E3, the video game industries largest conference, has wrapped up for another year. Tony has written up excellent, and hilarious, recaps of all three keynotes from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony. He was not impressed with any of the presentations. I didn’t watch any, but overall, it does seem like Nintendo lacked a true killer title, whereas last year Wii Fit and MarioKart Wii were the talk of the town. Reading Tony’s recap and some others online, I’m getting the feeling that Nintendo is doing more than revolutionizing gaming. They are creating a new type of gaming that revolves around peripheral devices, rather than games, to generate sales.
Take their controllers in general. There’s the WiiMote, and then the Nunchuck attachment. You can’t play some games without having both, so should you want two complete controllers, you’ll need to buy two pieces. The total price for both is around $50, which is about what a controller for the PS3 or XBox 360 retails for. Okay, so not terrible.
Now look at the possible, though not essential, peripherals bundled with games. Link’s Crossbow Training comes bundled with the Wii Zapper, a simple piece of molded plastic that allows the WiiMote and Nunchuck to combine together in a gun shape. There’s also the Wii Wheel bundled with MarioKart Wii. Again, a piece of molded plastic into which you snap the WiiMote. Voila!, you’ve got a steering wheel. While neither of these devices are required to play the game, they contort the controller into another type of gaming experience.
Finally, let’s look at peripherals that are actually required for a certain piece of software. The Wii Balance Board comes bundled with WiiFit for $90. Without the Balance Board, WiiFit is useless. And now, at this year’s E3, Nintendo revealed the Wii MotionPlus peripheral that attaches to the bottom port on the WiiMote, allowing the system to register more accurate controller movement. This will come bundled with the new Wii Sports (titled Wii Sports Resort) and, in my understanding, will be required to play the game.
While Sony and Microsoft all offer various peripherals with their systems, they often aren’t required (or even integral) to play software titles (the exception being the hugely popular GuitarHero and Rockband). Nintendo has taken gaming to a different place – you want a new software title, you’ll also shell out money for the peripheral that is required for the game. And if you want two people to play Wii Sports Resort (which, of course, you will), it will mean purchasing an additional Wii MotionPlus attachment (which, of course, you will do).
So what, people might ask, Nintendo is offering real innovation. I agree about the innovation, but imagine the uproar if these peripherals were normal controllers. What if Sony required you to buy a slightly different shaped controller to play the new GTA game? It’s required because is has the necessary “G” button. People would be up in arms! Rather than motivating people to purchase a PS3 so they can play the new game, they would be turning away, trying to find a system that didn’t require them to shell out an additional $50.
This hasn’t happened to Nintendo yet, mostly because the system’s popularity leads people to swallow the ever increasing prices. With so many more peripherals, the true cost of purchasing a Wii has increased substantially. The console, the additional WiiMote and Nunchuck and Wii MotionPlus, throw in a Balance Board and a Wii Zapper, as they both come bundled with games: all of a sudden you are spending more than a new PS3 costs.
I think Nintendo needs to start focusing on developing solid games that use the system as it exists. The more and more add-ons they start offering, all required to use good (though far from perfect) Nintendo titles, the more the system starts to look like a bloated, over-priced, under-powered system. If the Wii is to last another 3-4 years as the main Nintendo console, it needs software, not hardware, innovation.