Will fun win the console wars?

This blog was orginally posted elsewhere in 2006, but I just bought a Wii and it became important to me again.

In a 2003 Time magazine article Nintendo President Satoru Iwata lay out his vision that what consumers really wanted out of video games was simple, accessible, and entertaining. This was a bold statement in a world where the likes of Sony and Microsoft platforms were feeding the gaming world faster, more graphically rich, and increasingly more violent game-play. Almost four years later and the Nintendo Wii is the world’s top-selling game console. In the US, Nintendo’s $250 Wii sold 360,000 units in April, while Sony’s $600, PlayStation 3 lingers at the bottom of the sales chart, with 82,000 units sold. Nintendo have sold 6 million of the consoles worldwide in the six months since launch.

A year ago I gave a speach at the launch of a new 3D visualization company. One of my co-speakers on the day was a senior Sony Computer Entertainment director. He was demonstrating some of the features of the soon to be release PlayStation 3. To show the rendering power of the human form he played a demo featuring an actress at a casting where the role she was testing for became real before the viewers eyes. I have to say it made the audience – a broad range of attendees from all walks of life – look very uncomfortable. The demo became more and more sinister with four letter expletives making some of the audience blush. Sensing the mood, Ray commented that this was culturally the norm and expected these days. Don’t get me wrong: Ray is a really nice guy and a real professional; and if the history of the games market to date was anything to go by, then he should have been so right.

So why has the Wii been so successful? With the last paragraph in mind the answer this becomes obvious. The average game for the Wii is simple, participatory, inclusive and fun. It appeals to a broader demographic beyond the narrow band of PlayStation and the Xbox junkies, which is traditionally your prepubescent to late 20s male with obsessive compulsive tendencies. It’s easy to pick up – metaphorically and literally, (the spatially aware controller is a master stroke) – and you only have to watch my six year old daughter and 60 year old mum playing tennis togther to see the instant and enduring appeal.

John Schappert, COO of Electronic Arts’ game studios sums this up precisely “I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t expressed joy over Wii Sports,. They’ve hit a bull’s-eye, delivering a console that gamers like and that brings non-gamers to gaming.”