Yesterday, we created a bit of a stir when a B3D editorial piece was published by Newsweek's N'Gai Croal in his "Level Up" gaming blog
. The piece was unique for B3D in a couple of ways. First, it was written for a mainstream news outlet, and second, it was an editorial. As some of us are not of the same mind as to how the Wii's role in the market should be defined, I thought I'd weigh in with a dissenting... or rather additional... point of view.
Of course, it is worth noting that this is a technical site, and as far as the innards of the Wii are concerned, I am as curious as anyone else who likes to keep track of these things. In that respect, I very much enjoyed the piece from the technology point of view as an article that sought to clarify and consolidate what is presently known about the console and its innards. However, in terms of how the actual success and market performance of the console was portrayed relative to its hardware, my views diverge.
There is a tendency at times among experts in their fields - in this case, 3D technology - to judge a product based solely on how it advances the state of the art. From this angle, the Wii is frequently viewed with a sort of disdain among the learned for being essentially a generation behind its competitors, with a minimum of effort invested into silicon improvements. But is it fair to judge the Wii on its ability - or inability - to throw up a complex scene rendered at 720p when its appeal so clearly lies elsewhere? In my opinion, it is giving the console short thrift to gloss over the fact that significant R&D did in fact take place; it simply took place in an area that lies somewhere along the z-axis of 'gameplay.'
Nintendo wagered correctly that the time was right for the launch of a console that emphasized a shift in gameplay over a shift in graphics, an area where their competition was already focused and where they were likely ill-positioned to outperform. Similarly to their success with the DS and its stylus, the idea was to take the user interface in a direction immediately approachable by individuals who might otherwise be intimidated by the traditional controller setup. After all, was either Nintendogs or Brain Age a success due to its graphics?
Such is also the case with a game like Wii Sports, whose appeal is completely separate from the simplicity of its presentation. To attribute the present success of the Wii to pricing or marketing is to ignore the fact that the less expensive Playstation 2 - no slouch in the market by any means - is not the system being bought on a commercial level to serve in retirement homes and physical rehabilitation programs.
It is this inherent approachability - and not any sort of achievement in marketing alone - that has allowed the buzz surrounding the system to travel virally throughout the mainstream media at the rate that it has. Rather than parents simply buying a console for
their children, they are now also playing the console with
their children. This sets up a situation in which parents who otherwise do not play videogames discuss the system with their friends, co-workers, family, etc... not in the context of their child's experience, but in the context of their own. And do these people who are playing video games with their children for the first time care that the competing consoles are more powerful? Should
The jury is still out as to whether the present mania surrounding the system will eventually die down and whether it will retroactively be considered to have been a fad. Perhaps. But in the interim it would be my contention that the system not be viewed in terms of value-for-technology in the traditional vein of the console/PC space, but rather along the lines of how one would view multi-day amusement park tickets for the family. Not everyone likes Disney World either, but does that reduce the opinions of those who do to being considered nothing more than victims of excellent marketing?
The Wii is not for everyone, but when viewed as an experience rather than as a traditional technology purchase, its value and appeal to the mainstream consumer are clear in the eyes of this writer.