This Thanksgiving, I decided to put Nintendo’s new business strategy to the test by bringing home my Wii. Would it appeal to non-gamers and to past gamers? And just how shallow was Wii Sports? For scientific purposes, I spent time with both my girlfriend’s family and my own. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to perform these tests on an empty stomach, though the tryptophan didn’t necessarily help. (Tryptophan reference for comedic purposes only. In turkey, the chemical is contained in small amounts and the wrong form to actually produce drowsiness.)
My girlfriend’s parents were basically uninterested in the Wii. I played first, showing them how it was done and her mom tried once, but that was all. She needed help mastering the few buttons required to play. A friend spending the holiday with us refused to touch the remote. This was not the response I’d hoped for but it wasn’t completely unexpected. Nintendo had completely failed (or maybe I was just a shitty salesman) in that house, but how did the Wii do with my family?
It couldn’t have gone over better. My brother, his girlfriend, my sister, her husband, my girlfriend, my father and even my mother all played Wii Sports for hours and had a great time. Tennis and Bowling were the most popular, the former played predominately by the younger, thinner members of the family, the latter by the older and fatter. We got in a few games of golf, too. My brother in law spent a lot of time boxing and actually got the hang of it enough to enjoy the game. He is still working on going pro. The only sport we didn’t play more than once was baseball.
So what can we make of this experiment? Some people just do not like games. No amount of simplification or immediacy can negate this. Nintendo may see everyone as a potential customer, but at least a minority of potential customers will never be interested. Also, one button is too many buttons for some people. Nintendo cannot make a control input that everyone can use because we all have relatives who have trouble turning on the TV and cable box.
The more positive news for Nintendo (though they may already know this) is that many people who do not game will if presented with the right software and controller. My brother and brother in law are examples of past gamers, the rest of my family examples of non-gamers. The Wii, specifically Wii Sports, appealed to all of them. It didn’t hurt that they are all fiercely competitive.
Nintendo may be able to expand the market, fulfilling their stated goal. But if this is to happen, they need to continue making long, deep games that will keep more hardcore gamers interested. Not really because they need the hardcore gamer’s cash, but because we act as gateways for Nintendo. We are the ones showing our families the Wii and the DS and if we are bored, Nintendo is going to have a hell of a time reaching non-gamers.