Does Wii really want to play?


posted 4/5/2007 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: Wii
Problem #3: Virtual Console Prices
While we’re on the subject of the Virtual Console, let’s look at its most obvious shortcoming. Aside from the counter-intuitive storage system discussed above, I think we can all agree that the price for VC games is just a little too high. Nintendo reps have repeatedly sidestepped the issue, with Perrin Kaplan comparing it to the price of Starbucks lattes in one interview, and how people are willing to pay for those on a daily basis.
Personally, I found it to be an inappropriate analogy—games are not coffee, and I only buy one every couple of weeks, but that’s beside the point. Here’s a better analogy: for Nintendo, the VC is like a little box that prints money. Aside from the costs of hosting the content and licensing games from third parties, there are probably no significant expenditures. Development costs are practically nonexistent, and porting and emulating the games is also probably very cheap—I would think that once the Wii’s commercial emulator was implemented, it could run just about any converted ROM that Nintendo enables for the VC.
You can be sure, with well over 1.5 million VC games bought and downloaded, that Nintendo is reaping a massive profit from the VC. Aside from being an iTunes like download service, the VC serves as a cheap way for Nintendo to alleviate drought. So why continue to gouge loyal customers with slightly disproportionate prices? Simple: the same old why, and again we can’t fault Nintendo for practicing good business. But they don’t need to milk us for 20 year old software.
Here’s how I’d scale the prices back to decidedly more fair rates: $2 for NES, $4 for SNES/Genesis/Turbografx-16, and at most $8 for N64. If I can grab a used N64 cartridge for 10 bucks or less at my local hole-in-the-wall game store, I’m sure as hell not paying that much for a VC game, convenience and re-download ability notwithstanding.  
Problem #4: Use them USB ports!
The universal serial bus is one of mankind’s greatest inventions. It is so ubiquitous and handy, that my friends and I joke that our grandchildren will be born with them somewhere on their bodies. The Wii has two USB 2.0 ports, and they’re just itching to be used. The big question is, why hasn’t Nintendo put them to use yet?
Their importance to the overall Wii experience hasn’t been terribly apparent as of yet, so immediate uses for them aren’t too obvious. That is about to change, however, within a very short period of time. Say, a month. Remember that browser we were promised, the one that was supposed to be ready in March but was conveniently pushed back to late April? Yes, the Opera browser beta has been idle fun in the time being, seeing web pages appear on your Wii, with Flash and Java and the whole shebang. But do you know anyone who actually uses the Wii Opera browser as their primary means of surfing the net?
I didn’t think so, and I also don’t think that will change for many people, even when the full version is ready in a month. The only way that will change is through ease of use, something the Wii browser is severely lacking. It’s a relatively easy problem to fix, with a product that everyone will be willing to buy: a first-party USB keyboard. There’s no way to IM with the tedious onscreen keyboard we have now, and sniping an Ebay auction would be all but impossible. A wireless USB keyboard would make surfing from the couch even more comfortable for the whole family, and isn’t that the warm, fuzzy picture Nintendo has been conveying through press releases?
But what about other uses? The flexibility of USB is something Nintendo should take full advantage of. USB chargers for the Wii remotes would be ideal, third party USB hard drives would open up the possibility of MMOs, and let’s not forget other mass storage solutions like USB thumb drives. The real kicker is that USB compatibility is so simple to implement. The only impasse is that the Wii doesn’t recognize USB hardware yet when you plug in a keyboard, flash drive or other device. A quick firmware update could solve that problem. Nintendo gave the Wii a virtually infinite potential for expandability, and six months from launch, I expect them to use it.
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