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Or Not to Bii

July 15, 2006
Wii, glimmer of the Nintendophile’s eye. To dismiss its unique abilities would be asinine. The “new gen” system has a lot going for it, with strong support from N-fans and jaded media alike to back it up. Graphics might not be much, but the 3rd and 1st party software and pizazzy 3D controller make it more than buzzworthy, to the point where we’re talkin’ Championship this season.

Most have been skeptical about Wii’s chances, unsurprisingly. So far, Nintendo has given us a lot of “look at DS” hints when asked about its strategy for the console fight. Undercut everyone and simplify all. Sounds good so far.

But Nintendo needs to do a lot more to succeed with Wii than just following DS’ lead, and i think there already are problems. Here are three things that might hold Wii back from a #1 market position – and a substantially larger-than-GameCube installed base – if Nintendo doesn’t start making changes sooner than later.

1) Nintendo is not innovating enough with the software selection. It’s been said before, “Is Nintendo obligated to innovate now?” The answer is yea, of course they are. It’s their whole mantra; the only way for them to “disrupt” anything is to differentiate everything. Adding motion control to existing play types alone doesn’t signify a revolution. The revolution will come from the new genres and game types that are born out of that controller and the console’s features. However different a multiplatform port will be on Wii, old games will still be old games, with traditional design and construction (sorry, EA).

The basis of this argument stems from the lineup. You gotta admit, before E3, people expected some groundbreakers for Wii’s early period. Instead, we get a buncha Cube sequels retrofitted to the Wiimote – Prime 3, Zelda, and Mario Galaxy come to mind – and to add to it, they even look like Cube software. That’s not to say they won’t be great, but where’s the Wii utopia we’ve been waiting for, with all the small budget big ideas that are supposed to change the face of the industry? Even going into next year, the announced Wii titles are industry staples (the EA games, Dragonball, FF, Sonic). Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive to Nintendo’s message?

I know that part of Nintendo’s mission is to give gamers a “new way to play” the oldies, but this system won’t live up to its potential until it’s inspiring new kinds of games with its new ways to play. Forget about resuscitating dormant franchises or renovating active ones. Get ambitious creators on Wii and let them have at it. Suda 51 and Kojima are a great start; i believe Sakaguchi may also be involved. Take it from there. If you have to, allow indie devs to also play with Wii hardware instead of restricting them to the Virtual Console.
2) Most gamers will not betray Xbox or PlayStation. Part of this reason being related to the previous one (and the next): Wii just isn’t proven yet. But what is proven is that, for at least the Xbox 360, Wii doesn’t stack up. No matter what NOA PR says, tech matters. Some may say wait a minute, PS2 did pretty well against the Xbox, but the difference between 360 and Wii is so much greater. HD or not, Wii doesn’t come close to the raw power of a 360, and that holds weight for consumers, well-informed or clueless. Another thing that’s proven is 360’s support. There are loads of solid games coming to it in 2006, if you’re into the generally testosterone driven software.

As long as Wii treads close to 360 and PS3 with software, people will fail to see the big difference. Until Wii starts getting games that aren’t ports and exclusives set in established franchises or stories, and creates a sub-industry of bizarre new games around itself, Wii60’s and PSWii’s will remain myths.

3) There won’t be enough new players to generate a dominant marketshare. This is the most conjecture based reason, but still worth thinking about. In one respect, the way Wii simplifies all the games we’re used to will open the door a little wider for the “non gamers” to jump in. Conversely, they’re still the same games – platformers with furry animals, WWII shooters, etc. Should someone judge these games by their covers, it’s doubtful that they’d be compelled to pick them up. I suppose this is the battle that marketing will face and box art will lose. Then again, Wii’s price might be the main difference maker here.

Maybe i’ve misinterpreted Nintendo’s message, or maybe i’m overanxious. Whatever the reason, i don’t see the revolution yet.

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