The Year of Wii
Posted by Thomas Bowskill
We take a look back at Wii on its official first birthday...
Well, would you believe it? The Wii has been out for a year already. And what a turn-around it's been for Nintendo!
In celebration of Nintendo's remarkable achievement; we present you with NintendoLife's 'Year of Wii'
The Build Up
A couple of years ago Nintendo were almost written off as one of the console giants: Many people were anticipating that they would follow the path of Sega. Lackluster sales and a poor selection of third party games had let the GameCube down, and the towel was thrown in well before its time. Without a shadow of a doubt, the GameCube's demise was all due to lack of market understanding- Nintendo were simply not offering the consumer that they wanted. As a result they were reduced to a small, worn-down, artifact of their former position atop the plateau of gaming greatness. But keeping their eternally optimistic spirit, Nintendo refused to admit defeat and set about creating their fifth console. This time round they took the sensible, planned, approach; leaving luck to heaven...
When we were first introduced to Nintendo's new console, it wasn't known as the Wii. For a long time we were going on the assumption that it would be 'Revolution'- the console that was going to revolutionise gaming for good. But just as the Dolphin became GameCube, Revolution was destined to become, er... Wii. To have this pretty awesome sounding console renamed to 'Wii', came as quite a shock to us all. The idea behind the name, or so Nintendo told us, was that it sounds like 'we'- meaning everyone; a family console. Although most people associated it with 'Wee'; the stuff of yellow snow. I for one remember ranting on about how Nintendo had lost the plot, how naming the console 'Wii' would alienate it from the playground and office alike. At the time, it seemed like one of the single most stupid moves in gaming history... Now, I can look back on that moment and proudly say that I was totally, utterly, fantastically, wrong. Sure, people made a few jibes at the title, and there are still a lot of puns made on it (even some of us here try to do so in every article we post... you'll never find me doing that though!), but for some reason the bizarre choice in name (at least from the average Joe's point of view) had no adverse effect on the console. If anything, Wii got Nintendo's machine noticed more: the name is simple, easy to remember, and doesn't reek of hardcore gamers like Revolution did.
The gameplay was the another place where Nintendo wanted to shock the public... Where once they stuck to tried, tested, and resultantly, too samey gameplay, Nintendo made a dramatic change for the Wii- one which totally reshaped video games as we knew them. Giving players a controller that relied heavily on motion sensing rather than buttons was something that has never been done before. The concept was mind blowing, and the risk was high: It really was make or break for Nintendo. Skeptics initial reaction to the Wii was to cast it asides as a gimmick; something that would be dead within the year. After all, what hope did Nintendo have in light of the abysmal performance of their previous console, GameCube? The competition looked miles ahead- they had 1080p!
Even Nintendo thought that they didn't have a chance to match the sales of Sony and Microsoft. Satoru Iwata even went on record several times to say that Nintendo don't see themselves as competition to the PS3 and Xbox 360. Instead, Nintendo's stance was that they were the perfect compliment to the main consoles- a good solid second choice.
With Christmas 2006 looming, it was time to see just how successful this 'second choice' console was going to be...
Whichever way you look at it, Nintendo were releasing the Wii at a risky time: The Xbox 360 had been out for a good year, and the PS3 was looming on the horizon- in other words, the competition was as fierce as it gets. Even with positive press coverage and a growing interest for it in the hardcore fans, there was nothing to guarantee the Wii would be popular with the public...
19th November 2006: Wii-day. Across America, thousands of anxious gamers storm into retail stores, looking for a Wii. Within a few hours they are all gone. Look to eBay; and already we see consoles listed by those who seek to gain money from the passionate Nintendo fanbase. The US launch was perfect, and Nintendo were smiling: With the biggest territory in the bag, they were now looking to the rest of the world for mirrored success.
2nd December 2006: The Wii goes East. If the demand for the Wii was to be called massive in America, goodness knows what it can be said about how crazy the Japanese people were going for this machine. We're talking about the homeland of video-games- the country with legions of loyal Nintendo fans. Despite this, Japan did not have as many consoles as America. This resulted in an alarmingly quick sell-out of the system; with the consumers thirst for Wii remaining unquenched.
8th December 2006: Wii have worldwide launch. The 8th of December marked the launch of the Wii to the rest of the world. News of the smash hit success in America and Japan sparked off Wii fever worldwide, and within hours the Wii had sold out. Despite culture differences, Nintendo had managed to deliver a machine that appealed to all. Nintendo were on the way to making launch history... and a decent profit!
The success spread well beyond the initial launch period too. All over the globe people were desperate for a Wii, and with not long left until Christmas, Wii's were selling as soon as they got to the shelves. There were people willing to pay double, even triple the price, just so they could have one at home for Christmas. Despite the large scale productions of the system, Nintendo had no chance of keeping up with demand. So for the following 6 months, Wii's were scarce.
What came as the biggest surprise was that, for the first time in history, video gaming became a mainstream activity- Not just something for adolescent technology-appreciative males (that's my nice way of calling us geeks).
But what about the competition? Well, the Xbox 360 saw a steady volume of sales- with many people opting to buy a Wii60. The PS3 however did not do so well: The expected avalanche of sales never came, and the powerhouse failed to sell out- The public had decided that gameplay beats graphics... this time.
In homes across the world, excited gamers were reported to be throwing their controllers around with sweaty hands, using over-exaggerated motions in many games (especially Wii Sports), and several tennis-elbow cases cropped up. The press reported scores of people who destroyed their swanky HDTV by letting go of the controller in an overenthusiastic attempt to bowl the perfect game- Not to mention the countless people nursing bruises from getting in between Wii-wielding heroes and Gannondorf. To stop those
simpletons who forgot they needed to hold on to the controller unfortunate few who were let down by the strength of the hand-strap on the Wii, Nintendo replaced the wrist straps for the controllers with stronger ones free of charge from their website. Across the world TV repair stores mourned, and the local hospitals got a lot quieter.
In further efforts to reduce the Wii-related injuries that plagued the launch, Nintendo designed a Wii remote silicon glove that fits over the controller to help prevent damage and slips from sweaty hands. But really, this whole Wii-injuries issue has been dramatically overhyped by the press. At NintendoLife we've never experienced any Wii-related damages... well, asides from that time I put my fist through a lightbulb during a Wii Sports match...
Once the dust had settled and the bruises had faded, it was time to look at the long-term. The launch line-up was decent enough, but the future only hinted at few first party AAA titles, with no exact dates. So for the first few months of the Wii's life it was up to the original titles and third party support to keep the machine ticking over. Thankfully, Wii Sports had the capacity to amuse people for a while, and Zelda would keep gamers enthralled for a good month. WarioWare and Rayman made an entry to keep the mini-game obsessed happy. And Red Steel showed up to give us one of the first 'serious' shooters. Despite this, the selection available was a little dry- for some gamers the honeymoon period was over.
After this lull of the first couple of months, the Wii started to develop a healthy catalogue of games. Mario returned in two titles (Super Paper Mario and Mario Strikers: Charged), and Nintendo saw a rise in third party support; especially from the European giants EA and Ubisoft. There were fantastically innovative titles like Elebits (Eledees in the UK and Australia), and Super Swing Golf: Pangya (delayed by a fair bit for the PAL regions). Retro fans saw a steady flow of virtual console games arrive onto the machine. And a series of Wii channels arrived to keep us amused on the menu screen. Like all new consoles, the Wii had caught its second breath after a knackering launch period.
Now & 2008
So now we come to the 'now'. With the Wii celebrating its first birthday; things are looking good for Nintendo. We've got a range of fantastic titles from some of the best franchises; Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Fire Emblem and Batallion Wars. Super Smash Brothers Brawl is out in a couple on months. Okami and Katamari are in the pipeline. The Rabbids have returned. Guitar Hero is making a stage entry. Wii Fit will be released at the start of the year. Heck, there is something for everyone! And lets not forget a little game called Mario Kart...
Despite its year head start, the 360 has now fallen behind the Wii in console units sold. It's even worse news for Sony though: The Playstation 3 has dropped below half the number of Wii's sold. If this trend continues, we will be seeing more developers on the Wii, and even some that have jumped ship from the PS3. But of course, this is the video games market: One day you're number one, next day you're a few million sales behind. Got to love the industry!
Wii Sales Figures from Wikipedia:
Wii: 13.17 million as of September 30, 2007
Xbox 360: 13.4 million as of September 30, 2007
PlayStation 3: 5.59 million as of September 30, 2007
This year is shaping up to be even better than last for Nintendo. I'm predicting, with confidence, that the Wii will be sold out for the second Christmas in a row.