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DT Debate: Did the Wii’s casual gaming focus hurt or help Nintendo?

DT Debate: Did Nintendo jump the shark by ditching traditional gamers for the casual ones?

The Nintendo Wii has had an interesting relationship with the gaming world. The console made a play for the casual gamer market, deviating from the core industry that Sony and Microsoft were capitalizing on with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata recently admitted this may not have been in the company’s best interest, yet Wii sales and excitement over the next iteration remain. Staff Writers Ryan Fleming and Jeffrey Van Camp go head to head debating the merits and pitfalls of this system in this week’s edition of DT Debates, where we ask… 

question
 

Ryan

 

ryan-flemingI don’t think there is really much of a question. Nintendo made a huge mistake focusing on casual gamers at the cost of core gamers, and it is now paying for it. Actually, calling it a mistake is maybe the wrong word. Nintendo gambled.  It gambled big (and like so many other poor SOBs in Vegas can relate to) the gamble paid off huge at first, but Nintendo kept going back for more and ended up losing its proverbial shirt.

The problem with focusing on casual gamers is that the software becomes secondary to the hardware, which then becomes the selling point. Nintendo has sold a huge number of consoles, but that doesn’t mean much if the software isn’t there to support it, and for Nintendo, the software just hasn’t been there—not like on the PS3 and 360.  For the casual gamer, inevitably that fascination with the hardware had to end.  Casual gamers bought the Wii for the novelty of the system, while core gamers buy games they are excited about–which continues to provide a steady stream of income for the manufacturers as those gamers pick up new titles. And that’s not even counting lucrative micro-transactions and paid downloads.

Gamers are probably the most self-educated fanbase of any entertainment medium.  They know what games are coming, and they are excited for them.  The casual gamer doesn’t really do that. Nintendo also made a mistake in not cultivating its online community. When you turn on an Xbox 360 or PS3 you see links for trailers and news about upcoming releases.  Nintendo dropped the ball here, and the casual fans just lost interest because they had nothing to keep them engrossed. 

 

Jeff

 

Jeffrey Van CampI completely disagree with most of what you just said. Nintendo achieved astounding success with the Wii and all of that is due to the focus it put on marketing it as something different and new, as well as pricing it far more affordably than the competition. When the Wii first launched back in 2006, it attracted as many hardcore gamers as it did casual (probably a lot more). Nintendo’s initial bevy of software had titles for all types of gamers, including a Legend of Zelda game, at launch, and that balance continued for some time. 

No one seems to remember where Nintendo was before the Wii. Regardless of its decline in sales, the Wii is the most successful Nintendo console, even outselling the NES. The GameCube, Nintendo’s previous console, sold around 20 million units in its entire life. The Wii, which you are labeling as a dead failure, still sold 10 million units in 2011 alone. The Xbox 360, heralded as the champion now, only outsold Wii by 5 million units for the year and this is the first year any console has outsold Wii since 2006. Argue all you want, but the Wii sold 95 million consoles in 5 years. The Xbox just broke 66 million and the PS3 is behind that with 62 million. I don’t think anybody should be complaining. This has been a great, more balanced console generation for everyone.

 Even if Nintendo is somehow hurting, its overall audience is much much larger than it was when it tried to tackle the hardcore gamer market with the GameCube. The only reason its financials are down so much is because it’s selling 3DS’s at a big loss. And even that system is doing remarkably well, selling 13 million units in a year, despite being called dead half way through. If anything, Nintendo’s blue ocean strategies have only brought it incredible growth since 2004.

 

Ryan

 

Well, let’s back up here a sec and clarify one thing—when did I say the Wii was a “dead failure?” I respect the Wii, and I’m looking forward to the Wii U, but I think you have been blinded by your love of the Shire Wii.  Nintendo just reported losses of half a billion dollars last year.  A small portion of that is the 3DS manufacturing cost, but only a small portion. Both Sony and Microsoft sold their consoles at a loss for years, and they did so knowing that they would make their money back with software—something Nintendo has not been able to do recently.

You mentioned Nintendo’s situation before the Wii and paint it as a dire picture, but you forget the DS, which is still the best-selling gaming system of all time. Nintendo was doing just fine, and the fact that this is its first annual loss in 30 years says that something went wrong.  A far bigger issue than the 3DS’ manufacturing costs was the 30-percent drop in software sales.

Nintendo has sold 30 million more consoles than its competitors, but even with that massive audience the Wii can only claim six games of the top 25 games sold so far this year, and it had only eight titles for all of last year (while the DS and 3DS had just three bestsellers between them).

If you need more evidence that Nintendo neglected core gamers (other than Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata saying so), look at the number of Wii Mature rated titles—or lack thereof. Mature titles are a major part of gaming, and Nintendo has just a few. And I haven’t even mentioned the graphics, which are a big deal.

The price tag may have attracted some core gamers, but the lack of HD graphics, the near complete absence of mature titles, and the under-developed online options have long sense sent them elsewhere.

 

Jeff

 

I am not blinded by “Shire Wii.” Nintendo has definitely failed to provide enough quality software for the Wii to both casual and hardcore gamers in the last two years. It always seems to have this problem in the last years of its consoles’ lifecycles. Out of anybody, I’d say core gamers got the better end of the deal with a Zelda game, a new Mario Galaxy title and a bunch of side scroller remakes. But yeah, Nintendo’s titles, on the whole, have been weak in the last couple years. Even I, blinded by the Shire Wii, have been bored, but I imagine almost most gamers have been.

Nintendo has always had a rough time transitioning from one console to another. Like we’ve seen with Wii, the last year or two of the GameCube, Super Nintendo, and Nintendo 64 were also somewhat barren of quality games as Nintendo’s development teams turned their attention toward the next console. The fact that the Wii has six of the top 25 games is surprising to me. That’s good, considering what’s come out.

Talk of Mature titles doesn’t hold water. They just don’t sell on Nintendo systems and they never have. Sony created that market with the PlayStation and Nintendo has rarely found ways to successfully crack into it (save for a few Rareware shooters like GoldenEye). People like me buy Mature games like Eternal Darkness, but there simply aren’t enough Nintendo fans out there who prefer Mature games. Developers like Sega took some chances with titles like MadWorld and The Conduit, and there was that Activision remake of GoldenEye, but that’s it. But you don’t have to only play violent Mature games to consider yourself a “core” gamer. If anything, the Xbox and PS3 have alienated themselves from many people (as evidenced by the Wii’s success) by focusing so heavily on these games.

Nintendo hasn’t neglected any type of gamer it ever claimed to serve. Its big weakness is that, for the most part, only Nintendo games sell well on Nintendo systems. That’s been a problem well before the Wii. If anything, the Wii showed that Nintendo can reach new audiences if it wants to. It’s still a force to be reckoned with as a games publisher. Just because Mario doesn’t cut up Goombas with a chainsaw doesn’t mean it’s not a series for core gamers.

 

Ryan

 

The lack of software and Nintendo’s decision to focus on casual gamers first is directly related. And no, not all games need to be Mature.  Portal 2 and Forza 4 were my favorite games last year, but I like to have the option to play shooters or violent games if I want, and the Wii doesn’t really offer that. Core gamers want choice. They also want impressive graphics, online connectivity, and games that push the envelope. The Wii offered none of these. Casual gamers might not notice what is missing, but core gamers do. 

You’re right that Nintendo has never really made Mature games. With the exception of Halo, neither has Microsoft and the 360 continues to sell. That’s where third party developers come in, and that is where Nintendo erred most of all. Mario and Zelda are amazing franchises, but when was the last original Nintendo IP introduced? Developers are constantly striving to top themselves and others, and for many, developing for the Wii was a sideways step at best. Despite the massive audience, many never even bothered, and those that ported games typically didn’t have much success. Nintendo realized this, and has made a huge push to bring third party developers on board for the Wii U. Several mature games like Assassin’s Creed 3 are even expected as launch titles.

By focusing on casual gamers, Nintendo inadvertently alienated developers that it needed in order to continue to release software that got people excited about its system. Microsoft and Sony did not alienate themselves from anyone, they gave gamers choices.  Nintendo generated sales in new markets, then failed to support those new adopters with fresh software.

Mario and Zelda are fantastic series, but most impartial core aren’t going to want to make the sacrifices you need in order to play those titles.  You give up HD graphics, satisfying online gaming and increasingly impressive digitally distributed games, and the best selection of titles.  Nintendo couldn’t offer any of those things as it pursued casual fans, and now it hopes to correct that with the Wii U.

 

Jeff

 

Seriously? If anything, the Wii’s differentiating factors were a plus. If Nintendo had decided to make the Wii a $400-$600 console just like the Xbox 360 and PS3, it would have bombed. That’s been done. It didn’t work. Sure, it might have gotten a few more direct ports of big games, but most people could still buy another system for those games, as they did with the GameCube. The decision to spend money on innovative new controllers and bundle the system with an original game was a big gamble — one that definitely paid off. Third parties could have made a boatload of money as well, but few of them invested time in learning the hardware and the few who did just followed Nintendo’s lead. And yes, Nintendo failed to properly support and foster their success.

No, Nintendo did not create the robust online system I wish it would have, but it took years for the PS3 to catch up here as well. And don’t forget about the Wii Virtual Console. That is built for core gamers. It has a catalog of classic games that the Xbox and PS3 are likely envious of. I don’t think the lack of HD or online play really hurt Wii substantially until the last couple years, which is why the Wii U will supposedly have both of those things. Unlike the Xbox and PS3, the Wii was originally designed to have a normal five year lifecycle.

Do I think Nintendo got arrogant and began thinking its non-HD console could continue to flourish even as almost all casual and core gamers got HDTVs and broadband Internet? Definitely. Should Wii U be out by now? Sure, that would be great. Really, all we’re complaining about is a system that has outstayed its welcome and needs to be upgraded. There is no inherent problem with its concept. The industry is better off because of the Wii.

The only major mistake Nintendo has made was instead of keeping its underdog mentality and looking toward the next big thing, it started drinking its own bath water and losing focus. With that said, Nintendo is in a great position to reprove itself yet again.