Well here it is folks. The biggest weekend gaming has probably ever had. The PS3 and the Wii launch within two days of each other, and after Sunday, the next gen will become the current gen.
There is (or at least I think there is) a lot written about how these two consoles represent two vastly different approaches to gaming and marketing. That’s not what I’m here to talk about. While my excitement for Nintendo’s new box is at fever pitch, it’s still a huge gamble, and I’m still not sure if it will all work out. With the PS3 now out, and the Wii is just hours away, I’ve got a few final reflections before the battle begins.
The PS3 Factor
For the last six months gamers have barbequed Sony about the huge amount of blunders and overall arrogance that has defined the road to the Playstation 3. It has gotten to the point where it seems that all but the most diehard Sony loyalists want the company to falter, at least a little bit. Even developers in the community have said as much! However, after Thursday night, I think that all just got shot to shit.
Riots. Violence. Injuries. And coverage from every media outlet, local to national. That defines the PS3 launch in a nutshell. Forget Tickle Me Elmo; America has its must have item of the holiday, even if no one is going to actually have it. It doesn’t matter what Sony execs have said. It doesn’t matter if they’re trying to force Blu Ray upon us. It also doesn’t matter that the shortages are caused by horrible manufacturing difficulties. The news doesn’t care about it; they just want to get the cameras on anything sensational, which the PS3 offered in spades. After this holiday, unless Sony fails to recoup their supply line by March, very few people in the mainstream may think of them with the same amount of distaste as gamers have. Instead they’ll have “ushered in the new era of gaming” with “the system everyone wants.”
I wonder if we should have seen this coming. The more I think, the more this looks like classic Sony strategy. It didn’t matter what they said, it didn’t matter how lame their advertising was, and it didn’t matter how many consoles were there for launch. All they had to do is act a little cocky, and a little mysterious, and that would be enough to send the people into overdrive. Sony doesn’t make hype people; they let us do it all for them.
And what does it mean for the Wii? I think it just made things a hell of a lot harder. The way the world of news and sound bites works, if Nintendo doesn’t get lines, then they’ve started to lose to Sony. If they get smaller lines, they still lost. If they get no lines, then it looks horrible, even if they end up selling more than the PS3 in terms of sheer numbers. Just wait for some Sony rep to put some wonderful spin on that situation (they’ve done similar against the DS). The Wii has certainly gotten a lot of mention (most especially from USA Today, which is all over the nation), but the holiday thunder is not yet in its hands.
The Wii will do better than the Gamecube at launch, but Nintendo wants and needs better. There’s no way they’ll dominate the news like Sony has, so their best bet now is to hope for a DS repeat; little frenzy, but it still manages to quietly sell out across the country. The DS had a lot of naysayers, but once it became impossible to find one at its release, people took notice. If the Wii can do the same, and keep supply high, good things have to happen. Industry people will see high numbers, and potential customers will hear far more buzz if there are plenty of Wiis in everyone’s hands. It’s going to be a while before Sony has troubles selling out of their console, but it may also be a while before they have enough to sell. Nintendo needs to capitalize on that as aggressively as they can.
The DS Factor
It took a while for the DS to take advantage of the dual screens, and once it did, the system really started to take off. But it seems the system has slowed down a bit in that respect; it’s still doing well, but some of its hottest games have very little use for the touch screen. That doesn’t matter much when said games are Castlevania and Final Fantasy.
The Wii doesn’t have quite the same luxury. Its control scheme is a bigger gamble, and even more people are waiting to be sold on it. But like the DS initially, not many launch games look like they’ll be doing a good job of that. There’s already a lot of debate over whether Twilight Princess’ controls work well or feel tacked on. Many games seem to be relying heavily on simple mini-games to entertain. Still others like Red Steel are only using the Wiimote so that the player can only control through the use of gestures. This isn’t really a criticism against Nintendo; very few launches ever come out with more than one stellar game. However, they need to find something within the next year that really shows what this new idea of theirs can do.
Part of that means taking better advantage of the fact that the Wiimote recognizes your position in space. If all we get are a lot of games using gestures, then it wouldn’t be that hard to get those same games working on the Sixaxis. Even if Nintendo has a very strong launch, they cannot rest on their laurels with this console. After Zelda, they’re going to need the first big, real Wii game.
Nintendo needs to get those Wii channels online quickly. They need to get online multiplayer working well. The Virtual Console has to continually expand with popular games. And it would really great if DVD Playback could be implemented through a software update. A lot of these little things about the console can add up to some great features, but they need to be implemented in a timely, bug free fashion. The 360 shows that it can be done, and Nintendo definitely has the right attitude. Let’s see if they capitalize on it.
The Wii has so much potential. It has truly gotten this gamer excited for what we may see. But I also worry that its potential rests on a very fine balance beam, one that could easily tip to the side of failure. Nintendo is putting a lot (but not all) its chips on the table. By buying one at launch, so am I. Now we just have to wait and see how it plays out.