A look back at the Nintendo Wii: Was it a 'Revolution'?

A look back at the Nintendo Wii: Was it a 'Revolution'?

Six years, and it is now time to say goodbye. The Nintendo Wii, launched to great fanfare in 2006, is now being replaced on November 30 (in Australia) with the Nintendo Wii U – its successor. It topped the console charts for this generation – beating the technologically superior PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. All because it was small, cheap and was attractive to everyone, not just those who were ‘hardcore’.

Back in its development, it was codenamed “Revolution”. But did it create a revolution in video games? Before it goes, we decided to have a look at the impact (if any) it had on the video game industry.

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A focus on the casual

“What we’re unveiling is the next leap of gaming… where it’s no longer confined to just the few, it’s about everyone.”

Those exact words, by Reggie Fils-Aime (then Nintendo of America’s marketing head before becoming its president), pretty much describes the Nintendo Wii.

You cannot deny the fact that Nintendo created a brand new market for video games – the ‘casual’ gamer market. And it was a smart move because of two reasons: it could not compete fully head-on with Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and it expanded the demographic of gamers they could attract (and hopefully keep).

The Wii was, technologically, at a disadvantage compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360. They had better processors, large storage capacity and – more importantly – high-definition graphics. By going for the casual gamer market, it was an excuse for Nintendo on why it didn’t include it in the Wii (the other, and more official, reason was because HDTVs were not that prevalent in homes when the Wii came out – this is despite the fact that Microsoft and Sony were hoping for its success, which did happen).

What we’re unveiling is the next leap of gaming… where it’s no longer confined to just the few, it’s about everyone - Reggie Fils-Aime

And by widening the demographics – from moving away from the hardcore to grandparents, more female gamers and those who weren’t interested in playing the first person shooters – it meant that Nintendo could potentially shift them to become into the Nintendo ecosystem – buying these games for the Wii, and buying its accessories to make it more fun or useful such as the Wii Fit’s balance board. Of course, it did not leave out the hardcore gamers behind. It still kept releasing the usual Mario games and Super Smash Bros. version for the Wii, but most of its attention was on these casual gamers.

This strategy paid off. The Wii, out of this entire generation of games, has outsold its rivals. As my colleague Adrian Cajili wrote when I was asking for some points to write on, “although it had sh*t graphics, the games were enjoyable”.

And whilst it started the movement, it doesn’t mean that it has a monopoly. It has now strong competition – and it is your smartphone.

More specifically, the iPhone.

Nintendo, and probably Sony with their PlayStation Portable, did not anticipate the iPhone to become the apps juggernaut that it is today. When it came out in June 2007, Apple firmly said that no one could bring apps to the platform. That didn’t last long – the company announced that web apps would be allowed (this was before HTML5, and games for web were coded in Flash) before doing a complete U-turn, released an API and created the App Store in 2008. Soon after, it was joined with Android and Windows Phone in offering games – albeit the largest still can be found on iOS.

Games such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja have propelled your mobile phone – in particular all iOS devices – to become a serious rival for the casual gamer market. It has had some impact to the Nintendo DS/3DS and, because it went down this path, the Nintendo Wii. And it isn’t surprising – the mobile phone is simply merging many devices into one form factor. The GPS, the camera, the MP3 player and now the portable gaming device – all are now ‘features’ of a phone.

Data by VGChartz

Play through motion

Whilst it wasn’t the first to add motion technology to gaming (that honour goes to the EyeToy for the PlayStation), it is one of the most memorable. In fact, it created the path for their rivals to make the PlayStation Move and Xbox 360’s Kinect.

The Wii wasn’t as technologically advanced like the Kinect – it used infra-red and a sensor bar (which is still being used for the Wii U) to track the movements. The Wii Remote, however, allowed gamers to interact with the game in some degree, as opposed to ‘button mashing’. The Wii Remote became a sword, a tennis bat, a steering wheel and even a bowling bowl – whatever the player or game desired.

However, the remote turned from being a strength to its weakness – making some games, usually those targeted to the ‘hardcore’ gamers, difficult to play because of the unfamiliarity (both for gamers and developers) of the Wii Remote compared to the button-mashing controllers. There were also problems with its accuracy; with reports coming out that the controller didn’t even work in some circumstances.

“Red Steel is twitchy and occasionally clumsy, Need For Speed: Most Wanted is near unplayable, Far Cry got it all wrong, and the motion control in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance just feels tacked on,” Mike Jackson wrote back in 2007 for CVG.

The accuracy problems were later addressed with the Wii MotionPlus accessory, then by Wii Remote Plus. Despite the fix, only a few games – largely by Nintendo – used the Remote to its full advantage. The rest did basic stuff like point and click, or didn’t bother releasing the game for the Wii.

More than just a game machine?

Despite recent Nintendo’s marketing that the Wii “is more than a game machine”, it certainly is not. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 strived to be your home entertainment hub – the place to not only play games, but play movies and listen to music. The Nintendo Wii, however, was more focused on the gaming aspect – and boy, it did a poor job.

Yes, I should acknowledge that the Wii does offers some streaming services (in the US, only Netflix and Hulu Plus), but they were way too late to the game. Netflix, in particular, was launched on the Xbox 360’s Live service in 2008, and for the PlayStation 3’s PlayStation Network in 2009. YouTube has also just became available only in the United States since November this year (and that took how long?). Compared to the breadth of services offered by their rivals – either through their own integrated services (Xbox Video/Music and Sony’s Music/Video Unlimited) or third-parties – the Wii’s offerings make it hard to rationalise it is a media hub.

Interestingly, the Wii also does not support DVD playback. Nintendo did say that it would be creating a firmware update that would let it play DVD video. That was back in 2007. We’re now in 2012, and still has not occurred. Granted, pretty much everyone has a DVD player now these days.

It was missing something that would hook gamers to the platform.

On the gaming aspect – it was great for the casuals, but it was missing something, and it wasn’t technological. It was missing something that would hook gamers to the platform.

It lacked the support of many third-party developers. Many games found on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 were not available on the Wii; including the most popular games of 2011: Portal 2, L.A. Noire, Battlefield 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Those that made the jump to the Wii, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, received horrible reviews for the port, in contrast to the same game on other platforms.

(Edit: We did mention Mass Effect 3 as part of 2011. It was actually released this year – apologies, just faulty researching on my part)

It had downloadable content – through the Virtual Console and WiiWare – it did not offer any way to let users to download extra content to extend the gameplay, especially for multiplayer co-op. Look at the Halo series – the best part of the game, so I have been told by every single gaming writer on the site, is the multiplayer. The developers constantly released new maps for the multiplayer part of the game to keep it interesting.

But the best thing that hooked gamers to a particular console was an achievement system. The Xbox 360 introduced their Gamerscore system back in 2005, soon followed by Sony’s Trophies. Depending on the implementation, it ‘directed’ gamers to explore certain storylines or other aspects of the game that they would have not done. Some implementations have not only put achievements in the single-player part, but also in multiplayer. It not only expands the life of a game, but adds a social element – to compare themselves with other players (and in some cases, it can be competitive).

It needed a hook, and sadly the Wii had none. Little third-party support and no way to extend the gameplay – it is no surprise that once the excitement died down, gamers just left for their rivals. It became, essentially, a paperweight.

Price matters?

One of the differentials amongst this generation of consoles was price – and the Wii’s lower price tag when launched, compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3, made it attractive. However, that advantage was slowly chipped away by its rivals. By 2010, the Xbox 360 had a model that would compete with the Wii head-on (the 4GB model), and the PlayStation 3 under the US$300 range.

But did it really matter? For families, yes. For gamers, not really. It is the games that really matters. What is the point of purchasing a console where you don’t like the games available. This is predominantly the reason why the Xbox 360 isn’t doing well in Japan compared to the PlayStation 3 and Wii – there are no games that target that market.

But it also explains the success in North America (where it tops the PlayStation 3). While the price cut did help a bit, the console’s main strength was the number of high-profile releases. Many initial third-party exclusives for the PlayStation 3 became also available for the Xbox 360, like L.A. Noire and Final Fantasy XIII (It also works in reverse – the Mass Effect series was an Xbox exclusive before coming to the PS3). In addition, it has a strong fanbase for its first-party franchises like Forza, Halo and Fable.

Regardless of its success and failures, the Wii has made a powerful impact in the gaming industry.

In the End

Regardless of its success and failures, the Wii has made a powerful impact in the gaming industry. It popularised the idea of motion gameplay (without it, it would be highly unlikely that the Kinect would have been made), and broaden the video games market to make it accessible for everyone – young or old, male or female.

Despite how Nintendo may try and spin their way in making the Wii as “more than just a game console” – it was just another game console, not an all-in-one entertainment device. It lacked the support for many third-party developers, often getting the casual cast-offs or just rehashed versions of PlayStation Portable or Nintendo DS games; and it was missing something that would keep the hardcore with the platform.

The successor to the Wii, the Wii U, is pretty much a console that is trying to catch-up with its rivals with a much needed upgrade to its technology. Some of the titles, like Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City were already out months ago – the only main difference is that they integrate the previous DLCs. It aims to recreate the revolutionary vibe by create a ‘second screen’ for video games – connecting gaming with the new trend with tablets for the past year or two.

It may be an ‘eighth generation’ console, but for me, it is more a ‘seventh-and-a-half generation’ console. It has what the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 has plus the second screen.

The Wii U is Nintendo’s answer to regain lost ground – software and technologically wise. But will it succeed?

Time will only tell.

Image on right: Gus Mastrapa (featured on Wired)

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