Issue: Why the Nintendo Wii is a big idea
Commentary by: David
Even if your reading is confined to the Financial Times and the Economist, you haven’t watched TV since Upstairs, Downstairs wrapped production and the highest tech game you’ve ever played is magnetic chess, you will still have heard that Sony and Nintendo both released new videogaming consoles in the past few weeks. Sony received the major weight of the media attention. The eagerly-anticipated PlayStation 3 is not only a supercomputer-in-a-box, it is the last, best hope to revive the ailing consumer electronics giant.
After popularizing the medium a generation ago, Nintendo has become a second tier-player in the videogame space. This necessitates invention, and Nintendo has begun pursuing a strategy meant to appeal to casual gamers and families rather than the hard-core gamers who seek out the Sony PS3 and Microsoft X-box 360.
In its execution of the Wii, however, this advertising blog believes that Nintendo has mined a fundamental consumer insight long ignored by the inward-looking gaming industry. This advertising blog believes that Wii will signficantly outsell the PS3 and that it will redefine the gaming experience and force competitors to adapt.
The focus of innovation in videogame consoles has paralled the development in personal computers. That is to say that it has centered on three issues: processing speed, graphics handling capability and memory. Videogame consoles are essentially high-end graphics workstations narrowly specialized to the gaming task.
This is a very technology-centric way of defining innovation. Instead of focusing on the user experience of gaming, game makers are thinking narrowly about the audiovisual experience. They have largely ignored the human-computer interface – the game controller. These controllers have two small joysticks and a plethora of buttons. Learning to use a videogame is not much simpler than learning to drive a car for the first time – but without the same real-world benefits. The results can be observed on any game forum like IGN where the core, subscriber-only content for console-game players consists primarily of ‘cheats’ – arcane strings of button combinations which unleash special moves and abilities in videogames.
This has resulted in a horrendous mis-classification of users within the industry. Gaming considers ‘core’ or ‘hardcore’ gamers to be those who are most likely to purchase games and spend the most time on them. ‘Casual’ gamers will buy less and interact less. Core gamers for console games tend to be younger. Why? Because only they have the time and the desire to master these difficult, non-intuitive game controllers. But these kids, despite the massive marketing attention lavished on them, do not have half the spending power of older gamers in their 20′s and 30′s.
This is a classic brand strategy mis-step, and Nintendo has corrected it with the Wii. The controller resembles the household object most familiar to U.S. consumers – the television remote control. More importantly, the Wii controller is motion-sensitive, meaning that instead of using a series of button commands to get the on-screen character to throw a punch, you can just hold the controller and throw a punch.
This is a revolutionary, not an evolutionary idea, and the mainstream media is reporting on it without understanding it. The revolution is that Nintendo has turned videogaming from a pursuit which is passive physically and active mentally to one which is active both mentally and physically. Even the Wall Street Journal misses the full significance of this shift in gaming, which has radical implications for parental acceptance of videogames as well as the return of the ‘other’ core consumer – older gamers with more money than time who will no longer have to struggle to understand the controller.
The Sony Playstation 3 is a technological marvel, but like the Zoot Suit or the Dusenberg, it represents the limits of a particular evolutionary line of linear thinking. The Wii reimagines gaming and will revolutionize how consumers interact with electronics beyond gaming.
The early games on Wii are not perfect, but game designers will catch on quickly. As Wii games become more intuitive and utilize the full abilities of the controller, consumers and designers alike will begin to understand the promise of active gaming. We predict that Wii will outpace any current sales estimates and both Sony and Microsoft will soon be forced to rethink their controllers. We also believe Wii will spart a long-overdue renaissance in remote control design. Even committed couch potatoes may have something to thank Nintendo for.