Friday, June 01, 2007

How the Wii Could Change Everything

Recently, my family decided they wanted to a get a Nintendo Wii, and so I spent some time looking for ways to find one. So far I have yet to even see a boxed unit in stores. Six months after launch, eBay auctions are still priced higher than retail. This Wii-thing has become a cultural phenomenon, like the DS Lite before it. But what does that mean exactly for the video game industry and your average gaming enthusiast?

Judging by current sales trends, the Wii looks to supplant the Xbox 360 as market leader for this video game generation by 2008 or maybe as early as this Fall. Nintendo consoles are continually at the top of NPD numbers, pointing to a shift in the video game market. Third party publishers like EA and Ubisoft are investing more of their development teams on the Wii. So far, we've seen development of new games fall into two main camps: Next-Gen (PS3, Xbox360, and PC) and New-Gen (Wii, PS2 and PSP). But the rising cost of developing hi-def games is making the risk even greater for game companies who wish to aggressively tackle the Next-Gen.

I think what Nintendo has done successfully is tapped into a market that never significantly existed before, which I'll unfairly refer to as the "non-gamer". Instead of only targeting teenage boys and adult males (which Sony and Microsoft are clearly catering to), Nintendo is focusing on snagging the female gamer and, remarkably, the middle-aged consumer. Games like Wii Sports or Brain Age have a way of drawing in everyone, no matter the age, gender or background. By adding several new groups of users to the mix, Nintendo has really capitalized on broadening the market and helped the industry grow in ways it has never done before.

My only concern is how will the rest of the industry react to this growth? We all know the industry tends to follow suit when a fresh, lucrative idea breaks through (can you say GTA-clone?) but what cues will the publishers take from Nintendo's recent success? So far, many of the highly successful Wii games have been largely minigame-based. Despite their flaws and in some cases cripplingly awful reviews, these games have been selling incredibly well. Perhaps these new consumers do not typically read game magazines or view online game reviews. But to be honest, this type of consumer behavior scares me (amazingly Wii Play is still selling like hotcakes) and I shudder to think what Third-Party publishers will do with even shorter development cycles and more derivative game play.

Not to say that all Wii games aren't for the hardcore gamer. Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess was definitely a solid gaming experience and Metroid Prime 3 and Super Mario Galaxy are on the way. But other than the classic Nintendo series', where are the other games of this caliber? And will this trend trickle onto the other two platforms? As the epic gaming experience becomes more and more costly to make, will developers end up turning to these smaller, more casual, mass-market games? I guess only time will tell.

What I hope will happen is that these new casual gamers will decide they like a certain genre or two and maybe transition into more savvy gaming experiences. Developers might decide to add more accessible game modes to better ease a larger audience into their games. In turn, they could produce improved game interfaces that are more usable and intuitive. Perhaps developers will come to the conclusion that improving graphics should only enhance game experiences, not be the game experience. If these improvements come to fruition, then maybe grandma-gamers aren't so bad after all.

No comments: