Why Wii’s a Winner

Crucify me if you must.

Call me a cynic, a creep… even a washed-up shell of a hardcore gamer.

But no matter what you say or threaten do to the most obscure of my poor internal organs (dude, lay off the duodenum), the fact still remains. More than any other manufacturer, I’m betting my lastbeer- and pizza-stained controller that it’s Nintendo who’s going to enjoy the biggest boost in both sales and popularity this set-top console generation.

Put aside the obvious: Given GameCube’s piddling market share (hovering around 15% of the total sector) and universal lack of third-party support, there’s nowhere for the company to go but up. Ignoreexpert commentary as well. I believe doom and gloom forecasts such as analyst firm the Yankee Group’s recent prediction that Wii – the Japanese giant’s new motion-sensing machine – willsell 11 million units by 2011, boosting its share to just 16%, are fundamentally flawed.

Let’s do a little common-sense analysis.

At just $249.99 (as compared to $299 or $499 minimum, respectively, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3), price point alone proves a huge differentiator.

At odds with competitors, parents shopping for children won’t just get a cost-conscious, fully-equipped unit out of the box – they’ll also enjoy the benefit of a handy pack-in game. Seriousenthusiasts looking for a second system can actually pick up a set-top device that offers superior value for the money too, not to mention an original spate of digital diversions. (Like you’dactually blow $1000 total on both a PS3 and Xbox, purchase a high-definition television set and then pay $60 a pop for new titles, knowing most initial offerings are simply carbon-copy portsanyhow.)

General consumers needn’t invest in an HDTV to get the most out of the gizmo either – inventive play, not bleeding-edge 1080p graphics and eardrum-shattering sound effects are its signaturecalling card. And while potentially having to shell out in June 2007 for use of the device’s built-in Opera web browser is a possible downer, hey… That’s not to say it’s an essential part ofthe interactive experience, nor a situation that Nintendo won’t step in and remedy in the intervening months.

In an earlier interview, Nintendo creative head (and Mario/Donkey Kong creator) Shigeru Miyamoto also brought up some salient points, chief among them being the firm’s intent to broaden its horizons.Hence, of course, the Wii name itself – seen as open and inviting to all, and not the sort of moniker you’d normally associate with a videogame console. His core argument: That if you’re notinto gaming in the first place, it’s impossible for a system that looks, sounds and plays like a standard console attract any attention.

While some would claim it to be pointless philosophical posturing, given the recent explosion of casual amusements – which proves a hunger for interactive entertainment truly does exist amongstnon-traditional gaming audiences, e.g. women and seniors – I’m inclined to agree. Offering consumers a wealth of content limited not only to complex fantasy role-playing outings and sci-fishooters (although these types of title are certainly present and accounted for) seems an intelligent, forward-thinking strategic move.

Chances are devoted fans won’t be disappointed by outings like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, WarioWare: Smooth Moves and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. But, in addition, newcomers will alsoenjoy beginner-friendly outings based on athletics (Wii Sports), instruments (Wii Music Orchestra), mindbenders (Big Brain Academy) and other popular pastimes. Sure, electronics buffs and longtimeindustry watchers can gorge to their heart’s content on downloadable, emulated offerings for classic consoles such as the NES, Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. For the first time as well though, casualadmirers won’t be left out in the cold, with a variety of outings featuring familiar themes and recognizable gaming concepts coming down the pike.

What’s more, the unit’s control scheme appears to be singularly intuitive. Because you can hold the console’s pad sideways – per standard system interfaces – or physically wave it aroundthrough the air to elicit appropriate on-screen responses, the action is, basically, whatever gamers make of it. Throw in bonuses like 3D positional audio effects and an analog stick-equipped"nunchuk" controller attachment – suitable for mouse-style browsing and fluid character movement – and it’s hard to see how the user front-end wouldn’t prove immediatelyengaging.

Bear in mind you’re also talking about a gadget that actually looks fun to play. Rather than sitting around like slack-jawed zombies, Wii owners are encouraged to wiggle their arms, stab and slash atthe air or make wild, swinging motions. For onlookers, as one might imagine, observing participants in action proves a lot more exciting than watching a guy or gal simply camped out idle for hours ontheir couch.

To recap, you’re looking a machine that’s:

• Nowhere near as expensive as rivals. (Although, truthfully, I’d have liked to have seen it sport a $199 sticker price from the get-go.)
• More accessible than any prior console.
• Aimed at the widest possible audience.
• Equipped with both name-brand software and flashy original outings.
• Possessed of a unique feature set.
• Unafraid to drawn upon familiar topics and tangible frames of reference.
• Profitable from day one, according to its creators (whereas, for example, investment firm Merrill Lynch thinks PlayStation 3 will cost Sony $800 or more per system at launch, for an estimated$200 or so loss on every unit).

Label me biased: I’m all for shaking things up and broadening the market. Even so, regardless of how you view the situation, you have to admit it. Nintendo may be toying with its future in the eyesof some, but from a business perspective, they’re also taking several smart, highly calculated risks.

Face it. Current GameCube owners (mostly families with children and ardent fans of popular franchises like StarFox and Super Smash Bros.) aren’t going anywhere. And with the addition of onlinecapabilities (e.g. news tickers, weather forecasts and downloadable extras) as well as features such as wireless connectivity, motion tracking and backwards-compatibility included from the start,it’s all but inevitable this user base will simply continue to grow.

Granted, I can’t say for certain that Wii will be a smash hit when it finally arrives, or offer the unique promise of a system such as the Live Arcade-equipped Xbox 360. But dollars to doughnuts, Idefinitely wouldn’t bet against the unit, or count it out of the running from the opening whistle. Whatever your viewpoint on the matter – and I’d be curious to hear where public opinion sits– it’s a given that the machine’s launch can only be a boon to the console market.

Because, quite frankly, any videogame platform that dares to buck trends like rising prices, overzealous technology ramp-ups and foolish assumptions of hyper-dedication on the part of the consumer isalready ahead of the game in my book.

– Scott Steinberg

Scott Steinberg is managing director of Embassy Multimedia Consultants (www.embassymulti.com).

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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