According to at least one source, the Nintendo Wii has already surpassed the XBox 360 in worldwide sales, despite the 360's early launch. Not only is the Wii a really fast-selling console, it's the fastest selling console ever. Pretty impressive for a company that many gamers and pundits had written off after the merely decent sales and software lineup of the GameCube.
This article from UK rag The Telegraph really hypes up the Wii's success, saying that Nintendo has cornered the "casual gamer" market with a console that is seeing a lot of success with kids and families. Yet, Nintendo faces a pretty big challenge with the Wii, one that the article only briefly touches on—the challenge of turning casual gamers in hardcore gamers.
First, let me clarify—I do not think "hardcore" or "casual" has anything to do with the kinds of games people like. It is simply a matter of business. I consider myself a hardcore gamer because I play games on a regular basis and, more importantly, I purchase a game or two a month. I also pay subscription fees to a couple of MMORPGs, which I'm sure counts for something too. A casual gamer, on the other hand, doesn't play games regularly, and most importantly from a console makers' perspective, doesn't purchase games regularly.
The Wii is doing a great job of capturing people who are either non-gamers, or people who don't play games on a regular basis—maybe at a friends' house here and there, maybe they have an old PlayStation collecting dust under the TV. It's capturing kids and, for the first time, parents who want to play games with their kids. That alone is a big accomplishment.
A lot of people seem skeptical of the Wii's long-term success, and it's precisely because of the challenge Nintendo faces of turning those casual gamers into people who play and purchase software on a regular basis. In the Telegraph article, the family interviewed notes that they "love playing Wii Sports." That's great, except that Wii Sports was a free game that has been bundled with the console since its release last November. Will these kids and families be interested in new software? Will they be purchasing a game or two a month, like me? If so, the Wii is poised for huge success; third-parties will flock to the machine because of the potential market there.
But if casual gamers turn out to be more fickle about making that transition into hardcore, the Wii will ultimately end up like most other Nintendo consoles, with a limited selection of software driven primarily by Nintendo's own IPs. Sales of the console will slow as software selection begins to pale in comparison to that of Nintendo's competitors. There are a lot of hardcore gamers out there already, and they love to spend their money on new software.
With the PlayStation back in the 90's, Sony not only captured the hardcore market, but dramatically expanded the market to bring aboard many casual gamers, and the market hasn't been the same since. Can Nintendo really expand the market by retaining these casual gamers for years to come? Or is the Wii just playing its cards early? Time will tell, but the road ahead won't be easy for the big N.
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