Before E3 2006 last May, Nintendo kept a lot of details about their upcoming new game console under wraps. It’s clear, however, that the company behind the Wii machine generated far more buzz than the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 offerings during and after the show. The console’s controller, the projected launch games, the price and the promises of downloadable content all combined to make the Wii’s full debut at E3 a memorable one.
Now, in July, we are only a few months away from the Wii’s formal debut in stores sometime this fall. Nintendo has been fairly quiet about their plans for their console since E3 but we at FiringSquad are going to speculate on the Wii’s chances for success based on our own experiences with the console at show along with comments made by Nintendo personnel and others during and since E3 and our own speculation. Can Nintendo come back from third to first in the US game market?
Before The Wii And E3 2006
Unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo is a company that concentrates its business almost completely on games (with an occasional sideline like the Pokemon phenomenon and its franchise). Indeed at one point in US pop culture, the name “Nintendo” almost became a catch-all noun, like Kleenex. “He’s playing Nintendo” meant that he was playing video games to some people, regardless of what actual platform (Sega, Atari, Etc) he or she was actually playing.
While Nintendo’s Game Boy business cemented their lock on the portable game market (which only the intro of the Sony PSP in 2005 has only somewhat broken), their main console business began to lose market share with the debut of Sony’s first Playstation console in 1995. Nintendo followed with the Nintendo 64 in 1996 but several factors, including diminished third party support and the use of cartridges for N64 games, kept the Nintendo 64 from being the huge success that the PS1 console eventually became, despite some well remembered games for the Nintendo console like Mario 64 and Goldeneye.
Nintendo came back with the Gamecube console (previously code named Dolphin) in 2001 but by then the video game business had changed significantly. Sony had already debuted their PS2 console a year earlier in the US (and even earlier than that in Japan) and Microsoft debuted their original Xbox at the same time as the Gamecube. Nintendo did some things right with their next console. It had a lower price than either of its rivals, and a number of their games were truly memorable, from Metroid Prime to Eternal Darkness to (late in its product life) Resident Evil 4. It also introduced the impressive Wavebird wireless controller, the first such controller from a first party company.
However, Nintendo didn’t seem prepared for the older game audience that the PS2 and Xbox catered for. With the GTA series for Sony’s machine and the Halo series for Microsoft, the culture had seemingly moved on. While there were and still are an enthusiastic core of hard core Nintendo fans in the US, the audience for the Gamecube was perceived as being for kids in this country. It didn’t help that the launch titles for the Gamecube in the US were sub par (No Zelda, Mario or any other major franchises were to be found on launch day) and that many game publishers decided early on to only release games for the PS2 and Xbox. Finally, while there were dial up and broadband Internet adaptors for the Gamecube, almost no games for the console supported online play which is something that the PS2 and especially the Xbox triumphed in.
By 2004 Nintendo had already announced plans for their next console, which they code named “Revolution”. At their pre-E3 press conference in May 2005, Nintendo execs revealed more details about the console and a first look at the console’s actual casing. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said it was the smallest console design the company had ever made, comparing it to the size of three DVD cases. At the time, he kept a lot of details secret, including what the controller was going to be like. That lack of detail inspired tons of speculation among Nintendo fans about what the controller would turn out to be (including a few “leaked” pictures and designs on the Internet that turned out to be fakes). At the Tokyo Game Show in September 2005, the controller for the Revolution was finally revealed to be a device that looked much like a TV remote control. Not only was it wireless but the demos at the show (not actual games) showed the controller to give far more degrees of movement than other consoles, from swinging it like a bat to using it like a gun.
Just before E3 2006, Nintendo make perhaps their boldest and most controversial move yet when they decided to designate the name “Wii” as the official name of their new console. Internet message boards and journalists’ editorials both said that the name was awful and indeed Nintendo of America VP of Marketing (now President) Reggie Fils-Aime joked at the E3 2006 Nintendo press conference that he wanted to thank all of the people who wrote in to say they liked the name, “All two of you.”