McGinnis: Do U Wii anymore?Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I saw it everywhere for a few years. Whenever I went to a friend’s house, it would be there. Sitting under the television set was that small white box. The Wii. The best-selling gaming system of its generation by far. And if you looked closely on every one of those consoles, you noticed something else: A thin layer of dust.
Almost nobody was playing games on their Wii. Oh, sure, they played it when they first got it. The pack-in game Wii Sports was fun, after all. Maybe a few other titles caught their eye in the store and they bought those, too. But after a while, the Wii sat alone, unused. Its console competitors lagged far behind it in terms of sales, but in terms of playtime, I’d be willing to bet both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 have racked up 10 times more hours of use than your average Wii.
When Nintendo first revealed its new console, the marketing campaign made it clear the Wii was designed with a different kind of gamer in mind. For two straight console generations, Nintendo had fallen behind its competitors in the esteem of the very players whose passion they had inspired all those years ago.
Fans who had been born at the hands of icons like Mario and Zelda were now lavishing praise and dollars on Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo’s consoles began to feel like dinosaurs, with curious hardware decisions leaving many gamers cold. When CDs became the software storage of choice, Nintendo stubbornly made the Nintendo 64 take cartridges. When they finally made the move to CD, they were awkward mini discs for the Gamecube. And every Nintendo console seemed to lag behind its contemporaries in terms of graphics.
Increasingly, to the hardcore gamer, the big N had become unable or unwilling to compete with the latest trends. So the Wii was seen as Nintendo’s grand attempt to strike out toward a new audience. If the dedicated game player was lost, the company would appeal to a whole new generation of fans, people who had never (or rarely) played a game in their lives. The system would have easily understandable controls and mechanics. It would be rudimentary, easy, fun.
The gambit worked. The Wii became far and away the highest selling console of its generation, moving over 95 million units worldwide and 30 million in the United States alone. The so-called “casual gamers” came out in droves. Playing Wii became a cool thing to do. While dedicated console or PC players became stereotyped as losers in their parents’ basement, people were asking friends if they wanted to come over and play Wii. It was a big deal. For a while, anyway.
Then, a funny thing happened. As with all casual entertainment fads, the luster began to come off. Most of those players drifted away, leaving their Wii under their TV as a symbol of a day gone by. Wii parties became few and far between. And most of those casual gamers only ever bought two, maybe three games for their system, tops.
It’s easy to name the games most everyone had: “Wii Fit,” “Wii Sports Resort,” “Wii Play.” Collections of minigames or novelties topped Wii sales charts its entire run. The drop off in sales numbers between the top casual games on the console and actual quality titles is stunningly steep. “Wii Play”: Nearly 30 million sold. “Wii Fit”: Nearly 40 million. “Super Mario Galaxy” — one of the Wii’s best games: 9 million. “Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess”: About 6 million.
So those casual gamers — the ones Nintendo worked so very hard to court — bought their system, a couple of the biggest (and, honestly, most creatively vacant) games and then did nothing. There were still hardcore fans buying quality titles — what few the Wii hosted, anyway — but they were far outnumbered. So, developers for the system focused on making those very same unimaginative, useless mini game collections, because that’s where the money seemed to be. And the dedicated gaming fans, chastened and unimpressed, left their Wii consoles unused, as well. 360 and PS3 games continue to appear high on sales charts, while the Wii’s titles typically can barely muster the ability to crack the top 10.
Now Nintendo is focusing its energy on a new offering: the Wii U, once again promised as a revolution in gaming with its touch-screen controller. One only hopes that this time, as the company attempts to coax more money out of those casual gamers which made them millions, they remember to keep an eye on the needs of their most loyal fans, as well. Or the Wii U’s fate may end up similar to its prior console — sitting abandoned in living rooms across the country, a monument to great potential gone unutilized.