Thursday, 28 August 2008

Viva la Revolution?

A Guest Article by Frasier

The Wii, according to whom you talk to, is either a brilliant piece of kit that offers almost limitless fun, or a gimmick that lacks both games and potential. Setting aside these two irreconcilable viewpoints, I think it is important to answer one question about the Wii – namely, what, if anything has it changed?

The Wii’s codename was the Revolution. To its detractors this showed Nintendo as an arrogant corporation that was more interested in PR than making consoles. To its fanboys, it was an indication that the mighty Gods Reggie and Miyamoto were still as committed as ever to changing the games industry as they always have. This was, after all the company that made water, marmite and Jesus Christ all at the same time, wasn’t it?

When the Wii was unveiled, the idea definitely looked the real deal. Motion sensor technology was set to revolutionise the way we played games, and the mysterious Wii channels seemed to be the answer to the problem of impersonal consoles. Heck, the thing didn’t even have a hard drive.

But there’s something important to note here, and that was how the Wii was announced. Rather than focus on these potentially “change the industry forever (or at least until the next big thing comes out)” aspects, again and again the focus, certainly on the surface, was on the zany name (“I’m desperate for a Wii” cried millions of gamers), the Apple-lite looks, and some of the more casual games. With perhaps the exception of Zelda: Twilight Princess, more attention was put on Wii Sports than any other game. Some early commentators put this down to a lack of knowledge about the console; once it was released, they’d argue, we’ll stop talking about the ever so slightly erotically proportioned controller, and start talking about the games, and proper games as well.

It never quite happened. It’s true that Nintendo have released several games from their big franchises already. Metroid Prime 3, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, Mario Galaxy and the aforementioned Zelda: Twilight Princess all tick that box. But here’s the thing: these games have produced nothing like the reaction that more casual titles on the Wii have. Take Wii Fit; at £70 a pop it’s expensive, and in all honesty not exactly long lasting. And yet, despite this, it’s sold out, month after month since it was first released in April.

Who’s buying games? Personally, I have no idea. I’m probably one of the few people who knew more people who had a Gamecube than I know people who presently own a Wii. In fact, of all the people I know well enough to know their gaming habits, only two people own a Wii. One of them is me. I don’t own Wii Fit, the other person, who incidentally is not someone who has owned a console before, doesn’t play except with friends, and is a girl, does. As I lack analogical data, and games sales data available to me does not break down into demographs, I can only really make a (not very educated guess) about who’s buying Wii Fit. I’m thinking that the chief demograph for this game is represented much more closely by my female friend than by me. That’s not a criticism – if anything it’s more of a realisation. The most popular game of this year on the Wii has not been Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, or even FIFA. It’s been Wii Fit.

For the first time ever, the mainstream media have been talking about games in another capacity than their ability, like movies and Kurt Cobain before them, to give angry teenagers an excuse to hurt themselves and others. They were talking about the Wii’s potential as a fitness trainer, its new control system and the families who were now buying it.

Does this show that the Wii has changed the industry forever? It would be a cop out to write it’s too early to say, but maybe it is. The Wii certainly has created a buzz around games, and is definitely getting new people to try them. This is all great news for the industry. But what follows the Wii? Will we see a console that will consolidate this new audience effectively? And what about Microsoft and Sony – has the Wii done enough to convince them that next time they’ll have to make comparable consoles to compete with Nintendo?

All this is for the future, but one thing is for sure; the Wii has changed, for the moment at least, the way people view games; it’s made them something that are perceived for everyone. The brand is incredibly strong, the look is sleek and efficient, and the wider media are talking about it. It is this, more than anything else, which makes the Wii, not the PS3, the spiritual successor to the PlayStation. Like it or not, the casual gaming family is here to stay.


Ronan The Librarian said...

Great article. Although I would expect nothing less from the cultivated intelligence that is Frasier