Paranoid Identity Crisis!

Fanboys unite! Constant squabbles echo among Nintendo, Sony, and Xbox loyalists, but the real battle is elsewhere. It’s a battle between the different ways people choose to spend their free time and their extra dollars. Games are a big and growing part of this battle and they have taken a bite out of that tasty aged 18-34 male demographic. Can games hold onto it? Do they even want to?

Nintendo has set itself the challenge of trying to hold onto some of gaming’s biggest loyalists while making appeals to nontraditional audiences like retirees. And it’s well known that Sony and Microsoft have had their eyes on a bigger prize ever since they stepped in the ring. They both want to eventually establish their brands and platforms for the mythical must-have TV set-top box. They want their names on the machine that will serve as the gateway to all forms of digital entertainment in the 21st Century. That’s why Microsoft is content with letting the Xbox brand not make a dollar until next year. And it’s why Sony was willing to let the inclusion of a Blu-Ray drive make the PS3 price prohibitive for many gamers.

But, how does any of this help gaming? That’s the question gamers should be asking themselves. That’s the question all those fanboys should be asking. And Nintendo’s current success story and focus on “just games” doesn’t make it immune.

Nintendo was smart to make bold moves to gain the attention of people who don’t play games on a regular basis. Nintendo has been quick to reassure its loyalists they won’t be forgotten. And it has so far kept its promise by offering the biggest Zelda game. But, Miyamoto pointed out Zelda’s waning popularity in Japan. Will Nintendo continue to feel the need of producing such epic games when games like Brain Age and Nintendogs can be made in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the price and sell just as well? And are the epic games even being finished by most of the gamers buying them?

This has given Nintendo plenty of reason to decide to use its traditional audience to sell new products to a new audience. Nintendo execs have outlined their plan for this to anyone who would listen. They knew Nintendo’s loyalists would buy the Wii and then the hope was that other members of the household or friends would see the Wii remote in action and say, “Hey! I can do that,” and would take a go at it.

Interestingly, this plan may have put Nintendo in the best position to serve up the holy grail set-top box by getting more machines into the homes of people who previously had little interest in games and may feel intimidated by high technology. So far, Nintendo has only used the online apps on the Wii as a way to fascinate non-gamers into playing games. Will they eventually use their wide-appeal games just to bring in that wider audience for online media purchases and subscription services? As much as Nintendo has almost solely focused on gaming, if the Wii’s popularity continues as it has, then we might see Nintendo willing to chase the grail too. If any of these companies have their wishes come true, will any of us be happy?

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17 years ago

Actually, I’ve been surprised by how much we use our apartment’s Wii for non-gaming stuff. We use it to play Smash Bros Melee, check the polls every so often, check news and weather… it’s not that it’s better than through the usual check-the-internet method, it’s just that it’s easier. How ’bout that.