Nintendo hits a home run while Sony gets caught looking with the execrable PS3.
By Lance Ulanoff
Nintendo's Wii gaming console, not yet one year old, could be the best consumer electronics product—ever. In contrast, the Sony PlayStation 3 is shaping up as one of the industry's biggest flops.
Rarely have I seen such extremes in product development and delivery. Nintendo, in my estimation, did everything right. Sony, on the other hand, managed to screw up a decent product in every imaginable way.
I consider myself a Nintendo Wii convert. When I first read Jim Louderback's hands-on review, I was skeptical of the motion-sensitive controllers (the remote and nunchuck) and the wand that you had to place in front or on top of your TV screen. What's more, its graphics sounded awful. How would the Wii compete in a world where, if you're playing NBA 07 on, say a PS3, you could count the sweat droplets on Dwyane Wade's virtual face?
Then the Wii arrived in PC Magazine Labs, and I, along with much of the staff, started playing some of the Wii Sports games bundled with the console. I tried bowling, tennis, boxing, and baseball, and each time, I was surprised by how caught up I got in the whole experience. When it came time to buy a birthday gift for my daughter (one that she'd share with the whole family), the choice was obvious.
* Nintendo Wii
* Sony PlayStation 3
* Microsoft Xbox 360
To understand why the Wii is outselling the PS3 (and the Microsoft Xbox 360), we need to break down Nintendo's game plan. And, for contrast, we'll examine what Sony did (or should I say didn't do) with the PS3.
Let Go and Think Big: There's a scene in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (originally released as Star Wars in 1977), when Luke Skywalker is being trained by Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi to use a lightsaber. Ben tells Luke to "use the force" and "let go of your conscious self and act on instinct." This is what Nintendo obviously did with the Wii. Instead of trying to one-up the competition, it took a moment to imagine a console system that would appeal to everyone.
Sony, on the other hand, seems to have learned nothing from the popularity of the PlayStation 2. Instead, it created a gaming-console monster that has all the elegance and appeal of a coffee enema.
Design: The Wii is small and quiet and fits almost anywhere. The PS3 is huge and is harder to keep out of sight. It looks like a cross between a bug's carapace and a black Volkswagen Beetle. And what's with the logo? The original PS1 and PS2 had, I would say, rather iconic typography. It was cool and instantly recognizable. So what does Sony do? It swaps it out for the Spider-Man movie font. Talk about a sycophantic attempt to cash in. I wonder if Spider-Man 3's somewhat disappointing summer is in any way furthering the PS3's woes.
Keep It Simple: Despite my hesitation about the Wii wand/remote, there's nothing difficult or confusing about it. The remote and nunchuck controllers are intuitive, and the Wii offers tons of on-screen guidance in case you ever get confused. The PS3 offers no comparable controller or innovative ease of use.
Satisfying Game Play: These controls are also at the core of the Wii's success. The motion sensitivity and tactile feedback make this an unprecedented game-playing experience. Everything works as expected. I will never forget playing Wii baseball for the first time. I intuitively picked up the remote and held it like the neck of a bat. My on-screen me (or "Mii") immediately held the bat in a similar position. When I wiggled the bat—à la Gary Sheffield—the Mii did the same. I was in the zone.
I've never been crazy about the game controllers for the GameCube, the Xbox, and the PlayStation. My thumbs always end up hurting, and there are just too many damn buttons. Still, I've gotten used to them. Yet, even here, Sony managed to mess things up. It delivered the PS3 controllers without the vibration in the controller. Thanks to a licensing dispute with Immersion Corp., PS3 controllers now have all the action of the Book Club on C-Span. The dust-up has since been resolved and future controllers could have some sort of vibrotactile feedback, but still, what loon would deliver a 21st-century game system without it?
Don't Overreach: Contrary to popular opinion, the Wii's graphics are not that bad. Many people have formed their opinions based on Wii Sports. This collection of games uses Wii "Mii" characters that feature floating heads, fingerless hands and stick-like legs. Still, you really don't need more, because Wii Sports graphics and virtual physics are quite good when it comes to, say, how the bowling ball and pins interact and how the yellow tennis ball moves on the court. Even so, if you play Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 on the Wii, you'll see graphics almost as rich as you'd find on competing consoles.
Sony seemed to bet everything on integrating a bleeding-edge Blu-ray drive in the PS3, and to what end? I know, it wanted to force-feed the format to what it thought would be millions of PS3 buyers. Instead, it just made the console bigger, heavier, and more expensive than it should have been. Sony reached too far and nearly got its hands chopped off.
* Nintendo Wii
* Sony PlayStation 3
* Microsoft Xbox 360
Cross-Generational: My children could play video games on the Xbox and GameCube for hours, but while I've played my share of games, I'm no gamer. Honestly, I get bored with all of the constant thumb-pressing. Wii is a different story. I find it thoroughly engaging and have even sneaked in games of Wii Golf when my daughter was asleep. I can actually work up a sweat playing 18 holes on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, yet I don't worry about suffering thumb cramps. Even my wife, who never plays video games, enjoys Wii bowling. Nintendo figured out how to turn gaming into a family and communal experience.
Backward-Compatible: Bravo to Nintendo for introducing a sub-$300 console that doesn't leave an entire user base in the dust. The Wii comes ready to play all GameCube games and has hidden ports for GameCube controllers. Want to know why I won't buy an Xbox 360? It's not 100-percent backwards compatible, and I worry about how many of my Xbox games would be obsolete on the new console. At least Sony didn't make this blunder with the PS3.
The list of differences goes on, and it's not just me. Look at the recent headlines. The Wii is on track to sell 35 million units by 2012. The PS3, which rolled out days before the Wii, has sold a paltry 1.3 million units in the U.S., and now Sony is laying off workers. Nintendo, on the other hand, can scarcely keep up with demand.
The Wii is penetrating our culture, but few people are talking about the PS3. Look at all the stories about the Wii injuries, which seem to have done nothing to hurt the console's appeal. And the game system is even becoming synonymous with "easy." I'm tempted to call the Wii's public reception almost "Apple iPod-like." We all know Apple's success in launching new brands and product lines. I'd put Nintendo up there, too. Just look at its track record: GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo DS Lite.