Nintendo’s most controversial machine will be eulogized profusely over the next week for its profound impact and surprising success, astounding fans and critics. The Wii shattered the boundaries of what was traditional for console audiences, tapping into and slowly conquering a broader consumer base. It marked the first time that gaming had the world’s attention.
Some labeled the console’s rise as “revolutionary” and “unprecedented”, even outside the realm of possibility for an industry which ostensibly pandered to children. That’s why motion control came across as this radical idea, a spot of ingenuity to innovate how we play. The classic controller institutionally drove interaction, thus such a departure was met with rejection and critic vilification. Nintendo’s uncomfortable unveiling at E3 2005 did not help either.
Tapping into new spaces
Despite the ire of many, the Wii exploded in sales and unquestionably confirmed the gimmick of motion control had its place. Just not with accustomed audiences — middle-aged women, families, even the elderly hopped on Nintendo’s bandwagon. Gone was the supposed intimidating nature of video gaming and in marched easier, less complicated bouts of escapism. Much to the delight of corporate.
Utilizing simpler concepts, Nintendo barreled past the competition — the Xbox 360, released a year before, and PlayStation 3, launched the same week — by selling more units than both competitors combined in the first half of 2007. The lead perplexed everyone because by destroying Microsoft and Sony, the established console market shook to its core. The new norm on top-selling charts became Wii Sports instead of hyperviolence-fueled shooters.
At this point, the industry reached an unprecedented level of duality, where “casual gaming” fought against “hardcore” titles for sales. Interestingly, though, both markets didn’t fold together. Newly appointed gamers weren’t as receptive to the heart-pounding action of leading hardcore games, while the opposite side could not speak kindly of the casual. One of the strangest dichotomies to ever exist in any form.
Nintendo, perhaps unintentionally, unlocked the industry’s true potential by introducing something novel. By breaking the pattern and revealing games are meant for everyone — not just the rank-and-file gaming audience. The Wii became the centerpiece of two melding audiences, wherein digital realities were celebrated. A grandmother and young child could play Wii Sports together on equal footing and enjoy themselves. The average man or woman could stay home and exercise with WiiFit while tending to the children.
This generational partnership is valuable for the industry as it nears a legitimate level of commercialization. Not only in showing experimental concepts can work, but how two distinct markets exist. Nintendo has permitted that opportunity–the onus now lies with other companies to capitalize. Even more so for mobile, a platform many view as serious competition going forward.
The clash of motion control titans
Nintendo’s uproarious success put Microsoft and Sony in an uncomfortable place. It was apparent they had to respond massively to subvert consistently strong Wii sales. One effective way of doing that is to copy the source of the success.
Three years of corporate toiling brought suitable competition. Both the Kinect and Move made significant strides upon release in 2010, but Nintendo pushed back by slyly pushing ten million units that Christmas.
Dismantling sales numbers, Microsoft dominated (and continues to) Sony given, again, the similar novelty that made the Wii prosper. The technology evolved from the Nunchuck controller to no controller at all, though Microsoft’s gadget featured noticeable quirks rendering some games unplayable.
After the Christmas of 2010, the Wii’s strength waned, partly due to its longevity and its competitors’ helping hand. Swiftly, urgent calls came for another machine following a weak 2011 — only eight million units sold total — and Nintendo answered.
Details leaked last August showing plans of a Kinect sequel for Microsoft’s next console, and both Sony and Microsoft have confirmed motion control will be integral in any upcoming products. Nintendo, strangely, has taken a completely different direction with the Wii U, appealing more to tablet users instead of its existing fanbase.
What is in the cards for the Wii U
This Sunday firmly dictates where the industry goes in five, maybe ten years. Nintendo is banking on the Wii U to grasp a newer audience — the mobile crowd — based on how the controller gets so much screen time. In part, this has led to an interesting conflict: some confused consumers assume the Wii U is just another Nintendo peripheral and not a new console.
To try their hand a second time at console ingenuity is highly questionable, however lightning may strike twice. If pre-order numbers act as any indication, then Nintendo should start smiling now. Over 1.2 million units have sold, doubling the Wii’s efforts, but the Wii U enters the market with a similar level of uncertainty. Though Nintendo has a knack for pulling off the impossible. No reason to doubt them again.
Whether the Wii U is as powerful as the Wii remains to be seen, but regardless, when Nintendo speaks people listen. The pivotal question is if the company’s latest carries the same weight.
I believe it can.
To the readers: Are you picking up a Wii U this Sunday? And how heavily do you believe the Wii’s success affected Nintendo’s thinking with another console?
For other fun Wii U stuff, check out 15 Interesting Facts About the Wii U.
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