Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Is the Wii Really a Toy?

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Yesterday it was announced by Beamdog’s co-founder Trent Oster that the anticipated Balder’s Gate: Enhanced Edition would not be making a trip to the Wii or Wii U.  Some thought that because of Beamdog’s decent port of MDK2 on WiiWare that they might also bring the newest project to Nintendo’s next console.  Oster went on a bit of a tweeting rant to Eurogamer that included the following statements: “We don’t do Nintendo development.  Our previous experience with Nintendo was enough to ensure there will not be another.”  Many assumed that this was in response to the experience Beamdog’s Overhaul Games had with MDK2 that was further backed by his continued statements: “My problems with Nintendo are: requiring 6000 unit sales before payment, a certification process that took 9 months and a 40 mb limit.”  This is nothing new, Nintendo has historically been known to screw over 3rd party developers and include rules and business practices that net no risk to Nintendo while also reaping the benefits of successful titles.  I may discuss that more in a future article but what struck me was Oster’s final statement, “[Wii] is a toy, not a console.”

It’s not a unique thought, many developers have griped about the Wii and compared it to everything from a toy to a re-creation of the problems of the Atari VCS that eventually led to the video game crash of 1983.  I just found that to be quite ironic because Nintendo introduced the Super Famicom (obviously renamed to the Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1985 as a toy, which it wasn’t, and not a video game, which it was.  Fast forward to 25 years later and Nintendo has come full circle with the Wii touting it as the next video game console, which it kind of is, and not a toy, which is more likely what it is.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s put basic definitions and marketing tactics under the microscope to reveal just how toy-like the Wii actually is.

Endless Accessories

Almost every game on the Wii has a gimmick that unfortunately has to do with a new plastic accessory.  Unlike other consoles of the past and today, Wii accessories aren’t necessary to play a given title and add nothing to the experience.  Your Wiimote can be hooked into basically any cheap piece of plastic to allow kids (and probably adults too) to believe it’s something else.  So far it can fit into various plastic sporting items like golf clubs and tennis rackets, gun peripherals, steering wheels, dolls, swords, shields, and plenty of other items I have yet to name.  These items are what make the Wii a toy.  Gamers have controlled all of these items in the past and whether it was a button push or a swing of a motion controller, we never required the controller to look like an item.  Decorating items for playing is something we do as kids to assist in imagination, but on video games the imagination is done for us and we do not need to swing a physical lightsaber to control it.  The only time we use items like that is when we’re playing with toys – adults use it instead of imagination and kids use it to develop imagination.  Either way, turning your remote into anything but a device for which to interact with a console makes it a toy.

How it is Marketed

In many cases the success of the Wii and its versatility to intrigue the masses suddenly removed it from the limelight of the gamer.  It ceased to be for us the moment that we realized Twilight Princess would be virtually alone as a true video game for nearly a year.  Fortunately there were tons of stupid minigame collections, shovelware, and gimmicky crap for kids that parents bought in droves.  Combine that with the aforementioned toy accessories and the Wii suddenly entered every household as more of an interactive toy than a video game.  Once it was there, the inclusion of Wii Fit meant that this console had gotten into the minds of every mom in America, by hook or by crook.  It was at that time I saw things that dropped my jaw – a Wii in Dick’s Sporting Goods.  It wasn’t a video game, it was an exercise device.  I saw it in the toy aisle of big box retailers because suddenly it was perceived as durable and suitable for anyone over six.  In fact, for a short time I could find it in basically any area other than the video game section because stores were so desperate to remove that “gaming” stigma that held back many parents.

Gamers Didn’t Want It

We all love the Nintendo first-party titles, but whether Nintendo would like to believe it or not, the strength of a console lies in strong third-party as well.  Nintendo was busy playing around in its 40 million unit testing ground by launching huge commercial success stories with Zelda and Mario Kart along with some stinkers like Wii Music, but in all external marketing and in-store displays Nintendo controlled the fact that Nintendo titles were above all others.  This meant that when traditional developers attempted to create titles marketed to hardcore gamers – on-rails shooter Dead Space: Extraction and brawler MadWorld come to mind – it was swept under the rug by Nintendo and retailers because it tarnished the family friendly namesake of the Wii.  Games such as these, which had celebrated success on other consoles, pitifully died with 10,000 or less units sold and it appeared Nintendo couldn’t care less.  Neither did gamers, for the audience of these games had dried up long ago and even random releases had that negative stigma about them that the intended audience wasn’t there.  It only took 2-3 years but the Wii doesn’t exist to many gamers or they have these classic “dust off the console” stories.  Now the Wii finally has a stride with some strong releases for hardcore gamers like Xenoblade and digital releases like Gradius ReBirth and MDK2.  Doesn’t matter, though, the audience isn’t there so it’s left as niche titles to the few people, like me, who don’t throw anything away.  Had I been a gamer that trades in used games, though, I would have dropped my Wii long ago.

Massive Quantities of Unsold Games

It may have been a long time for many of you, but have you checked out a toy store lately?  While the products come and go, the basic layout hasn’t changed.  All the new, hip, popular toys of the moment get big displays and aisles with eye-popping signage and encouragement from the staff to pick up this hot item.  Call up a store and ask for something popular and you may find it’s sold out and that eager moms have purchased meager re-stocks before the manager has arrived for the day.  On the other hand, there are the less fortunate: the clearance toys.  They don’t reside on shelves or storefront displays, they are discarded in metal and plastic containers that look more like decoration than a display.  No organization exists, it’s just tag ’em and toss ’em and as a consumer you rummage through a sea of crap with hope of finding that hidden gem.  Most of these toys were so popular you couldn’t find them last Christmas but the new hot items made them invisible only three short months later.  Instead of a normal price tag, it has a bright orange or red sticker that includes a 20-60 percent discount and no one is coming in to find any particular item these bins contain.  That’s exactly what the Wii market is like – nothing but discounted white plastic cases as far as the eye can see.  My Walgreens has an entire end cap of unsold Wii titles that will remain there until they are finally tossed out, each with a $4-$10 price tag that intrigues no one.  It’s the toy cycle and it’s the side effect of shovelware and big companies trying to throw anything they can at a wall to see what sticks.

Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime just doesn’t seem that concerned.

This is only a problem because like a toy, the Wii is just a fad, and my friends the time for that fad is over.  Everyone knows it, especially Nintendo, which has no plans for another title on the console after the release of last November’s Skyward Sword.  It’s a big issue for gaming because the console that put video games back into consumers’ minds and brought the hobby to the forefront again is now synonymous with wasted potential.  No typical household that entered video gaming with the Wii will purchase the Wii U and gamers that were burned will avoid the console completely.  Not only that, it doesn’t look that different from the Wii aside from some technical specs that the mass audience of the Wii never cared about to begin with.  What they will care about is the rumored $400 price tag that takes it off the table for most parents.  Nintendo missed a few opportunities to avoid making the Wii a failure but in the rare cases that they did anything it was all too little too late.  Face it guys, the Wii is a toy and if Nintendo doesn’t watch out the 3DS and Wii U will face the same fate.  I don’t want Nintendo, its properties, or its games to disappear but unless it does a better job of protecting the third-party companies that helped build its empire in the first place, it will fall.

Written by Fred Rojas

April 18, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Blog

Tagged with , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses

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  1. Hi there,

    I really enjoyed reading this article about Nintendo and the Wii console. You’ve got many good points and I agree with you on several of them. Thumbs up!

    I’ve got a Wii myself, but the only game I play on it is Mario Kart in multiplayer. A lot of the other titles just doesn’t do it for me.

    I still regret trading in my old and trusty Playstation 2 for a Wii in the past. 😦


    April 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    • The Wii was supposed to be much more than it became for gamers. When you consider that most PS2 games coming out late in the cycle were also released on Wii (Manhunt 2, Obscure 2, and tons of other small dev projects), it looked like PS2 devs would seamlessly migrate to the Wii. Unfortunately the low attach rate and “non-gamer” consumer target meant that a small dev studio that could move 100K-500K units easily on the PS2 struggled to move 10K on the Wii. It sucks, but hopefully Nintendo learned its lesson to some extent. I’m not writing off Wii U yet but they have got to allow a traditional control scheme to be mainstream – which currently the backwards compatibility with the Retro Controller seems to succeed in doing. Oh yeah, and good exclusive (non-Nintendo) games, I don’t want to buy a console just to play a 5 year old port of a 360/PS3 game *cough* 3DS *cough*. Fingers crossed.


      April 20, 2012 at 8:50 am

  2. I’ve always seen the Wii as a novelty item. The last Nintendo systems I really enjoyed were the Gamecube and DS but they’ve always been behind. To me, the biggest opportunity is online play and seamlessly integrating their devices.. Of course, they are severely lacking in third party support but it’s their own doing.

    Even if Nintendo hs an Epiphany and starts to make smart moves, it may be too late. They’re going to have to focus on family gaming and retro games, while making it easier for companies not named Nintendo to create content. There’s no point for Nintendo trying to compete with Microsoft and Sony when they’ve created their own space, IMHO.

    I’d like to see some new exclusives because they are relying in on a small pool of IP. My, how the mighty have fallen.. it’s like they’re not even trying! Meh.


    April 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

    • BTW, real shame about Baldur’s Gate. That’s one fun co-op RPG!


      April 24, 2012 at 8:07 am

      • I think you’re completely right, Nintendo needs to focus on doing with the Wii U (or whatever it will be called – recently heard “Wii Entertainment System”) what it did with the Wii: differentiate from Sony/Microsoft. At this point its market can’t afford to try to compete with these companies because the intended target expects a lower price point – if the next console is $400, or even $300 really, no one will buy it. It’s quite a pickle but I’ve yet to see Nintendo fully die and I’m surprised to say that after one short year the 3DS currently appears to be leading the race against the Vita. Only time will tell on that one though.


        April 24, 2012 at 9:34 am

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