Why The Wii May Not Win The Crown

With its motion-sensing Wiimote and simple but addictive gameplay, it’s no overstatement to say the Wii reinvented gaming. It trashed the industry’s fixation on graphics and horsepower with the simple premise that games should instead be both fun and playable — not pretty and unapproachable. Among the current generation of gaming consoles, the Wii has raced ahead of the pack with more than 50 million consoles sold, causing Microsoft and Sony to question their decisions to bet on more powerful, but more expensive consoles.

However, while Nintendo showed everyone cutting-edge graphics aren’t a requirement for success, it appears this generation’s early leader has gotten winded halfway through the race. At this year’s E3, Mario and company turned in a yawner of a show, dropping the collective pulse of a packed house by announcing, well, a pulse reader.

Meanwhile, Microsoft had its best E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) ever. The software giant released a barrage of announcements, including its own motion-sensing technology called Project Natal, the integration of popular social networks Twitter and Facebook, and 1080p HD video streaming. The sheer volume and scope of announcements was so impressive that Paul and Ringo’s arrival onstage to announce Beatles edition of Rock Band hardly counted as an opening act.

So, with Microsoft’s strong showing, and Nintendo appearing to be running out of gas, was the Wii’s early coronation as this generation’s winner premature?

It’s hard to fathom Mario and company squandering a 20 million console lead, but with a console cycle that’s expected to last at least 7-8 years instead of the normal 5-year stretch, the Xbox 360 may have more time than normal for a comeback. Part of Nintendo’s concern should be slowing sales. While partly due to a slowing economy, there’s no doubt the early novelty of the Wii has waned, a fact best illustrated by the lack of overall engagement by Wii owners compared to other consoles.

And while Nintendo’s early bet on gameplay instead of graphics was a wise one, the console’s lack of high definition is becoming a liability three years in, as more consumers trade up to HD. Project Natal may have received the most press, but it was the 1080p video streaming that was perhaps the biggest news. With this announcement, Microsoft is saying Sony’s win of the optical disc wars is not the game-changer the maker of the Playstation 3 had hoped for.

To be certain, Microsoft has its work cut out for it. But with the Wii’s inability to match the strong media-hub capabilities of the Xbox 360 and (as the Xbox’s Avatar makeover and Project Natal have showed) Microsoft’s continued desire to emulate Nintendo’s user-friendly games strategy, Nintendo should be worried about maintaining its lead in what’s turning out to be a long game.

Microsoft may just have enough time on the clock to make things interesting.

Question of the week

Do you think the Xbox 360 can catch the Wii in total consoles shipped after this year’s E3?
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9 Comments Subscribers to comment
  1. Cameron McClurg Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    The Wii seems great if you are really young or really old. Little kids who can’t get their hands around a regular PS or Xbox controller love the wand. Old people love it because it makes them feel like they are exercising (when they really aren’t!). I just have a tough time believing the rest of the gaming population is going to catch on.

    I think the points you make about the lack of processing power and features in the Wii in comparison to the others is key. If they are truly a generation behind, then they can either try to play catch up or play to their strengths. My money is they play to their strengths and continue to try to differentiate themselves through their titles and their target markets (really young and really old). Can’t wait for “Geriatric Mario.”

    1. You’re right: older, younger, but also families. Also, I think it also brought the female demographic into gaming more heavily. Its well proven women are fairly big casual game fans (online casual games are much more predominantly played by women) and I think this spilled over a bit into the living room with the Wii.

  2. Pierre-Marie Guyonvarch Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    Natal is a prototype with no official launch date announced yet. I heard something like 12 to 18 months before it starts selling and Nintendo is probably working on new devices too (beyond the vitality sensor…).
    The other thing is that a motion control system is more complex than a wiimote. It remains to be seen if this system works efficiently whatever the conditions are (dark or bright light, small or big rooms…).
    Last but not least, how much will it cost ? (price matters, especially during recession times…)

    So, my point is that ^^^Price and simplicity are the strengths of the Wii. I’m not sure Microsoft will do better than Nintendo on these points.^^^ This is probably an early stage demo in order to prevent XBox owners from buying a Wii during the next holidays season and make them wait until december 2010.

    1. @Pierre-Marie – you do make valid points regarding the Wii. I think it will be very unlikely that the 360 will catch the Wii, but its not entirely improbable. I think the Wii has limited capabilities going forward given the processor and graphics are truly about a generation behind that of the Xbox 360 and the PS3, and now that Microsoft has amortized the 360 they will use both price reductions and added features leveraging their connectivity, online services and in-box horsepower to make moves Nintendo can’t match.

      My belief is Nintendo will likely be the first of the major console vendors to release a new console in the 2011 time frame, since they know their console’s life-span is shorter than the others…

  3. Yeah I agree. Minority Report was cool and all, but I would be shocked if it worked like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oACt9R9z37U

  4. Chris Albrecht Tuesday, June 9, 2009

    I too felt a little disappointment after playing the Wii for a bit. There are just so few good games for it. I’m mostly on my Xbox now because I can play with friends online (after a long day of blogging).

    The thing that bugs me is that Microsoft is so “Me Too Iguana” (http://www.amazon.com/Me-Too-Iguana-Sweet-Pickles/dp/0030180716). Sure, Natal might take motion gaming to the next level, but come on! Can’t they be a little less blatant? And I’m not convinced people will want to ditch controllers entirely.

    1. Chris – I think while Nintendo introduced motion sensing to gaming, their solution is very rudimentary. Check out Sixense’s technology to see where this stuff is going. True three dimensional space sensing, not simple momentum sensing provided by basic accelerometers.

      Wii is still a great party and family console. It’s definitely not the true gamer’s console, and I think that with connected entertainment like HD video streaming likely to be more important in this second half of the cycle, Nintendo has limited options compared to Microsoft and Sony.

    2. I agree — my Wii mostly sits gathering dust, because the number of quality games is so small; I just don’t see any new games I would like to buy.

  5. jonathanwirt1 Tuesday, June 9, 2009

    Ahhh yes, the old Wii vs XBox debate. There was a day that I had a Wii. After becoming enamored by Wii Sports and the plethora of fun NES games ported to the Wii Store, I quickly went out and bought it only to discover… I kind of hated it.

    I like playing FPS and sports games. As far as I’m concerned, there is only 1 good FPS on Wii which is Resident Evil 4. The thing is, the whole point and shoot at the screen concept is really hard and it makes your arm tired after a while. As for sports games, there really are no good ones. The gameplay just turns into a total gimic. For instance, on Madden, you have to make all sorts of weird arm motions to juke or spin, and it is somewhat difficult to choose a receiver to throw to. The games are also SUPER buggy, as if there was about 30 seconds of QA.

    The only thing that I felt that Wii had going for it was a select few titles. The Mario games are fun, Zelda too, Mario Kart, etc etc. The only good original title I played was Bloom Blox. That being said, everyone I know who has a Wii played it for about 6 weeks, then never picked it up again.

    Now I have converted to an XBox and am much happier. The gameplay is 100x better, I dig the netflix integration, and while I am somewhat skeptical of Natal, it certainly looks cool. Hell, the Wii doesn’t even have a DVD player.

    So to wrap up this long comment, yes I think XBox should catch Wii, especially if they have another price drop (and Rock Band Beatles certainly shouldn’t hurt).

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