Are Wii Ready?
Nintendo's laudable gamble is not without its risks.
Another week, another console launch - but oh, how different this one is! Nintendo's launch of the Wii is a world apart from that of Sony's PS3 in almost every way - and while everything seems to have gone wrong for Sony, with serious stock shortages, a European delay, unsympathetic media coverage and widespread criticism of everything from the price point to the software line-up, Nintendo's launch has been, comparatively, plain sailing. Reports suggest that the number of Wii consoles on the shelves will actually be higher than originally anticipated in both the United States and Japan, for a start - and almost every word in the media about the Wii is hugely positive, referring over and over again to the console's unique approach to the next-gen battle and its capacity to capture the mainstream market.
In part, this positive note is simply because Nintendo has got some key things very right. It's bundling a decent set of mini-games, Wii Sports, with the console; the price is right; the innovation is incredibly apparent. To some extent, though, the Wii is also winning over hearts and minds because it's basking in the success of the Nintendo DS - and because frankly, the media is too busy criticising Sony's failings to even bother looking for any problems with Nintendo's approach.
All in all, however, the Wii is shaping up to be an amazing product launch, with a surprising level of third-party support for a Nintendo console, plenty of hardware on the shelves, and a price point which may not exactly be an impulse purchase, but is still very respectable for a brand new console system. Nintendo definitely has a hit on its hands this Christmas, and the company's dedication to finding ways of advancing the gaming medium without getting its hands dirty in the expensive and escalating specification war waged by Microsoft and Sony is both intelligent and laudable.
The problem - if we are to be picky enough to try and find a problem here - is that Nintendo seems to have determined to take up residence as far away from Sony and Microsoft in its marketing as possible, and that's not necessarily a healthy place to be. After the admittedly spectacular success of the Nintendo DS in winning over people who are not traditionally game players, Nintendo is now targetting the Wii strongly at that sector - with a focus which seems, in some regards, to be a little bit too narrow. The company has worked hard to win positive coverage for the Wii in mainstream magazines and newspapers, especially in publications aimed at women and at a demographic a bit older than would be expected to pick up a gaming device.
In the long run, that's the right approach - but in the short to medium term, there are serious questions about how Nintendo is promoting itself. It's vitally important to remember how the Nintendo DS became so successful, after all - it was hardcore gamers who adopted the system in the early weeks and months, just as it always is with every new system, and then those hardcore gamers became ambassadors for the platform to entire new demographics made up of mothers, fathers, sisters, girlfriends and even grandparents. A rhetorical question which Nintendo representatives liked to pose to the media when the DS was taking off was, "how do you market a videogame console to people who don't play videogames?" The answer - the real answer, not the somewhat self-congratulatory one Nintendo prefers - is that you don't, and you can't. Instead, you market videogames to existing gamers with the clear message that this is something their non-gaming friends and relatives may well enjoy, and they do the work for you.
For that to happen, though, you need to have those gamers on board - and despite the huge anticipation for the Wii among a large swath of gamers, it would be folly to pretend that Nintendo doesn't have a lot of work to do to sell its new system to consumers who have been swayed by the kind of graphical quality on Xbox 360, PC and PS3 which the Wii will never be able to accomplish, or who are inherently suspicious of the "gimmicky" Wiimote controller. In fact, more than any other platform holder, Nintendo desperately needs to get both the specialist press and the core gaming audience on board and sold on the Wii - and while this job may look done, given the positive coverage for the launch this week, there are enough cautionary tales in our recent past regarding the raising of "Mission Accomplished" banners to make it unwise for them to rest on their laurels. Even for a firm with Nintendo's pedigree, winning over the hardcore is no easy task - and it is not a task which can be ignored, no matter how lofty your ambitions of winning over the mass market in future may be.