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Five years on, what has the Wii's revolution REALLY changed?

A revolution in Nintendo's fortunes

So this is a biggie. After 15 years of being pushed to the fringes of the industry it saved and rebuilt, Nintendo is pimp-daddy-king-boss of the Video Game County once again. And that, however you feel about the Wii, is a good thing. A few years ago it looked like the most creative and inventive platform holder in the industry might be pushed under the cold, cold waves of the software-only seas, where it would no doubt be greeted with a churlish “Not so clever now” scowl by a damp, soggy Sega. Thanks to the mammoth success of the Wii though, that hasn’t happened. In fact Nintendo is rolling in the dollar-pounds.

But while Nintendo still exists as a hardware company, it’s debatable as to whether it really survived.

Above: A simple logo change, but a significant and sad one

Companies need to adapt in order to continue. That’s a given. And in a technology and lifestyle-driven industry like games, it’s an all the more pressing need. But rarely has a games company made such a rapid and drastic about-face as Nintendo did in 2006. In fact as survival plans go it was akin to gaining pig-tailed hair, putting on make-up and changing one’s name to Susie in order to avoid being shivved in prison.

Out went the bright, witty, whimsical sense of fun, in came the bland, sterile, non-specific, vaguely aspirational products and marketing, seemingly aimed at no particular aspiration whatsoever so as to make doubly sure not to offend anyone. Nintendo did well out of it, but did anyone else, really? And has the big N’s triumphant return really set it up for secure, long-terms health? I’m not so sure.

You see Nintendo is now in one hell of a predicament. Having so successfully manipulated the casual fad market to make around twelvety billion dollars out of Wii hardware sales, it has realised, as it had to, that the casual, easily-pleased nature which sent the “expanded audience” its way in the first place is also the most dangerous part of the equation. Excitable techno-magpies will always flock to the newest exciting bit of kit with a ravenous hunger, but that’s exactly the problem. With no real brand or activity investment, or serious passion for media, they get bored really quickly and move on to the next shiny new toy just as soon as they’re told they should want it.

Nintendo’s response? Bail the hell out before the audience does a bail of its own. With Microsoft and Sony belatedly jumping on the motion-control bandwagon in 2010, market-saturation was imminent anyway, and so Nintendo’s E3 press conference that year was understandably about a return to the core. We had a whole load of core games, a core new handheld in the shape of the 3DS, and a whole lot more money in Nintendo’s pockets to fund them all. Good times, right?

Well no, not necessarily. Nintendo also now has a hell of a lot of wrinkly laundry to iron out, and each and every one of those wrinkles is a side-effect of its success with the Wii. Winning back the disenfranchised core after five years of Microsoft and Sony dominance is going to take some doing for starters, but at the same time Nintendo doesn’t totally want to leave the casuals behind. There’s still money there after all, particularly in the handheld market. It’s a delicate situation, and sadly one that the 3DS crystallises.

It’s a core-focused machine flailing to find an audience due to Nintendo’s reluctance to stop making crap adverts for your Gran. In fact until recently Nintendo didn’t seem to want to sell any of the machine’s hardcore credentials at all. But now Ninty has suddenly started back-pedalling the 3DS’ marketing, dropping Nintendogs and bringing in the dragon punches. And now the casuals are confused. Is this for them? Is it not for them at all? What is it anyway? A DSi with a 3D screen? A next-gen DS? And what does “next-gen” mean anyway, Elspeth? Oh these kids and their Hip Hop...

The fact is, providing for both markets is easy. Sony has been doing it since the PS2. But when you polarise yourself in one direction or the other for too long, maintaining that happy middle-ground is hard. Just ask Microsoft. And the Wii U could also suffer from the fallout of Nintendo’s casual market bait-and-switch. You see the problem with launching antiquated hardware alongside the PS3 and Xbox 360 was always going to be one of longevity. Where Microsoft and Sony’s machines still have the power to continue to impress and evolve for a few years yet, Nintendo has had to pull up short and launch a generation 1.5 machine, arguably somewhat too early, and certainly without having any idea what the competition is eventually going to pull out. Nintendo has shown its hand far too early, but it has had to.

And if the Wii U, Nintendo’s new “console for everyone” is rapidly superseded in the hardcore stakes, then it won’t be for everyone. It will just be for the casuals again. And those casuals are confused as hell about it right now. Even more confused than they are about the 3DS. Yes, Nintendo’s handheld business has always been strong, but if the 3DS’s problems of a confused, conflicting market continue (and let’s not even get into the threat from iOS and Android), it might find itself without its traditional safety net for the first time in decades.

And all of these problems, however dispirate, however potentially long or short-term, can be traced directly back to the Wii. Hmmm, maybe not such an unremitting win on this front then, after all.

And now here we go again with the Wii U, a machine with far more potential than the Wii, but also Why the Wii U is the perfect console and a total disaster. How will Nintendo weather this one? We shall see, friends, we shall see...

August 24, 2011 

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Topics

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74 comments

  • Atari2600Forever - September 1, 2011 2:08 a.m.

    Continued... From a business standpoint, the Wii was an unequivocal success. Nintendo's decision to scale down the specs of the Wii may have put off hardcore gamers (like myself), but their ability to offer a much lower price point than their competitors and still turn a profit (unlike the PS3 and Xbox 360, which sold at a loss for years) allowed Nintendo to accumulate mountains of cash and shot their stock price through the roof in the years following the release of the Wii (it has since come down due to lower Xbox 360 and PS3 pricing, the increase in the value of the yen, and uncertainty about the Wii U). The fact that Nintendo stock today is at the moment lower than before the Wii was launched does not tell us that the Wii was a failure; it tells us that companies in a competitive free market need to continue to innovate. Whether the Wii U succeeds or fails is a wholly different question as to whether the Wii was a success. As to the criticism that the Wii lacked enough 3rd party games, this again says more about the failure of 3rd party developers to use the Wii platform than about failure on Nintendo's part. Nintendo is a hardware company with a core group of franchise games with a loyal, devoted following. Nintendo sold more hardware than Microsoft or Sony, and they sold more indigenous software than many software companies, so again the Wii was a success for Nintendo in both the hardware and software categories. Anyone suggesting that the Wii was a failure is flat out wrong. Anyone with the slightest bit of business experience knows that any company would kill to be able to have a game-changing product like the Wii. It's my hope that Nintendo can continue their run with the Nintendo 3DS (which I've tried and hate) and the Wii U.
  • Atari2600Forever - September 1, 2011 2:06 a.m.

    This article is, in short, absurd. The Wii has been a phenomenal success, for Nintendo specifically and for the gaming industry as a whole. Before I get into it, let me offer what will surely be a fruitless attempt to preempt all the fanboys/haters. I have owned systems from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, and I've enjoyed my experiences on consoles from all 3 companies immensely. I also consider myself to be a hardcore gamer, which is why I don't own a Wii. My personal opinion of the Wii is that it's a crappy kids gaming system. That being said, from both a business and a cultural standpoint, the Wii was an unqualified success. It is the most important and revolutionary game console since the PS1. First, the cultural imact. The Wii massively expanded the consumer base for video gaming. Video games are no longer the exclusive domain of kids and select adult male hardcore gamers. Elderly people, businesspeople with busy schedules, and even medical professionals are just a few of the groups of people who were able to see the various benefits that video games could bring to their lives. This expanded consumer base benefits the gaming industry as a whole, in that it gets more people interested in gaming. Major news organizations were no longer running stories only about the evils of games (violence, criminality, and profanity) but were writing and talking about benefits, such as fitness, mental sharpness, and ways for families to enjoy an evening together. The Wii changed the way we look at games as a culture by exposing benefits of gaming. Some of these benefits were new, and this was a result of the Wii's motion controller design. Before the Wii it would have been ridiculous to argue that video games can make you physically healthier. By getting people off their sofas and moving around, it created benefits that didn't exist before. The Wii also changed the social aspect of gaming. Video games at parties are nothing new, but the motion controllers made it easy for someone who had never played a particular game before, or even never played a video game before, to participate in the fun. Want to play tennis? You don't need to know which button is a backhand, or a drop shot. You just pick up the controller and swing at the ball. Want to bowl? Pick up the controller and throw the ball. Quality, innovative products spawn imitators. Despite all the flaming about who invented or designed what first, being first isn't nearly as important as doing something right. Nintendo was the first company to get motion controllers RIGHT. This spawned imitation and innovation from both Microsoft (Kinect) and Sony (Move). If the Wii had bombed, neither Kinect nor Move would exist.
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  • NeoTechni - August 29, 2011 2:02 a.m.

    "The classic controller is okay, but not great. The Gamecube pad is better," No, the classic controller is better in every way. Especially once you get one of those $1 grips. The gamecube controller is easily one of the most flawed ones in history.
  • NeoTechni - August 29, 2011 2:11 a.m.

    "With Microsoft and Sony belatedly jumping on the motion-control bandwagon in 2010" Sony jumped on with the Eyetoy, which Nintendo admitted was their inspiration for Wii. "Nintendo is pimp-daddy-king-boss of the Video Game County once again. And that, however you feel about the Wii, is a good thing" No it's not a good thing, and how I feel about Wii is a huge factor. Them being on top makes them complacent. They feel no need to improve themselves in the way the rest of the industry has. Them being on top is why 3DS cost so much at launch, and why it didn't come with the estore, or proper online support (for any system) Nintendo knows whatever they do, no matter how little effort they put into it, will sell. And that makes them lazy. There are PS1/PSP games with higher production values than even Nintendo's biggest games. Nintendo NEEDED the slap in the face Sony got with their $599 PS3.
  • Spybreak8 - August 28, 2011 7:54 p.m.

    Really I would hate it to be in the office hearing this crap, I mean every company claiming their system is going to be the second coming, every week. I can see where you're coming from. Aside from the lack of online functions, achievements and easy friend's list the Wii is a subtle alternative for entertainment but like what I just said is the main reason I never picked it up. It's not just graphics either, it's online infrastructure/physics and AI engines/basically the power to have Crackdown, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, GTA:IV and Just Cause 2 (very huge sandbox games which have amazing draw distance). Let's not even forget about the wonderful world of XBLA that grew out of nowhere, it wasn't going to happen initially, and is the perfect place for indie and risky yet fun games to be downloaded all across the globe. That said I'm loving the 3DS atm though, eagerly awaiting Star Fox, Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land, and games I haven't even heard about yet. I LOVE that I don't have to pay a subscription for it, because believe it or not I don't have a phone that I have a subscription for. SO no I don't want an iOS or Android phone and I'm good with a 3DS and a phone. Plus I would hate having one device, even able to do everything I want, that's super expensive and having the posibility of loosing the thing.
  • tofu666 - August 28, 2011 5:16 p.m.

    Interesting article
  • UsernameLoser - August 28, 2011 7:13 a.m.

    I see you have come to your senses GR.
  • AuthorityFigure - August 27, 2011 8:14 a.m.

    They're (Nintendo) are in a stronger position than they were at the GCN's retirement, and look what they did after that... They prefer it if you think that they are on the wrong track - it makes their marketing machine work better. If the author thinks that the Wii U announcement was forced from them too early, then we should expect that Sony and Microsoft should benefit further... In other words, he has all of his work in front of him in explaining any success that they may have.
  • AuthorityFigure - August 27, 2011 8 a.m.

    There's no evidence that there is a 'disenfranchised core' to win back, as it were. If the writer is using first-hand experience as the basis for this idea, then the data is too subjective to use. Also, the writer notes that casual gamers were there "all along", yet on the third page he calls it a "casual fad". Doesn't their persistence as an audience elevate them beyond a fad? I'm not convinced that this article is all that intellectualy honest.
  • santaclouse37 - August 25, 2011 9:15 p.m.

    This was an astoundingly well-written and well-thought out article that developed an accurate and in-depth look into an interesting topic. I can't really emphasize enough that this is exactly the kind of thing I love to see Gamesradar do, because no one else does it quite like you guys, if that makes any sense. (Another example would be the analysis of Portal 2)
  • raidramon0 - August 25, 2011 7:35 p.m.

    This is why Xenoblade Chronicles, Last Story and Pandora's Tower are unlikely to get North American releases. AAA titles just don't do as well as they should on the Wii. Remember MadWorld? Great game that's wound up in the bargain bin, the last place it deserves to be. I remember when my stepmom bought Wii Fit and I had to share my system until she got her own. What's the point in having awesome games if your younger siblings keep hogging the machine with their shovelware party games and not give you much time to play the games you want?
  • AuthorityFigure - August 27, 2011 8:16 a.m.

    I'm not convinced that MadWorld could have ever been a success. No black and white game has ever made significant sales, regardless of its merit.
  • NinSage - August 25, 2011 6:40 p.m.

    David- I'm sorry but your inability to credit the Wii for its (rather amazing) accomplishments shows a real lack of vision on your part. Whether they personally enjoyed it or not, anyone who can't appreciate what the Wii accomplished either wasn't paying attention or didn't want to believe what they saw. Now, I know among the "hardcore" gamers that frequent "hardcore" websites, saying that the Wii is a paper tiger is like throwing fresh chum to starving sharks - and hey - everyone likes to be popular, right? But ya know what would make gaming media really popular? Having the guts to embrace the new audience and the security to enjoy it. Instead, everything Nintendo accomplished was dissected and scrutinized until it was deemed a failure. Imagine holding the same standards to our beloved PS3s or 360s? I guess you can't fail at promises you never make? What was the contribution of scoffing at Nintendo's ideas just to imitate them? What does the timeless practice of more pixels = better gaming really say about those boxes? Why are Halo and God of War made successful by core gamers but somehow we think only the unwashed casual masses buy Nintendo products? I've said all this a thousand times before but... let's face it... this isn't exactly the choir I'm preaching to. Yet, I stand by my words... if anyone at all (especially, you, David!) wants to have a respectful chat about this topic with me, I can be reached at NinSage@NinTemple.com - I'd love to hear from anyone brave enough to open their mind!
  • Ben Tyrer - August 26, 2011 6:56 a.m.

    I wouldn't really say this is the case at all. Plenty of Wii games have been well embraced, such as Super Mario Galaxy 2, Kirby and the recent Xenoblade game. Also, no one is suggesting that it is just core gamers making Halo successful or that Nintendo has no core fans. It's just that core gamers have adopted the 360/PS3 as the console of choice this cycle. Finally, do Braid, Limbo et al full under the more pixels mantra? I personally don't see how the Wii has lived up to the it's potential.
  • NinSage - August 26, 2011 5:34 p.m.

    Sorry, I think we're on slightly different wavelengths here as I never said certain games weren't well-received. But we're speaking generally here and, generally speaking, the gaming media dismisses any positives the Wii accomplishes. Even "good" (3rd party) games are brushed aside because they aren't on the "console of choice." Which, by the way, says a lot that you even phrase the 2 other platforms as the (singular) console of choice. If you'd really like to discuss it with me I'm confident you would understand my points clearly, but asynchronous communication (like this thread) will never accomplish that. If you care to stop by NinTemple.com's chatroom on either a Sunday @ 6pm EST or a Wednesday @ 8pm EST, I'm sure we could have a healthy discussion!
  • EnigmaSpirit - August 25, 2011 6:05 p.m.

    Great article. I found it really interesting. I really hope that they do well with the 3DS. If it get's some good games on it (like what appears to be coming before the end of the year), and maybe a name change then it would be great. Seriously, I can't count how many times I have heard "So... it's a ds, just 3d?" It's not, and I hate having to explain each time.
  • jackthemenace - August 25, 2011 4:37 p.m.

    Well, the only games ever played on our Wii are New Super Mario Bros., but my (younger) sister, Mario Kart, by my (younger) sister(s) when they have friends round, and Resi 4, by me. And with Resi 4 HD coming out on PS3 in the not-too-distant-future, I'll finally be able to wash my hands with the Wii. Except for maybe playing old GC games like Pokemon Coliseum, that is.
  • D0CCON - August 25, 2011 3:28 p.m.

    A great, true, and sad article. As for the future, I really, really, really want the 3DS to succeed. I'm loving the thing, I just preordered Super Mario 3D Land, and I can think of more than 5 games off the top of my head that are coming this year or early next year that I intend to buy. Hopefully the Wii U is great too, but I have absolutely 0 interest in it.
  • raidramon0 - August 25, 2011 3:07 p.m.

    This is why Xenoblade Chronicles, Pandora's Tower, and Last Story are unlikely to get North American releases. AAA titles like these just don't do well on the Wii. Remember MadWorld? Great game, but sold poorly. I remember when my Stepmom bought the Wii Fit. I had to share my console with the family until she was able to get her own. What's the point in AAA titles if your family hogs the thing so much with their party games that you can't actually play them?

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