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After the subpar performance of the GameCube, many began to doubt Nintendo. But, when leadership transferred to the late Satoru Iwata in 2002, the company seemed poised for a renaissance. In 2005, Nintendo lifted the veil on its next system, codenamed: ‘Revolution’. It was then that the world was introduced to what would eventually become the Wii; a unique, unorthodox, simple little system. Due to its stark contrast to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PS3, the doubt surrounding Nintendo seemed only to grow thicker. As we all know, those worries were dashed once the system released. The Wii went on to become an international sensation. After spending half a decade in last place, Nintendo suddenly shot up to the top of the hill. Even people who weren’t very familiar with video games knew what the Wii was. What this console managed to achieve was nothing short of unprecedented. Can there ever be another surprise juggernaut like this?
While the Xbox 360 and PS3 were advertised as powerful multimedia machines, the Wii was all about inviting anyone and everyone to pick up a controller and have fun. Nintendo achieved this with the creation of Wii Sports—a title many people consider their first game. Its incredibly simple design fully complemented the Wii’s image and attracted a variety of players. Nintendo produced both a console and game that was so universally attractive, that new life was brought into what was considered to be an incredibly minor market.
Now known as the casual market, this new demographic of gamers existed prior to the Wii, but they were a small, scattered bunch. Like the Wii, the PS2 also had a huge populace, but for different reasons. That console became a best-seller because it doubled as a DVD player. Many families didn’t really care about its gaming capabilities; they were just happy to have an affordable video player. The Wii, on the other hand, was able to get everyone involved and playing together.
Nintendo’s first home console – released in Japan in 1986 – was named the “Family Computer”, or Famicom, for short. Despite what the name suggested, children were the primary users of the system. After coming to America, consoles were seen as being glorified toys. Thanks to the Wii, the average person could appreciate video games without being labeled as childish or juvenile. As more casual titles got released, the system’s market steadily grew and it became common to see that little white box huddled under TV sets. The Wii was able to shatter that stigma for the most part; it got everyone involved—kids, parents and grandparents alike. Gender didn’t matter, nor even skill. It was just about having fun in a simple way.
The Wii’s mass appeal was something that no other console had ever managed to achieve. In fact, the only other system to do so was the Wii’s handheld counterpart, the DS. Both systems were the products of the late Satoru Iwata’s vision – to make gaming fun, attractive and accessible to anyone. Instead of focusing on hardware power, he focused on making machines that were simple and affordable. This is also what helped both the Wii and DS to sell so many units: there was a significant price difference when compared to their competitors.
So having considered all of that, is it possible for another system to become a worldwide sensation like the Wii did?
It’s not entirely impossible, but it will be difficult. Nintendo tried to recreate the same scenario with the Wii U and 3DS, but neither system has proven to be as successful as its predecessor. The same casual market that was infatuated with Nintendo’s systems last generation has moved on. The simple and attractive experience that drove the Wii to the top of the charts is now being replicated on mobile devices With the rise of mobile devices, people no longer see a need for a dedicated machine for entertainment. Tablets and smartphones can be both game systems as well as handheld communications devices – not the mention a variety of other things. Consoles possess more multimedia features than ever, but they’re simply not as flexible as a phone or tablet.
Nintendo struck oil with the Wii, but that oil dried up even before it was even entirely tapped. The Wii was in its twilight years when the casual market began to disperse. After the initial boom of the Kinect and Move, both of which came during the Wii’s later years, the casual folk grew tired of the motion control phenomenon. It was cool for a while, but like all booms, there was an eventual bust. Meanwhile, mobile devices became the new attractive thing. The rest is history.
The crowd that ate up the Wii soon moved on to mobile devices. They made the system a hit, but weren’t in it for the long haul.
There’s a reason why it’s called the ‘casual’ market. One of the synonyms of ‘casual’ is temporary. That perfectly describes the mindset of this market. Unlike true gamers, these folks see videogames as a temporary form of entertainment. It’s not a lifestyle, hobby or passion for them — it’s just something fun to do. That’s why mobile games have become such a big deal; they appeal to the short attention span of this crowd. That’s also why the mobile gaming market is constantly changing—people can’t stay hooked to the same thing for a long time. Just a few years ago, Angry Birds was all the rage. Now, you hardly hear about it. Meanwhile, the true gaming world is filled with franchises that have endured for decades. A lot of those franchises happen to belong to Nintendo. Real gamers truly appreciate these titles and the systems. The casual market is just temporarily satisfied with whatever is new and trendy.
With that said, it really would be difficult for another system to be able to appeal to a worldwide market like the Wii did. It would have to have some killer feature that would make anyone want it, whether it be for the games, like the Wii, or for multimedia features, like the PS2. There would need to be something to ‘hook’ the average Joe and convince them that they need this system under their TV. While Sony’s PS4 has been doing remarkably well this generation, it still hasn’t managed to cater to that general appeal like the Wii, or even the PS2 and DS.
The gaming industry has been growing steadily over the years, and it’s not exactly slowing down entirely. Mobile gaming has continued to boom frantically over the past few years and is expected to hit monstrous new heights. Consoles expansion, on the other hand, has been slow. They lack the general appeal the Wii had before, and that mobile devices have now. Any console hoping to be the next phenomenon would have to break that mold in spectacular fashion.
Even if we never get another home-run of a system, the Wii will still be remembered as the system that became, against all odds, an international sensation. It created a whole new market and appealed to people of all ages and backgrounds, something that no console before it ever truly did. Nintendo really did manage to create a true “Family Computer”, even if it did take them 20 years. Whether they can do so again… well, we’ll just have to wait and see.