15
Sep
06

Nintendo Wii Press Conference Reactions

Earlier this week Nintendo announced additional details concerning their new console, the Nintendo Wii.  (Details of that press conference can be found here.)  Admittedly, I was a bit critical of Nintendo’s intentions earlier this year. I read Reggie Fils-Aime’s grand article/speech last year where he likened the gaming industry to the movie industry and talked about how the direction of gaming was headed towards a more mainstream experience than a high-resolution next-generation graphical experience. And whether or not he’s right remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure….

“…Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind
I’m in love and I’m a believer
I couldn’t leave her if I tried…”

After a so-so E3 press conference, I now understand much more clearly where Nintendo is headed. And it’s a shame that they didn’t keep the code name for this console, because this could very well be the thing that truly does “Revolution”-ize gaming.

First, the bad stuff…. (NOTE: This is based on what we learned on September 14. Look at my past Wii post for a more in depth look at the potential pitfalls.)

$250 is a bit too high – You won’t hear me say this often, but I agree with Major Nelson. The price, while not overwhelming considering the cost of next generation gaming systems, is definitely not what I expected. My thought was that we’d certainly see a $199 price tag. Nintendo claims that they’ll be making a profit on the Wii immediately. (Ed. Note: Strange is the console world. With almost every new console offering, such as the Xbox 360 and the PS3, companies generally sell the system for less than it cost to manufacture it. Profits are made up based on game and accessory sales. This is usually the case until the company can re-engineer the manufacturing process and find ways to lower the system cost. Companies sell at a loss and make money back based on game sales.) Anyhow, if it’s true that the system will make Nintendo money immediately, then why aren’t they really playing to win. A launch price of $149.99 would have effectively put them at the front of this race hands down.

Moreover, as gamers will undoubtedly be standing in front of kiosks this holiday season trying to make the “right” decision, $250 is awfully close to a $299 Xbox 360. Sure the $299 version is the ‘tard pack, but if I had only $350 to spend on gaming this holiday season, I’d probably still get the Xbox 360 for $299 (and then pray that someone would send $50 more bucks in a card so that I could get Gears of War.)

The Hidden Cost – Although the console is $250, games will be $50 — same as normal. That’s not too bad, but then when you factor in additional Wii-mote controllers at $39 each and Nunchak attachments at $20 each, you’re talking $60 for a controller. Hmmm….if you wanted to play with four friends, this isn’t quite the gaming value that everyone thought it would be. (As incredible as the 360 controller is, it’s ten bucks cheaper than the Wii-mote/Nunchak combo.)

No DVD Playback – This is kinda ridiculous. I’m not sure what it would have cost to put a couple of chips inside the unit that can support DVDs, but it couldn’t have been that much. For folks who don’t have a lot of living space, the Wii seemed to be an all in one box that would let you game and do a few other basic things to keep yourself occupied. Now you gotta find a place for that DVD player too. Thanks Nintendo.

Wireless Connectivity Only – Although the wireless functionality of the system is good, what’s the deal with not having an Ethernet port on the back of the unit. Too many cables? Whatever the reason, this appears to be a bit more of Nintendo’s stubbornness at work. (Even the first gen Xbox had an Ethernet jack.) I thought that a system like this was supposed to appeal to the mainstream folks who don’t have High Def Televisions yet? Certainly those mainstream folks might have broadband, but I’d guess a small percentage of them actually have 802.11 networks.

Now, the good stuff….

$250 is still the most inexpensive new system – At $250, this might be the winner in most consumer’s eyes this holiday season. Although there is the matter of the hidden cost of extra controllers and the fact that you’ll need an Internet connection to truly take advantage of the features, this might not matter to many. Parents walk into a Toys R Us and to many of them, “all of those game systems look the same.” Many only see numbers after dollar sign.

Hard to find a more fun time with friends – The Wii might be the more desirable system for lots of folks this holiday season. And by more desirable, I don’t mean it in a, “fair substitute, albeit not quite what you wished for” kinda way. There might not be a more hilarious time this year than having a bunch of friends over and playing Wii Sports. Take a look at the above promotional video. Now picture yourself and several friends swinging your arms around the living room. (Actually that could get a bit ugly.) You get the point. Whether or not I feel safe having my grandmother expending energy in this way playing games like the lady in the video is another question altogether. But the vision for the Wii is becoming clearer.

Innovative Interface – One of the things about the press conference that impressed me the most was the interface. When I was about ten I remember reading a copy of “Run” magazine where Lucasfilm talked about a game called “Habitat“, which was a virtual environment that let you create an avatar and then just live in the world. Basically it was what the Sims, Second Life and, to some degree, World of Warcraft became. But for me, this looks a bit more in-line with the vision that Lucasfilm had. In the Sims or in WOW, the emphasis is on “doing something” or working toward some goal. But creating a virtual image of yourself and then walking around in a world talking to other folks? That might be lots of fun. Watch the attached video as a representative of Nintendo creates an avatar of Samuel L. Jackson. (This kinda makes me wonder if I’ll experience any kinda weird treatment if I make my avatar a person of color. Hmm. We’ll see.)

The Definition of “Replay Value” – Between the 26 gaming systems…. (that’s right 26….and counting. And I’m not including my PC or MacBook Pro as a gaming system. I know I’ve got a problem. :-)) Anyway, with all of those gaming systems, I have easily 500 games. Of those 500 games, sadly I’ve only played most of them for a period of time. I wouldn’t trade them because of their sentimental value, but the point is that most of the games lend themselves to an experience. Other than sports games, most games emphasize “completing the game”. It’s like a long movie. What the Wii seems to offer is more replay value. Perhaps you’ll spend $50 on a game — but like Guitar Hero, you might spend hours and hours playing that game. I guess the best analogy I can draw is buying a wedding dress vs. buying an expensive pair of shoes. Sure, the dress is pretty, but you’re paying $2000 for something you’ll wear one day. A $300 pair of shoes might appear expensive, but if you wear them for a few years, it seems like a better value.

We Get a Pack-in Game?? – Games bundled for free with systems are almost unheard of. Most gamers know that if you buy a system, don’t expect to play unless you have more bucks for at least one game. I mean, they don’t even give you demo discs these days!

As Reggie says in the press conference, this is the first time since 1991 that a pack in game is being included with a Nintendo system. (Not sure if any other systems have packed in games since then, but I’d bet that almost none did.) What’s great about a pack-in game like Wii Sports is that it demos the capabilities of the system. The fear with any new system is that you’ll buy a bad launch game (Fantavision, anyone?) But this is truly a killer app. It demonstrates and accentuates the best features of the system — much like Super Mario Brothers did for the NES. I think of it as getting a Blu-Ray/HD DVD player bundled with a high def version of The Matrix. (We’ll maybe not quite that good….)

Expanding the Market – At the press conference, Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime talked about a new feature, Wii Channels. Wii Channels will enable you to check the weather, view pictures, browse the web and probably other tasks that will grow as the system gets older. Strangely enough, this could be the killer app that causes non-gamers to get hooked. Maybe they don’t have a PC in the living room, but with a flick of the Wii-mote, they have access to news, the weather and any other feed-related info. Besides Wii Channels, there’s a version of Brain Age coming out for the Wii. I’m not sure if that will have the commercial appeal of the DS Brain Age, but if it does, the Wii could see DS-like success.

————————-

Maybe I’m looking at this through rose-colored glasses, but watching the Wii demos, these are definitely things that I’m looking forward to doing. Playing Zelda at launch will be nice. But I’m looking forward to the little stuff — like making an avatar and seeing if I’m as bad in Wii Golf as I am in real life. (Actually the same goes for Boxing, Tennis, Bowling and Baseball too.) But the point is that Nintendo has me excited. And considering the fact that I was counting the Wii out, that wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Check back with me in November. Hopefully if I can get my hands on one of these, I’ll let you know if it’s all that Nintendo says it is.

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