It's always a curious thing to read feedback. For example, I stumbled across a response to my first Wii feature here, stating that I made some good pointsÖ but then he went on to suggest that I'm clearly biased because I didnít declare Xbox 360 the actual winner of my argument.
Well, I donít mind people disagreeing with me. I've had people disagree with me all my life. Hell, it's a veritable clash of the titans each morning as my body disagrees with my mind when it comes to getting out of bed, let me tell you. And in truth, half of my career seems to be mixed with disagreements. Nature of the altered beast.
However, this reader ever so slightly missed my point. And my point was, this:
Wii's target audience is TOTALLY, UTTERLY different from the audience of PlayStation3 and Xbox 360.
And thatís why Wii is such a strong, if not the strongest contender for eventual console dominance. For gamers, hardcore gamers especially, it may eem churlish when the freshest likes of Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Halo et al are flashing their fancy bloom lit, motion blurred skirts at us, causing us to coo like entranced newborns. After all, I recently spent a whole weekend with a certain Epic developed game, playing it to completion and was glad for the fun experience.
But regardless of how good they are or will be, it's extremely rare that these types of game are going to bring in people who havenít been interested in gaming before. A passer by may take a brief curiosity, as does anyone when they see something beautiful. But it's a mere shell of attraction. Wholesale appeal within the medium is always based on gameplay rather than visuals. Which is why Nintendogs, Animal Crossing, Tetris and other relatively 'limited' games have a potentially larger audience draw than something like Gears of Wars has now. Simply put, if those games attract a mere fifth of the casual/typical non-gamer audience out there it'll still be more than if they drew over half of the typical hardcore audience available. We're vastly outnumbered by the masses. And it's those masses Nintendo is going for while everyone else goes for the 'average gamer' instead. It's quite straightforward. Bigger target to aim at = greater chance of hitting your goal.
Max (29), Yellow Springs, Ohio:
"Last night at Thanksgiving both my Dad and Mom played games for the first time in their lives when I brought over my Wii for Thanksgiving. My Dad didn't play a lot, but my Mom was playing the hell out of Excite Truck. She made it through the tutorial and then raced a couple times and was laughing harder than I've heard her do so in a long time. Then she made a Mii and played a few matches of Tennis in Wii Sports against my brother. At the end of it she was like: 'that was actually really fun!' My Dad said they should get one (!) and my Mom said: '$250 is pretty expensive!' My Dad countered by saying 'well, that's about the cost of a box of wine...' My Mom agreed.
"I donít know that they'll actually get one, but the fact they're even considering it is insane! Today she was talking about how addictive it was and how made all kinds of jokes about 'driving her green truck' and seems really interested in gaming now."
The DS is the most obvious example of Nintendo's 'Blue Ocean' strategy. Many saw the underpowered and rather strange looking handheld as a fleeting thing; a passing whimsy to dent Sony's PSP chances while the next GameBoy was worked on. And it probably would have been if the big N marketed it to the same audience as PSP. Instead, the company eventually flushed it towards those who never had a handheld and possibly a games machine before. Those who may not have had much interest in gaming. All those people I mentioned before in previous features; those firmly within the same audience Wii is now being marketed to.
The common counter argument about Wii replicating DS' success is that there's a vast difference between the handheld and home markets. And there's no escaping that truth, because of course there's a significant difference. But in taking that stance, there's the absence of one potentially important facet. And that is numbers. Numbers broken down into the following factors: age, date and your family size. All things that come together during the specific and influential times of year; Thanksgiving and Christmas/the Holiday period.
With that in mind, Nintendo has a stupidly large ace up its sleeve to give it a massive perceptional advantage in the eyes of non gamers and casuals as we slide into 2007. Depending on how old you are and how old your parents are, you're likely to notice a certain 'generational gap' around these times of year. This obviously doesnít hold true for everyone, but I'd be willing to bet many of you reading will be find something familiar in what I'm about to go into. Now, I'm 27. And during my 'youth', large family gatherings were synonymous with games. Mostly board games or more physical stuff, like charades. The generations above me were brought up on that, and passed it down to my generation, which revelled in games like Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and other hugely popular mainstays before videogaming experienced its second massive boom in the early 90s. These days, creating an attraction to those type of games is that much harder, simply because videogames play a large part of our and the younger generation's culture. Instead of Christmas guaranteed to be surrounded by the sounds of mock arguments and utterly hopeless guesses aimed at someone's hands flailing a mime of "Back to the Future", the more dominant noises have evolved into the clicking of thumbs on D-pads and electronic beeps. GameBoys, PSP's and DS' that let you play in the peace and quiet without the ever-guilty anti-social pleasure of leaving the room to hog a TV and play a console no one else in the family really wants to watch you play. Or at least not play long enough to interrupt the Queen's speech. Whatever.
What Wii has the large potential to do is merge the culture and generation gap. Its tactile nature offers a more open appeal for the older generation who may not have played games since the days of Atari ruling the roost, while the younger generation already indoctrinated into gaming will be the ones excitedly setting it up to the TV and providing the dangling carrot of plausible temptation. Games of any sort are popular with all ages; the main thing stopping people from playing is immediacy. Most contemporary videogames lack that. But something like Wii Sports doesnít. And during times of gatherings, where one or two generations are used to playing games as a family unit while the other generations are used to playing games in relative solitude (or with headset equipped strangers), this is the ultimate reconciliation between the two. It bridges a generation gap and creates, in essence, the first family videogame in well over a decade. Older members are less put off and can interact with the younger members who donít have to suffer the typical ignominy of 'Give us a Clue'. The DS lacks the ability to do this on a grand and immediate scale, but Wii's reliance on a TV means even your granny with her ailing eyesight won't have a problem picking out pixels and getting involved. The two machines may be different in terms of practicality, but together they cover two bases of what is essentially an identical target - they're not clashing for the same audience's attention; they're tag teaming it. And that's only going to become more pronounced as Wii-to-DS connectivity starts to literally come into play.
Matthew (24), New York, NY:
"I went to visit my girlfriend's family for Thanksgiving and I brought over the Wii since it was easy to do because of how small it is. It took a day before people actually allowed me to hook up the thing, but once I did, it was a blast. Wii Sports was the major hit with everyone around the house. People who have never played videogames ever were picking it up, dancing around, and screaming in laughter. I saw 70 year old grandmothers gaming with 10 year old boys.
"The ease of use on the console made it so that even the most self-conscious member of the family grab the Wiimote with little hesitation. And I enjoyed watching them play (except when I got worried about one of them swinging the controller around).
"Anyway, I went to bed, and they were playing the Wii. I woke up and they were all still up (and yes, they all went to bed... I think) playing the Wii. I think that after four or five hours of the Wii and many newcomers wanting to know when the Wii is back in stock in their Best Buy, the television finally reverted itself back into the regular cable TV form. Afterwards, that family came over and the Wii was on for practically 12 hours straight as everyone at the party insisted on playing. And this was, again, JUST WII SPORTS. I went out to a movie that night, came back at one in the morning and the Wii was still on, being played."
I've been working within the games industry for the past six years, and the last week since Wii launched in the U.S.A. has been startling because of the stories that have been popping up on message boards everywhere, the likes of what you've read scattered throughout this feature so far. Gamers talking about how their significant others, fathers, mothers, grandparents, nonplussed friends, even whole families picking up a Wii remote and playing. It was like stepping into some weird, Twilight Zone alternate reality (curse you, Clock Town! You maniacs! You blew it up!). Of course, as noted, timing has a lot to do with it because of the previously mentioned Thanksgiving holiday (happy belated to you) and so many people spent time sitting around a table eating turkey/tofurkey and enjoying festivities in a family atmosphere. But never have I woken up the day after Thanksgiving and read so many gamers talking about their families playing videogames. A console release around that time is not uncommon, but for it to get attention outside of the typical gamer demographic is relatively alien, especially when you consider that a bulk of the buying audience at this stage will be the hardcore demographic. Gears of War is one of the most visually stunning games I've ever seen (as well as being superb fun), but despite its graphical flare, heavy advertising presence and killer app status, I've yet to read many stories of non-gamers wanting to have a blast. Not heard of any mothers and fathers fighting their spawn for a go. Yet from designing Miis to creating full blown tennis tournaments, Nintendo has seemingly managed to open up gaming to a wider demographic in the space of a mere week. Taking in mind this isnít a launch strategy but a long term goal (while early adopters appear to be helping convert non gamers and casuals), that's certainly an impressive feat.
And this is even before the imminent release in other territories either. Oh, and before that little thing called Christmas, too. It's merely a tiny tip of the potentially giant iceberg. It took around a year before DS become substantially indoctrinated to the non-gaming masses. Amazingly, Wii has already gone some influential lengths to that side of its mission, if we're led to take in the increasing number of personal stories surrounding the impressive sales figures.
Christos (21), Queens, NY:
"The last game my Father played was Super Mario Bros. on the NES. I remember him 'waggling' the controller back then when he wanted Mario to jump. Since then, he has never played a videogame. My Mother would never ever play, but she would watch along as we played. [When I brought a Wii] I told my Mom to help me in creating my Father's Mii. She initially wasn't into it, but as I went ahead she started adding her 2 cents and really telling me what I was doing wrong. Then my Father came back he started adding some of his ideas.
"Since I had them sitting there, I asked if I could just show them Wii Sports. I wasn't expecting much but when I put Baseball on, my Father couldn't help but ask to play as well. We spent the next 30 minutes playing Baseball while my Mother watched. I haven't heard them both laugh like that, or be interested in anything that much in a long time. It did my heart good.
"It's pretty crazy, and if there is any confirmation for me that the Wii is pretty accessible (when the games are made with that in mind) this was it. Seeing my Father swing the Wiimote around was all I needed to put a smile on my face."
Yet for all this potency and demand, it's not all directly coming from Wii itself. Nor is it The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (despite being the best game on the system) that's drawing these people in. What's creating these touching tales is the simple pleasures of taking part in something recognisable and analogous to real life. Wii Golf. Bowling. Tennis. Even just the aesthetic thrill of creating little virtual avatars of themselves in the Mii creator. It's gaming personalisation on the most basic, yet conversely, brilliant level. Putting yourself in the game and then being able to participate on a relatively simplistic, tactile level that anyone and 'anyone' is the key word here can enjoy and relate to.
Of course, much of this is anecdotal. And it's difficult to faithfully base anything totally concrete on anecdotal evidence. However, it's very hard to dispute the fact Nintendo's disruption/Blue Ocean strategy is working because, basically, it's blatantly working already. Yes, the DS and Wii are different. But their strategies are the same while offering one thing the other can't provide. DS can push tactile gaming on the move, while Wii throws in tactile gaming for a home based audience. Both are very compatible, in every sense of the word.
Does any of this automatically mean Wii will be successful? No. Nintendo still has a large amount of work to do and the first year of the console's life is going to be vital in establishing its market. It certainly needs to break free of any novelty passing niche appeal that is always the death-trap for anything new and different. And more importantly, supply a steady and noticeable stream of well publicised titles for the same groups of people who it's currently courting so well.
But it certainly seems like the publisher has got many of its ducks in a row, learning from its mistakes (and indeed, successes) from DS. There's software that shows off the console's potential packed in for free. Hardcore aimed franchises ready to roll out at regular intervals. Advertising and PR spread across a wide range of audience targets. Easier development libraries and support for third-parties. Image viability and friendliness. Mainstream media appeal. Great word of mouth. Decent pricing. Expert timing.
Dave Freeman (27), Baltimore, MD:
"My father was quite reluctant at first, but once he started bowling, he wanted to try out all the sports. He was really impressed, and he's never been impressed by a videogame before. He thought the machine cost PS3 prices.
"My friend called me up while I was playing alongside my father. He said his mother is wheelchair bound, and can't get around too well, but that she was crazy about Wii. He was so happy to see her enjoy something so much. He was pretty amazed.
It's all well and good to have a powerful machine, exceptionally pretty looking games and a few wonderfully playable killer apps under your belt. As far as I'm concerned, as an old school gamer, that's the very least I can ask for from at least one publisher. That's why we have the wonders of choice in the first place.
"I've been gaming since I was three years old, and I've never seen such a people magnet like this console. People were letting loose joyous laughter within a minute or two of placing the controller in their hand for the first time. I feel like my passion can finally be shared and experienced by everyone. It's not only touching to me that everyone can share in that, but particularly my Father and Mother.
But getting a family smiling, laughing, whooping and hollering over a games machine?
"Videogames fuel in me a passion to create, to learn... yet I could never share it appropriately with my parents over the gaming span of almost 25 years. This Wii Sports experience may not seem like much, but it did something I gave up hope on. It started tearing down that one wall I assumed would always be there."
Like they say in the Mastercard ads: priceless.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the creation and research of this feature.
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