Nintendo Wii – One step forward, two steps back (pt 1)
In business, there are advantages and disadvantages to being first-to-market. For example, when the Xbox 360 launched a year before its competitors it earned technical leadership, a long period of being “the only choice,” a head-start for building an installed base, and a whole lot of time for developers to get comfortable with it. On the other hand, launching first can be very risky. Most significant is that in the intervening time, the playing field can change. For example, a crucial hardware feature that can’t be added later might become exceedingly important – and the competition will have time to jump on that technology and get it into their boxes.
What’s more, your competition knows exactly what you’re offering. They can see your strengths, and your weaknesses. They can make sure that they don’t get called out for the same mistakes you made. They can and will learn from your mistakes… unless their name is Nintendo.
I picked up my Wii about 9 hours after its official launch. I arrived at Best Buy in Bellevue around 8AM, and as I approached the line a blue-shirted fellow handed me a ticket saying, “Wow, we have just enough.” In fact, they had 101 consoles on hand and I was the 100th person to arrive – and I only had to wait about an hour in the rain. This was of course greatly preferrable to last year’s 15 hour wait.
Wiimote – A step forward. When I got it home my housemate Jon (half-asleep from a fruitless attempt to procure a Wii the night before) and I set up our first game of Wii Sports. It was great, it was fun – it was just as compelling as when I played it at MindCamp a week or so beforehand. This is what Nintendo promised – fun, engaging gameplay where you won’t care about the unrealistic graphics. And this was just the freebie bundled-in game.
Graphics – aka The trade-off. Most of us that follow the video game scene knew that Nintendo was basically using slightly beefed up Gamecube hardware inside the Wii. This allowed them to offer a compelling price point, make millions of consoles very quickly, and ostensibly require developers to do “less work” (at least on visuals). But if you’ve been playing an Xbox 360 for the last year (or modern PC games), playing a Wii will be very jarring. I haven’t yet been able to acquire the elusive component video cable (WHY is this not included???), but games on the Wii just look bad. At the best of times they look like a game on the original Xbox, and often worse.
But that’s okay. Nintendo offered us a deal. We look beyond the last-gen visuals, and they’ll give us totally new gaming experiences at an affordable price and with fewer hassles. It’s all about fun with Nintendo, they said.