Wii: Gaming Genius or Fitness Fad?

In the day following a report of stellar earnings, Nintendo's stock soared, rocketing it to a lofty, new position as Japan's fifth largest company by market value. That's right; Mario and Pokemon are worth more than Honda Motors. That's a little scary, but illustrates something that's been on my mind lately. Will Nintendo's seemingly golden touch last?

I like the Wii... I really do. It's fun, simple, and entertaining. However, as I've played it, I get the feeling that the momentum around Nintendo's latest home console can't last. I know; I'm out in left field compared to everyone else. But perhaps everyone else is so caught up in the hype that reality hasn't yet sunk in.

The real question isn't whether or not Wii will flop in the long run; I think it will enjoy a much better run than the GameCube, and there'll be enough compelling games to keep people playing. However, I'm not confident what "people" will be the audience Nintendo is banking on.

The Wii's managed to capture a new audience: seniors, moms, and that guy in the office that thinks Bejeweled is the greatest game ever made. Part of the reason these non-gamers are gobbling up these consoles is because the media practically billed it as a way to have fun while getting a workout. Indeed, many games do deliver on this promise, leaving you sore and worn out after a good session. Nintendo is even embracing it with their announcement of "Wii Fit", a new series of games designed around exercise. Part of the package is a new peripheral called the "Wii Balance Board." This thing measures center of gravity, and it knows exactly how fat you really are.

Doesn't anyone see the problem here? The Wii hasn't been selling in droves because it's a great entertainment/gaming machine. It's selling because it's the modern day Jazzercise. Wii's the latest fitness fad, and everyone's on the bandwagon.

What happens when the next Mat Pilates, Stepper, Stability Ball, or Tae-Bo hits the scene? Few of these fads keep many followers when the next big thing comes out. Nintendo and the third party game makers need to sell more and more games to make money, and that won't happen if the Wii becomes the next piece of unused workout gear to go in that box under the stairs.

And what else do we know about this new audience of grandparents-and-moms-turned-gamers? Nothing! That's the problem. Will they keep buying more and more simple games, or will they find the one or two games they like to play and leave it at that? It may sound funny, but most of the casual gamers I know play Solitaire, Tetris (in one form or another), and Bejeweled... and that's all they've played for the past 10 years. Will they end up bored with Wii and go back to their familiar favorites? Will they be content playing Wii Sports for an hour a week over the next 10 years?

So where does that leave Nintendo if the "new" casual gamers don't buy new games, and their weight conscious gamer finds a new workout? Back to guys like me, that's where. The regular gamer who's been buying and playing video games since the first Nintendo. The kind of person who'll play through a Final Fantasy game, go fragging in Call of Duty 2, and doesn't think Grand Theft Auto is all that offensive.

Can the Wii satisfy the regular gamer in the long term? It's that question that has me torn. Nintendo's approach to the Wii doesn't lend itself well to keeping regular gamers happy for very long.

For starters, the control schemes don't always translate well to other genres, and if you're like me, you don't want to flail your arms around like a crazy person for hours on end. For example, I had the option of playing Zelda: Twilight Princess on GameCube and Wii. Both played well, but I ultimately chose to buy the GameCube version so I didn't have to wag my arm around all day.

Also, the lack of high definition graphics DOES matter. I think I've been spoiled by crystal clear graphics in titles like Gears of War and Call of Duty 2 that Microsoft's XBOX 360 and Sony's Playstation 3 offer. Games that regular gamers play are all making their transition to HD on other consoles, and Nintendo's being left behind as that transition continues. Porting a game to Wii means a huge hit in image quality, enough that a regular gamer like me (who owns multiple consoles) would opt for the higher quality version over more Wiimote wagging.

Simplicity and multi-player fun doesn't always appeal to the regular gamer. I game alone or online, period. Not everyone has four friends that gather in the same room to play games like Wii Sports or Mario Party. How many people over the age of thirteen or actually do? A regular gamer wants more than just minigames, and often wants something beyond a simple-stupid level of brainless gameplay.

Does Nintendo have what it takes to keep their new legion of casual gamers, dieters, and regular gamers hooked on Wii? What do you think?

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As one of these "casual gamers" that you describe (ten years ago I would pull up Duke Nukem while on a long boring business call) I like the Wii, not for the alleged fittness aspects (I will proudly say that at the physical age of 52, my Wii age is 28 - beat that ya punks!) but, for the simple and intuitive controller. I never got the hang of all the controls (or endless hours) needed to learn/play Halo or much of anything on XBOX (d-pad, joy stick, A, B, X, Y, left trigger, right trigger, SHEESH!) - just give me a full-size joy stick with trigger and fire button or a track ball and two buttons. Or better yet, a real mechanical pinball machine. Guitar Hero is my one XBOX exception - but again, it is the simple intuitive controller that makes it easy to get up to speed.

To me, the familiarity of the Wii Sports games combined with the intuitive controls and family-friendliness are what initailly attracts us older non-gamers. Now, if Nintendo can continue to produce interesting games that will engage the over 40 set (at a price much less than $60 a pop) then the Wii will survive past the fad level. Personally, I think a game price point of around $25 will be about right. What do you know about Solitaire, Tetris, and Bejeweled that keeps folks coming back? They are free or cheap, have a short learning curve and simple controls, and you can pop them up any time and play for any duration. Most adults aren't going to shell out big bux for the latest popular game. I think the casual gamer market is potentially much bigger than the hard core gamer market, so if Nintendo can get the price right ...

Since electronic gaming of any sort for us constitutes such a small perccentage of our waking moments, we (OK, I) want a game that I can load up and play for 15 minutes, then go away to something else. I'm likely not going to devote several continuous hours at a time learning or playing any game (although I did bowl 10 strait games one night in my quest for pro status ...). Wii gaming might be a way for parents to engage their kids or grandkids or merely to fill some time when there is nothing of real interest on any of the 200+ TV channels.

Graphics resolution of the Wii looks good enough to me - however my 19 year old son complains, like you do, that it isn't as good as his XBOX. But remember, the first video game I ever played was Pong ... and my first computer was the Coleco Adam with plug in game carts.

So what attracts we elder-folk to the Wii? Fitness - maybe. Simple and intuitive - absolutely.

Daddy Dave


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