The gaming world has been abuzz with the news of a successor to the Wii to be shown off at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California. Speculation and rumors of features ranging from touch sensitive LCD screens on the controllers to a processing powerhouse that will rival that of the current gen Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are discussed daily. But the question that doesn't appear to be asked much is, "Can the Wii 2 be as successful as its predecessor?"
Launched in November of 2006, the Nintendo Wii arrived alongside the PlayStation 3 a full year after the launch of the Xbox 360. In this new age of the five to six hundred dollar consoles, the Wii offered a seemingly exceptional value at effectively half of the retail price of its competition and a revolutionary controller design that enticed not only long time gamers, but created an entirely new demographic, the casual gamer.
Five years and 80 million consoles later, Nintendo has managed to dominate the console market with the Wii's cheap and intuitive platform. However, recently Nintendo has seen sales decline dramatically – more so after the release of Sony's Move controller and Microsoft's Kinect motion sensing device. Nintendo no longer owns the casual gaming demographic, and has found its competitors gaining ground with more powerful devices capable of not only better graphics, but a more diverse library and more features. With its sales plummeting by the double digits month over month, Nintendo has found its answer to getting back on top by releasing a new console. However, there are a few cardinal flaws in Nintendo's thinking that may hurt the system that has been tentatively dubbed, Wii 2.
The first and most obvious issue is lifespan. The Wii released at the same time as the PlayStation 3 and a year after the Xbox 360. Both of Nintendo's competitors have said that they plan on supporting their systems for at least another five years. Their statements appear to be bolstered by consumer interest in motion control, effectively breathing new life into these systems and increasing their overall longevity. The Wii, on the other hand, has yet to actually see its fifth birthday and has already showed signs of a system that has gone by the wayside. Releasing a new console halfway through the life cycle of two systems that have yet to hit the "developer ceiling" of maxing out the devices' capabilities means that consumers who once thought they were getting a deal by paying half price for a less powerful console will soon be forced to purchase a new console to stay with the times. This effectively doubles their total cost of ownership of a game system at a minimum.
Furthermore, rumored prices of this new console have ranged anywhere from $300 to $500 at retail, whereas the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will be selling around $300 for a basic system (although I do expect price drop announcements from both camps around E3 2011) which have a larger library of games and continued support for the next five years. While no one can question that many long time fans of Nintendo's devices will likely flock to the stores to purchase the Wii 2, the demographic that has largely been responsible for the overwhelming success of the Wii could very well be put off by the fact that if they want to play the latest and greatest games, they will need to shell out more money for a new system. Those who purchased the Wii seeking a modern system for a low price will look at the PS3 and Xbox 360 crowd and wonder who really got the better deal.
Third and finally is continued support for the Wii. While Nintendo has long been the best of the three console manufacturers when it comes to backward compatibility on their newer systems, they haven't been known to support the previous console for very long after a new system is released. This means that with the release of the Wii 2, owners of the original Wii will likely find themselves without many new games releasing for their system on the horizon. This can add to the consumers' frustration as they find themselves left with an outdated, unsupported system with no other recourse than to purchase something new. With these three key issues in mind, one has to wonder what kind of strategy Nintendo can take to ensure that their next gen unit is as successful as the Wii was in the first few years of its life.
While many retail outlets such as GameStop will offer trade-in value for used systems as credit towards the newer ones, the retail value of used and refurbished Wii units has dropped significantly causing these trade-in values to drop as well. I called around to a couple of local video game stores local and found the Wii only has a trade-in value of about $30-$50 depending on whether the system has the Wii Motion Plus or not. It might be in Nintendo's best interest to partner with retailers to offer higher credits on launch day to entice more consumers to buy the new system. But even if a $100 credit is offered on a basic Wii system, this may still not be enough to bring customers in if the retail of the Wii 2 is too high.
Nintendo's Wii console has been a record breaking success due to its low cost and appeal to casual gamers. But now that the casual market is beginning to be diluted by its rival console makers, Sony and Microsoft, it seems that Nintendo's strategy may have been a little too short sighted. Granted, in the generations prior to the Wii, it was pretty much a given that there would be a new console generation roughly every five years. Unfortunately for Nintendo, Sony's PlayStation 2 has proven that consoles can last far longer than five to seven years before they become too old and tired to entertain gamers.
While rumored features of the Wii 2 may include HD gaming, OLED touch screens capable of streaming the game to the controller instead of the TV and the like, Nintendo could see themselves learning the same harsh lesson that Sony did in its beginning days of the PS3: price drives consumers to sales, not necessarily technology. For those that are new to gaming and are looking for value, they just might trade in their Wii for a cheaper PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.