, ingenious even; we Americans do love our sports, and what better way to get good old dad interested in video games?  But when I, the gamer see it next to Metroid Prime 3 on the shelf—well, no contest. 

On that note, we also shouldn’t be getting an overwhelming volume of simple games like Wii Sports.  At least, they shouldn’t be crowding the displays at EB or Gamestop—they should be on the Virtual Console, but I’ll get to that later.  Without masterpiece titles, Nintendo’s loyal following might actually start to dry up, for the first time since the 80’s.  We need our Zelda, Metroid and Mario to keep us gaming long into the night.  We need our Final Fantasies and Sonics to remind us why we love gaming.  Some call it franchise stagnation; I call it nostalgia.  And, there will always be a new generation of hardcore gamers to introduce to the classics (I didn’t know about Metroid until I played Smash Bros., and now Samus’s series is my personal favorite). 

Iwata made a nice analogy: sometimes you don’t want an elaborate banquet, but a simple bowl of rice and soup.  Quite true, but gamers do not live on rice alone. 

Probability of Disaster: Small
So far, we’ve seen evidence of a healthy balance, much like the one we have on DS.  DS drew in hardcore gamers with the Mario 64 remake, but also slipped in Meteos, Nintendogs and Brain Age.  The rate of female gamers on the DS is staggering, rivaling the early 90’s Game Boy Tetris craze.  Meanwhile the top-tier titles, Mario Kart, Metroid Hunters, are satisfying the appetite of the hardcore.  With a nice skew of gaming tastes, DS is sustaining two different demographics: old-school and brand new, never-before-touched-a-controller consumers.  Wii seems to have the same lineup.  Zelda Twilight Princess and Prime 3 will definitely make launch, with Super Mario Galaxy not long after, but Wii Sports will draw in the non-gamers, and titles like Elebits and the virtual console offerings will keep them playing.  I only hope that Nintendo doesn’t start to cater to the non-gamers exclusively as we definitely don’t want the Apple Syndrome taking over.   

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