You may have heard, but just in case you haven’t:
Nintendo's Wii is selling rather well. Exceptionally well, even.
The February sales figures for the U.S. came in last week and showed the little white machine shifted around 335,000 units, beating both Xbox 360 and PlayStation3 in the short month. Not only that, but sales refuse to slow down across the globe, with over four million sold to date. Wii is STILL the hardest games console to find in shops and as long as demand continues to outstrip supply it's not churlish to assume that come the end of the year it'll be the dominant format. Somewhat impressive and shocking given very few outside of Nintendo could have predicted it would gather such vast popularity within such a short space of time.
It's only natural some may think this is a fleeting thing. After all, PS3 had yet to fully launch worldwide and has some great games around the corner. While Xbox 360 is still going strong and the potentially brilliant Halo 3 (which is bound to be a sales juggernaut) should make the competition between the three machines very close.
But the thing is, we're in a relatively quiet period in the gaming year. Very few big name titles are released during this time and so momentum is especially important. Some naysayers would have you believe it's novelty factor keeping Wii upright, but considering the high demand still three months post-launch, that must be one hell of a novelty. Especially when the there's been a distinct lack of major releases on the machine since December.
However, the comparative shortage of software at this stage doesn’t matter because Wii comes with one of the most effective killer apps ever created; Wii Sports. And by attaching that to each machine, Nintendo has guaranteed sales without the problems that typically come with a games deficiency. No need to shop around looking for that ideal extra to buy with the console, because it's already there. No fuss, no muss.
Taking that all in mind, if Wii is still doing this well during a typically patchy season, relying off Wii Sports, Twilight Princess, Sonic and the Secret Rings, WarioWare and assorted virtual console games, then just think of what will happen once the really big guns come out to play. I'm referring to the likes of:
Super Paper Mario.
Pokémon Battle Revolution.
Big Brain Academy.
Mario Party 8.
Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros Brawl at the end of the year.
And this isn’t even accounting for the potentially huge crossover hits like Wii Music and Wii Health Pack/Fitness, to name a few. All these games are exclusive to Wii, spread out throughout 2007 and all expected to sell massively to a wide audience. It's fair to say the party has only really just started.
This liberal sprinkling of big name franchises and potential killer apps (mostly in terms of audience and sales, although some of that list obviously have the chops to be critical darlings too) is just the latest in a wealth of astonishingly smart business decisions made by Nintendo. Decisions that may have appeared foolish or short-sighted at first, but have turned out to be hugely important in helping Wii become the clear success it already is. Packing in Wii Sports was -and still is- brilliant. The price point was spot on, even when many hardcore gamers were complaining it would appear too expensive compared to its rivals. Marketing correctly to new or lapsed gamers and the Apple generation was equally bright – it all sounds very easy to do but pulling it off effectively without appearing conspicuous or condescending isn’t. Yet Nintendo did it - the very same Nintendo some had written off and left for dead barely 12 months ago.
It's all in the software, though, and perhaps the true secret to the Big N's success is the genius level of franchise expansion it's created. The likes of Mario, Zelda, Metroid and such all appeal to hardcore gamers, but the company has gone on to mine the casual market with titles like Nintendogs, Wii Sports, Brain Training, Pokémon and more, creating a layered effect of desirability. There's naturally some crossover, but while one section of the audience goes for the hardcore aimed titles, the other goes for the casual marketed games, rippling sales potential and increasing the machine's attractiveness with each one.
The scary thing is, even with all the above games there are still a large number of inevitable titles yet to be fully announced that have incredibly strong brand names behind them. What do you think will happen to sales when the Wii version of Mario Kart gets thrown out to the masses? What about a true Wii designed Zelda titles in a few years? Another Donkey Kong game? Animal Crossing? Mario Golf and Tennis? And this isn’t even touching any <a href="http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/8793-why-wiis-future-shines-bright.html" target="_blank">unexpected surprises</a> or the third-party titles on the way too, games that sure to sell to their established markets which will be given a boost through Wii's strong and ever-increasing user base. Madden, Pro Evolution, Resident Evil, Burnout, Need for Speed, FIFA, NiGHTS into Dreams (ahem… 'maybe') and so on. While GameCube suffered through a comparative lack of these because its hardware competition was so strong, Wii has already started to establish itself as a winning ticket through force of numbers. Third-parties are shifting resources to Nintendo's format all the time and that looks to be something that will continue. What GameCube lacked in third-party support over its four to five year lifespan, Wii is already looking to rival in half a year.
With this, however, comes the usual concerns that third-party shovelware is going to do more harm than good to the system. There's been a large batch of quick and easy ports to Wii that have not come off well in either sales or critical stakes. But worries that this will somehow damage the machine's reputation or create a discontent audience are somewhat spurious.
As with any popular system, shovelware comes as standard. The market is often flooded with bad or lazy titles designed to get as much profit as possible for minimum effort. That's the blessing and curse of a successful games console. And Wii will not sink from it. It's not an idea situation, true, but the background logic is that publishers stand to gain more by putting a half-arsed game on a system that's in more homes than doing it on a system in less homes. Pretty simple and obvious, but it's a market tactic that's been used for decades and not going to go away now. No one is forcing you to buy these games and companies only do it for quick profit so they can push more money into riskier or less viable titles. Cheap software may create more competition for shelf space, but it doesn’t harm the system per se because by the time the market gets to saturation point (as eventually seen by the Game Boy Advance's library) the format has already been declared a clear leader and has too much momentum to ignore anyway. And usually by then we're approaching the end of the generational cycle and gearing up for the next big thing.
But right now, Wii IS the next big thing. You could say it was <a href="http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/4804-curse-wii-ning-console-war.html" target="_blank">always destined to be</a>. Nintendo is selling more machines than it can make through pre-orders and consistent demand, all against strong opposition, relatively limited software and noticeably weaker hardware. And don’t worry that we're experiencing some sort of step backwards in terms of generational progression, either. While there's not been as big a power gap between older competing formats as there appears to be between Wii and PS3/Xbox 360, the 'weaker' of the machines has almost always ended up as market leader. Regardless of what we may want in terms of visuals, the technologically driven difference between generations has been getting smaller as our expectations outstrip them - anyone remember the overreactions to the first batch of Xbox 360 games and the needlessly vocal cries of "downgrade total" that we get even now whenever we see a title that doesn’t match our high hopes? Maybe we'll focus on other, often more important changes to videogaming on a whole as a result. After all, you can pretty much guarantee following machines will use a Wii style motion device from this point onward, which holds far more promise as an advancement. And we've barely started to scratch that particular surface for gameplay possibilities.
Wii is on a long and exciting journey that's only just starting to get REALLY interesting. And you've already got a winning ticket. Enjoy the ride, because from here on things are only going to get much much better. And sooner than you think…
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