Wii Holidays

Among my friends, many of them professionals in the video game industry and therefore extremely hardcore gamers, the Wii has a very, very bad reputation. Bad graphics, stupid control scheme, no good games, annoyingly family-friendly, etc. It's not hard to come up with a quick and dirty list of all the Wii's problems. And it's a common complaint to hear these guys say, "I haven't touched my Wii in months," after which they usually make a joke about how dirty that sounds.

And I get it. After Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and maybe a handful of other hardcore games, there just aren't a ton of truly next-gen Wii games to appeal to the fan of Fallout 3 and GTA. I've experienced it myself: I was recently trying to buy a Wii game as a gift for some friends, and I found myself in Best Buy wandering the aisle really not able to find anything remotely "respectable" (from my perspective as a former game critic). It was all this casual crap and Nintendo games they've already played. So I get that it's hard to see the Wii as the savior of the game industry that the rest of the world views it as.

But if the Wii phenomenon isn't something special, then why, during my recent Christmas visit to my old home town, where I stayed with a few different friends, was the Wii turned on in their households, with various combinations of family members playing games on it, for hours and hours at a time? I was shocked. My friends who don't even use cell phones were playing Mario Kart with their kids all morning long. They even asked me to help them hook their Wii up to the Internet. My other friends who only play PC games are obsessed with Animal Crossing -- but they're not using the snazzy new multiplayer. No, instead, they sit there as a group watching each other run around town picking up shells and writing real letters to buddies in town. They even correct each other's spelling in said letters that will only ever be read by computer-controlled characters. They do not seem to mind the fact that the game has not genuinely been upgraded in the 6 years since it originally came out, and that its graphics have hardly changed. Members of both households went out in the days after Christmas searching for more Wii Remotes.

These Wiis are not collecting dust, and their owners aren't complaining about the lack of good software for the platform. They may not buy quite as many games per year as the hardcore crowd, but I was excited to see over-30-year-olds who haven't touched a console game since the 80s eagerly opening up their (or their kids') shiny new video games on Christmas morning and popping them in their Wiis. The other strange thing? I don't think it occurred to any of them to make a joke about how dirty that sounds.


shalafi34 said...

Excellent post. I even believe that the video game covering media needs to change themselves; no offense, but I think its funny how stubborn they are in not trying to change the way they see 'games'. The Wii proves once again that better does not equal bigger+stronger+faster.

Anonymous said...

Yes, great post. I've been having a similar experience this Christmas season. Meetings friends that always hated video games now loving the Wii. I also met up with my High school journalist teacher, and she was excited to give her grandson a Wii and also give her son, the principal of another school district, Guitar Hero to go with the Wii.

It's also funny to notice, with the exception of Animal Crossing, most of these casual non-gamers are playing games that have been out for months if not years. Most the the people I'm running into are playing either Wii Sports, Mario Galaxy, or Mario Kart.

I'm a hardcore gamer that can acknowledge and accept the success of the Wii. I like the system, but I also haven't touch my Wii for months. That's only because all the games the casual players are gushing over are the games I've played through when they came out.

I'm wondering is the mass market still raving about the Wii because the system is still supply constrained? Is the Wii still getting the casual love because more and more people are only discovering the Wii for the first time?

I had the same love for the Wii these people are having now, but it was February of 2007 when I was able to purchase it. I've played enough Wii Sports. I've moved back to my other consoles because after Boom Blox, I didn't have anything else to play on the Wii.

I'm really curious if these video game hating Wii lovers will still be play the Wii next Christmas when they finally had their fill of the games I enjoyed months ago.

Are the first time casual Wii players from 2006 and 2007 still playing the Wii, or is the hype only coming from the families unboxing the Wii for the first time?

Unknown said...

Jenn, even "hardcore" gamers who went out of gaming for a bit get excited to play the latest Wii remake. My friend couldn't wait to play Super Smash Bro's and Mario Kart, and I asked him why he didn't just buy both for Gamecube and play them on the Wii if he was so eager. I'm just suprised it doesn't occur to any of these people to just play the older almost identical versions.

My girlfriend, who spends hours on casual games like Diner Dash but also sometimes on more "hardcore" games like Pikmin took a look at a Animal Crossing City Folk poster that came with Edge and said it looks exactly the same as the Gamecube game she's played for probably hundreds of hours. She wanted to know how they could be making the same game and had no interest in playing it.

If all Nintendo does is sell the same set of games to a new audience each time, what happens after the Wii has exhausted its market? Who is left to go to? If everone has played the games already, who is going to be excited by these rehashes?

Steve said...

Jenn, I have had the exact same experience at my house. One of my wifes friends stayed with us over the weekend. All they did was drink rum and cokes and play Rockband on the Wii or point and laugh at each other on Wii Fit. Excite Truck is another game they will play for hours. Both of them think video games are stupid. But neither of them realize thats what they are doing. Thats the power of Nintendo has right now. They are just providing a fun experience for friends and family to do together.

Jennifer said...

thanks Albert and Spidey -- totally agree.

Mark, you bring up an interesting point about the supply problem. But I think it's only been a long time since the Wii came out in "gamer" time. A few months or even years don't make quite such a difference to a more mainstream tech audience (think how long it takes most people to pick up ipods, laptops, or even cell phones). But in the case of my friends, they've had Wii for a while now; as far as I know, though, this is the first time they all got Wii games for Christmas.

Dan, I agree about the rehash mystery. I can't explain why my friends are enjoying playing the same AC experience for the second or third time. (I know I was already bored by Wild World on DS.) But Nintendo's probably just buying time to make their new games. Plus there are always non-Nintendo games (like Boom Blox, which was totally new and original) -- just not enough of those right now.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I can see your point about the gamer "concept of time." Another scenario of the skewed perspective from the hardcore looking at the casual market.

I for one have no problem with what Nintendo is doing. I welcome it. It's nice to have a different experience when I'm not in the mood for Gears of War types of games.

The only problem I have with Nintendo is the quantity over quality issue right now. I'm always browsing stores looking for a Wii game to play, but there is just too much junk.

I'm thinking about getting Sam and Max, and eventually Punch-Out, but after that, I'm worried I'll be back to not touching my Wii again.

Do you think the casual market will ever notice that problem? Did Nintendo set their timetable just right so they could space out the AAA Wii games far enough that the Wii hype will be constant for a long time?

Is it possible that time will eventually "catch up" with the casual market and they'll get bored with the system like a lot of the Hardcore are now?

Anonymous said...

This isn't that great of an analogy, but I think there are some interesting parallels.

Your post reminds me of conversations I had back in college. I was working at a visual effects studio at the time. When I would go to a movie with my friends, both from work and from school, many of them would want to talk about how great and realistic the CG look. I, on the other hand, didn't give much thought to the special effects unless it was bad.

The friends I had who gushed over the special effects were obviously fans of special effects. I'm not sure if they'd qualify as hardcore or videophiles, but the enthusiasm was there. Others were like me. We went to the movie to be entertained, and that's all we cared about. We noticed bad special effects or bad CG mainly because it jarred us from our suspension of disbelief and made the movie a little less enjoyable.

I don't know if I'm unusual, but even though I worked in the industry, it didn't make the special effects extra special, nor did it make me want to watch more movies. In fact, it made me less inclined to watch special effects movies. Knowing about the hard work to create the illusion didn't make it any less impressive. But if I've seen scenes from a movie over and over again over the course of development, the magic is gone after so many repeats. A few of my co-workers felt the same way.

Not to read too much into a blog post, but I just thought it was interesting that you'd make the statement "professionals in the video game industry and therefore extremely hardcore gamers..." I wonder if the video game industry is all that different from my experience in the special effects industry or if it's just me. Maybe that's why I got laid off and left that industry. Maybe my employers felt I lacked the enthusiasm. :)

It also makes me wonder what it means to be an extremely hardcore gamer these days. Actually, the concept of a hardcore gamer has never been clear to me.

I spent an entire quarter in college playing nothing but Doom II day and night. Then I became obsessed with Minesweeper of all things for another quarter. Then it was non-stop Tetris. These days, I juggle WOW:Lich King, Warhammer Online, Mass Effect (PC), Chrono Trigger (DS), and Rock Band (Wii). Then again, I don't raid and I haven't finished a game since the first Penny Arcade game. I wonder where I am on that hardcore vs. casual scale.

mcruz927 said...

Jen -- you'll be happy to know that Teri, my nephew DJ, and I discovered the joys of re-arranging songs in Wii Music over the holiday break. That cat suit is hilarious!

TOPolk said...

I like to liken the videogame media as very similar to movie critics. Your critically acclaimed classics be it Psychonauts or Amelie are always overlooked by the unwashed masses while the so-called garbage manages to somehow rise to the top.

While I don't see either media base changing their viewpoint anytime soon, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Different users have different tasts. Once the videogame media realizes that the majority of the Wii's user base isn't made up of the same people who read blogs, forums, or EGM the industry as a whole will wind up better for it.