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Monday, April 6, 2009

8 Reasons The Wii Is Succeeding

Some have chalked up the Wii's success to serendipity, or they claim that Nintendo is now going after the lowest common denominator. There's actually far more to their success than that, and once we see how carefully this whole thing was plotted out, it's easy to see why it's succeeding.

Also, please note that while it looks like I'm ripping on the other systems, I'm really not. I really like the 360 and PS3, but there are some definite reasons that Nintendo is out to a large, large lead.

1. Price.

The Wii launched cheaper than the other systems by at least $50. That much is obvious, but if that was all there was to it, the 360 (now priced at $199) would have the edge now. No, there's a little more to it than that, which brings us to the next point.

2. Value.

If a family goes out and buys a Wii, they're getting the Wii, a remote, and Wii Sports. As soon as they come home, they'll be able to play Wii Sports by passing the remote around, and everyone in the family will have the full Wii experience for a flat fee of $249.

Contrast this with the 360. If you buy a 360 for the $199 price point, you'll come home and be able to play the XBox Live Compilation Disc, which has games that are the equivalent of Yahoo Games. In order to get the full experience of the 360, you'll have to shell out another $20-$50 for a top-flight game. If you have old XBox games, you'll need a hard drive to play them. If you want to play online, you'll need a Live subscription. If you want to play with other people, you need another controller. In order to get the full 360 experience, you have to shell out upwards of $400. Suddenly, that cheaper system doesn't look so cheap.

3. One SKU.

If you want an XBox 360, you have to choose between the Arcade, Pro or the Elite. There was also the Core SKU that's been discontinued. Two have downwards compatility, but two don't. Guess which ones and win a prize!

Sony is even worse. If you want a PS3, you have two current SKUs an 80 GB model and a limited edition 160 GB model, but there are another five floating around out there. If you go on eBay or Amazon to get one, you could end up with one of the downwards compatible models or not.

If you go and buy a Wii, you go to the store and grab a Wii. There's no Wii Pro or Wii HD or Wii Plus. There's just the Wii.

I don't get why the other companies are doing this. Sony was the most successful company by far last generation, and they only had one SKU at a time. Sure, they had hardware revisions, but in general, a PS2 was a PS2. A PS1 was a PS1. It worked very well. This new system only confused consumers and sent them running into the arms of the "safe" Wii.

4. Virtual Console.

Nintendo was very perceptive when putting in the Virtual Console. There are very few forces in this world stronger than nostalgia, and Nintendo had never really capitalized on that. There are also a lot of gamers who had played Super Mario Bros. back in the day, had a great time and never picked up a system since then. They might have wanted to play it again, but it's a pain to dig out an NES or try and buy one on Ebay just to play one game for a couple of minutes.

With the Virtual Console, people were able to reignite their nostalgia for only $5 per game. In a matter of minutes, people were able to recall fond memories of playing Mario at their weird friends' house who breathed through his mouth but he was cool because he had Twizzlers and his mom was nice to you. Other consoles have tried to follow suit, but Nintendo got the upper hand early, due to them gathering up practically every old-school system right off the bat and leaving nothing but table scraps for everyone else.

5. Word of mouth.

You can do all the marketing you want, but what really makes any product take flight is word of mouth. When word started to spread that you could go bowling without leaving the house, or go golfing without paying for clubs and a course, it took off. That's why so many Wiis keep getting sold: Because people actually LIKE their Wiis and tell others about them.

6. A non-threatening library.

Games are scary to audiences not familiar with them. All it takes are a couple of Nancy Grace reports about Mass Effect being a rape simulator or a frantic news report about pedophiles using Animal Crossing, and parents groups go into a tizzy. There's a lot of misinformation around, and manufacturers really aren't doing themselves any favors with the libraries they offer. Here are the Top 10 Games from 2008 for the 360:
  1. Grand Theft Auto IV
  2. Call of Duty: World at War
  3. Rock Band
  4. Gears of War 2
  5. Madden NFL 09
  6. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
  7. Fable II
  8. Rock Band 2
  9. Left 4 Dead
  10. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2
We, the gamers, may look at that list and say, "What the problem?" We've been inoculated to the shock value of these games. Your mother or grandmother looks at the list and sees this:
  1. That Awful Game From CNN Where You Have Sex With Prostitutes And Kill Them
  2. More Shooting
  3. Too Loud
  4. Does That Man Have A Chainsaw
  5. Finally He's Playing A Nice Game
  6. Does This Have Fleetwood Mac In It
  7. I Don't Know What This Is
  8. Still Too Loud
  9. That's A Decaying Hand, No You Can't Buy That
  10. Why Are There Always Guns
It's no surprise that the top four games sold for the entire year were Wii Play, Mario Kart Wii, Wii Fit, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. They're safe games. They feature racing and playing, and while Brawl is a fighting game it's all Mario so it's not a big deal. When picking between systems, the vast majority of non-core gamers will pick the safer library. That's why games like MadWorld don't sell. They're not welcome on the Wii, at least not yet. People go to the Wii to avoid those kind of games.

7. Single-system multiplayer.

The 360 and the PS3 are really pushing online multiplayer. It makes sound business sense for them. If two people are playing against each other online, that means they've both purchased a copy of the game. Single-system multiplayer means that there's only one copy of the game that several people are playing, which is less than ideal for a company trying to sell more copies of a game.

Here's the problem: Everyone likes single-system multiplayer. It's a lot more fun, you get to hang out with friends in person, and there's less hassle trying to connect to a nebulous server. The Wii holds an advantage because it's built for single-system multiplayer. Look at the most popular games for it. Wii Play? Multiplayer. Mario Kart? Multiplayer. Super Smash Bros. Brawl? Very multiplayer. Even Super Mario Galaxy can be played 2-player.

You want to hear something weird? In this respect, Nintendo has listened to the hardcore audience. I've heard more complaints about single-system multiplayer in modern games than I care to recall, and Nintendo delivered on it when the supposedly "core" systems didn't.

8. Luck.

There was indeed some luck involved in Nintendo's success. When Nintendo announced the Wii, they had no way of knowing that Sony would shoot their own legs off by launching the PS3 at almost $600. They had no way of knowing that the 360 would be prone to hardware failures. They also had no way of knowing that they were going to be have the cheapest system during a major worldwide recession.

To quote Thomas Jefferson, "I find that the harder I work, the more luck I have." Nintendo made the right choices at the beginning which made it possible for good luck to happen.

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There you have it. Nintendo has picked the right audience at the right time with the right tools, and it's working out for them. However, some people feel that they've abandoned the hardcore audience, but there's a dirty truth that most people probably don't want to know. Stay tuned.