The year is 2006. The Xbox 360 has been on the market for approximately one year, and video game fans not satisfied with Microsoft’s powerhouse console eagerly await Sony’s Playstation 3, a system that promises even more power coupled with visual and audible perfection. This is the second time Microsoft and Sony have battled for market domination and, when it comes right down to it, both systems are very similar. Just one week after the Japanese launch of the Playstation 3, Nintendo opens the doors to a gaming revolution.
The Nintendo Wii launched on November 19, 2006 and fundamentally changed the way people played video games. At least, it did for a while. With the launch of the Wii console, Nintendo introduced a whole new demographic to the offerings of the modern day video game world, smashing records and quickly becoming the fastest selling console on the market. For the first time in many years players were not forced to use a controller with more buttons than they had fingers. Nintendo successfully bridged the transition between memorizing the layout of a controller to intuitive, motion controlled gaming. This new, less intimidating way to play video games proved to be very attractive to the uncommon audience – for the first time, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa and the five year old sister could all play video games together and have genuine, wholesome fun in the process. Titles like Wii Sports and Rayman: Raving Rabbids ensured hours of entertainment without bloodshed, cursing or nudity. It was a way for the whole family to come together and enjoy spending time together, and it was good. Super Mario Galaxy is released approximately one year after the launch of the system and gives the long time fans of Nintendo something spectacular to do on their system. It is also intuitive, enchanting and addicting. But is it enough?
As the Nintendo Wii ages, long-time fans begin to feel the fatigue of endless waves of third party, family friendly titles while owners of the Sony and Microsoft consoles are being entertained by hard hitting, cutting edge titles like Halo 3, Uncharted, Killzone, Gears of War and Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s enough to make even the most staunch Nintendo supporter jealous if they also happen to enjoy the mature themes presented to the owners of competitor systems. Part of the reason these titles are not released on the Nintendo Wii comes down to the system’s physical capabilities. The demands of these titles are simply too high for the debate-ably under-powered system. The other reason stems from the fact that the developers of these titles simply don’t know how to incorporate the Nintendo Wii’s unusual motion control system. Some developers do attempt to bring their titles to Nintendo’s console, such as Treyarch with Call of Duty 3, with less than spectacular results. But this is only a problem for the video game player who cares about these kinds of games. The vast majority of Nintendo Wii owners are perfectly happy with the content available. Even nearly 4 years after the launch of the system, the Nintendo Wii is still the number one selling video game console in the world.
Flash forward to the present day. Nintendo officially unveils the Nintendo Wii U, the next generation of Nintendo game console. It once again introduces a whole new way to experience video games, but also welcomes the more traditional experiences in the form of its Pro Controller. Nintendo promises this time around to include more third party support and that the “hardcore” video game fans will not be left behind again. It appears the demands for vastly improved online capabilities have also been met, as the Wii U boasts to be a console designed around social gaming experiences. Nintendo wants its players talking to each other. It sounds like a perfect time to be Nintendo, but upon deeper inspection, a dilemma looms.
The vast majority of Nintendo Wii owners are non-traditional, casual video game players. They play Wii Sports, Cooking Mama, and Wii Fit, among others. They are happy with all the Wii has provided them. It is safe to assume that many of these people, especially the grandmas and grandpas out there who occasionally turn to their Wii for entertainment, will not make the leap to this next generation. But that’s okay for Nintendo, because this time around they promise to include the hardcore gamer by teasing franchises like Batman: Arkham City, Zombi U and Assassin’s Creed. The question is, will the fans take the bait? Batman: Arkham City has been available for nearly a year, and Assassin’s Creed 3 is going to be a cross platform release. I would be a fool to predict the Wii U will release at a price point below $299 (especially with the release of the 3DS originally at just a little bit below that). The question is, what about the new system will make the hardcore video game fans adopt the Wii U to play these games, when they can enjoy them on another console they might already own? The argument could be made that its not just these titles that are going to sell the system, but Nintendo’s own titles coupled with the third party titles. This may be true, but how many of us are willing to invest in a new Nintendo system when we were burned so badly by the last one?
On the flip side, the casual Nintendo fan, for whom Wii Sports is the height of entertaining game play, may suddenly be inundated with mature titles on a system they bought to play with their families. With the implementation of online gaming for the Wii U, these casual fans who are brave enough to test their skills in the online arena are likely going to be subjected to the same trash talk and racist filth Playstation and Xbox fans have had to put up with for years. This will also be a major turn off for these fans.
On both sides of the coin, Nintendo walks a precarious line where they could lose a huge chunk of their potential customer base. If they focus too heavily on the hardcore games that are out there, they risk alienating their established casual player base. If they once again fail to nail the hardcore third party titles and create comparable experiences to the Xbox and Playstation as they have promised, they will no doubt permanently lose the trust of that corner of the market.
Nintendo has some difficult decisions to make and a precarious line to walk. I certainly do not envy their situation, and it will be very interesting to see how Nintendo’s future pans out as the launch of the Wii U console draws near.