Wii seems to be bringing a lot of joy to people everywhere (that and pain for those who still can't find a unit on sale…), although the machine has also accompanied some rather wider reaching consequences that stretch across at least part of videogaming's culture.
So here's a look at what Wii's growing success has brought to the industry – for better AND for worse.
1. Standardised And Efficient Motion Controls
This isn't quite universal yet, as Microsoft is doing a good job of feigning apathy at the moment (what's the bet we see an Xbox tilt controller in the next 2 years though?), but there's no doubt Wii has brought with it a glimpse of what videogame control will be like for the next generation and beyond. Sony came a little late to the party with its rather half-hearted SIXAXIS pad on PlayStation3, but it's a clear sign of things to come. Console manufactures run on a very strong principle of competition mimicry, and if one company is seen to have made a success of a new way to play games, every single other company out there will try and follow with tweaks and changes. I'm willing to go as far to say that both Sony and Microsoft are already looking on how to improve on the Wii remote's capabilities, although it's an obvious assumption that Nintendo is already working on the case too and has the advantage of an audience who already think the big N is the originator of the concept.
It's also a proven way to introduce new people to videogames, so an invaluable method of audience expansion. Again, something that cannot be ignored by any developer or publisher. Wii has given the game a new angle; now we'll be watching exactly how everyone else plays it.
2. A Head-Bangingly Frustrating Resistance To Online Gaming
It's almost painful that Nintendo is so damned stubborn about this, but after promises and declarations it still seems unwilling to welcome online gaming with open arms. There's a fair few titles around the corner that will be playable via the interweb, but even this is slightly soured by the inane friend code system that looks like forcing us into a new code for each game. No no no. This is not a friendly and intuitive format and as a result some companies (mostly third-parties) are shying away from putting online functions in their games, on top of Nintendo's apparent apathy towards the concept. While Sony and Microsoft are making great inroads, Nintendo has stalled things somewhat in a universal sense. Which is irritating, as it's made some good decisions in making online play free, implementing a fantastic browser and offering other goodies, such as the weather and news channels. The lack of force in the most important section, the gaming itself, means competitors can get away with more lethargy, simply though the fact Nintendo's efforts are so comparatively half-arsed.
3. Allowed Developers To Explore A New Paradigm To Explore Aside From Power
A slightly controversial one, due to a lot of people having a short/selective memory. Nintendo hasn’t really introduced this factor as much as given us a very large reminder of it, due to the comparative severity of its use. While no weakling, Wii is certainly not in line to compete with PS3 or Xbox 360 on a raw power basis. But at the same time, as those machines push High Definition, incredible physics and other feats, Wii has stepped into another direction that allows it to explore a new avenue that seems to have ignited the imagination in far more ways. And as such, the difference in power seems less important because developers are interested in pushing a new envelope of gameplay potential.
As often the case within gaming's history, the most popular machine has rarely ever been the most powerful one, and curiously this is something that usually persists when a dominant publisher goes on to dominate the market the second time (before they're dethroned on the third time of asking). If you examine the third machine that comes from the leading manufacturer, you'll notice it's also usually the most powerful on the market as well, which is deemed almost irrelevant by the people buying. PSOne beat both the more intimidating Saturn and Nintendo 64 (a third machine which 'jumped' a generation, going straight to 64-bit technology instead of Sony and Sega's 32-bit examples), followed by PS2 which was less powerful than Xbox and GameCube. With PS3 the most potent machine going right now but trailing its competition, history may well repeat itself. And if it does, expect the 'winner' of the next generation to be the 'loser' of the architecture and power race again.
But if it all means we'll be pushing the medium in another direction besides visual prowess (next stop: holograms! Or maybe not), then it's certainly for the best – because gaming's true generational leaps have been gameplay expansion to go with graphical expansion. The latter without the former only helps lead the market to stagnation.
4. Another Excuse For Laziness
Sadly, with the shift from power to control, we've also seen some developers take this as an excuse to not really bother with making the most from what's on offer with Wii. So some titles look worse than GameCube games, others have badly designed motion controls slapped in. And some special examples actually manage to fall into both traps – something I imagine would be also apparent more on PS3 if it weren’t for the fact software is so damned expensive to make on that format and thus riskier to exploit. Some code shops can be excused for first wave jitters and the quick shift into Wii development, but as we slope towards the middle of 2007 into the second wave, this will surely need to stop. Because it won't be Wii suffering badly from such laziness, it'll be the publishers and devs behind the piss poor titles.
5. Increased Mass Market Viability
Videogames have always experienced the ability to penetrate new markets – it's these very markets that provide the basic foundation for each console generation leader. PlayStation accessed a new audience that prior machines ignored, which was soon expanded upon with following consoles. In fact, Sony pretty much 'invented console cool'. Wii has overtaken that concept and as such is now the most mass market home machine ever created in the medium, in terms of audience reach and expansion. Nintendo cleverly mined the Apple generation in both aesthetics and perception, a fairly large leap away from a purple lunchbox.
But the importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated. Videogaming is hardly a medium in need of validation, but is still struggling with all the growing pains of all young forms of entertainment. It's an obvious scapegoat and victim of easy misconceptions; a new-age 'witch', so to speak. Wii's ability to infiltrate avenues that gaming has not been able to before means it reaches more people and so fewer finger-pointers will automatically blame the medium for its ills. Understanding and appeal to broader audiences should bring videogames a bit closer to wider 'acceptance' within more communities. Don’t listen to those who claim more casuals means worse games; hardcore elitism is a sure-fire way to shrink the market and turn it into a cannibalistic feast which will eventually mean less games, less money and inevitably, less choice. And if there's one thing we should be thankful for is that there's plenty space for game genres of ALL kinds across six (including handhelds) very strong and sustainable formats.
6. Old Nintendo Games Legally Revisited At Last
Less beneficial to the industry, more beneficial to Nintendo, but the company does have the largest back catalogue of proven hits and classics from gaming's history, so it's a forgivable sticking point. Before Wii there was really only the option of illegality, the attic/basement or eBay when it came to playing most titles from the NES to the N64 era. Now we have the chance to plough through them via one little machine. Sure, there's problems with some of the controls for certain titles, things like rumble packs aren’t emulated and the pricing could be a little fairer, but this is what we have to pay for videogaming not preserving its history in accessible places. And heck, even PAL gamers have benefited with TurboGrafx-16 titles finally and widely available to them for the first time (even if Australians and New Zealanders have to change the country location settings to enjoy the option).
The wait for particular favourites may be a tad galling for some, but look at it this way – merely several years ago there was barely an alternative at all. And given this is merely the 'first' generation of console makers exploring our nostalgic roots, things can surely only get better in terms of service and range. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo was planning a way to integrate such capabilities in its next handheld too. Makes perfect sense, really; PlayStation Portable is home to popular emulation, which means there's a viable market for it and money waiting to be made. Old school Nintendo classics downloadable on DS 2/GBA Next? At a guess, I'd say so; Wii's virtual console is far too popular for it to not be a strong possibility once the practicalities are set.