Six years later, it’s time to say goodbye. The Nintendo Wii, launched in 2006, is now being replaced by the Nintendo Wii U. It topped console charts for this generation, beating the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which were both technologically superior. It was small, cheap, and compelling to everyone, not just hardcore gamers.
During its development, it was codenamed “Revolution.” But was it really a revolution in the video game industry?
Playing With Motion
While it wasn’t the first to add motion technology to gaming (remember the PlayStation EyeToy?), it is certainly one of the most memorable. The Wii paved the path for its competitors to make the PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect.
The Wii wasn’t as technologically advanced at the Kinect — it relied on infrared and a sensor bar (which is still being used for the Wii U) to follow players’ movements. The Wii remote, however, allowed gamers to interact with the game in a way they never had before. It became a sword, a baseball bat, a steering wheel, and even a bowling ball — whatever the player desired.
The remote, though, turned from a strength into a weakness, making traditional games difficult to play because of unfamiliarity, both for gamers and developers. There were also accuracy problems, with reports of the controller not even working in some circumstances.
Only a few games used the Wii remote to its full potential — largely by Nintendo. The rest only had basic point-and-click functions, or didn’t even bother releasing the game for the Wii.
For Casual Gamers
“What we’re unveiling is the next leap of gaming […] where it’s no longer confined to just the few—it’s about everyone,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, then Nintendo of America’s head of marketing before becoming president.
The Nintendo Wii created a brand new video game market for casual gamers. It couldn’t compete head-to-head with the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, so it expanded the demographic of players they could attract.
As far as the technology goes, the Wii was at a disadvantage to its competitors. They had better processors, larger storage capacity, and better graphics. Going for the casual gamer market was a good excuse to not worry so much about that.
By expanding the demographics—moving away from hardcore gamers and toward grandparents, female gamers, and those not interested in first-person-shooters—Nintendo could potentially pull them into the Nintendo ecosystem through games and accessories such as the Wii Fit balance board.
Nintendo didn’t leave the hardcore gamers behind—it still released more mainstream games for the Wii—but most of the attention was on casual gamers.
That strategy paid off. The Wii, years behind in its technology, has outsold its rivals.
But now it has an unexpected competitor. And it’s in your pocket.
Smartphones, the iPhone in particular, have become a serious rival to Nintendo. With games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, platforms like iOS and Android are entering the casual gaming market. And this comes as no surprise, as mobile phones are merging so many devices into one. The camera, the MP3 player, the GPS, and the portable gaming device are all now ‘features’ of a phone.
No More Than A Game Machine
Nintendo has marketed the Wii as “more than a game machine,” but it simply is not. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 strive to be your central entertainment hub—the place to not only play games, but also play movies and listen to music. The Nintendo Wii was more focused on gaming.
The Wii does offer some streaming services (Netflix and Hulu Plus), but they were very late to the game. Compared to the large offerings of its competitors, the Wii’s services hardly rationalize it as a media hub.
The Wii also does not support DVD playback, something that should’ve been supported from the beginning. In 2007, Nintendo said it would release a firmware update to support DVD video, but that never happened.
On the gaming aspect, it lacked the support of third-part developers. Many games found on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 were never available for the Wii. Those that did make it to the Wii received poor reviews for the port.
Another thing the Wii lacked was an achievement system. The Xbox 360 introduced their Gamerscore system in 2005, which was followed by Sony’s Trophies. This both expanded games and added a social element, adding a bit of competition.
The Wii needed something to hook players to the system, but it had none. With little third-party support and no way to extend gameplay, it’s no surprise that once the excitement died down, gamers left for their competitors.
Regardless of its successes and failures, the Nintendo Wii has made a large impact on the gaming industry—without it, the Xbox Kinect would likely not exist. It also broadened the video game market to make it accessible and compelling to everyone—young or old, male or female.
The Wii’s successor, the Wii U, is Nintendo’s way of trying to catch up to the competition with a much needed upgrade to its technology. It aims to recreate the ‘revolutionary’ vibe with a ‘second screen’ for video games—connecting gaming with the recent tablet trend.
The Wii U is Nintendo’s solution to win back lost ground, but will it succeed?