Nintendo's Wii has a new distinction, as the ubiquitous console has reached 50 million in global sales. That makes it the fastest-selling game console in history, besting even the still-on-sale Playstation 2's record rise.
Throw in that mix the fact that the company's DS handheld has shipped 100 million units worldwide, and Nintendo has convincingly reshored the dikes of market dominance that had leaked like sieves during the Gamecube era.
And to what does Nintendo honcho Satoru Iwata attribute this success? Why, casual gaming, of course — the very genre the company bet on when deciding to leave the tech wars to Microsoft and Sony. And this wager has paid dividends even Nintendo's president didn't expect.
"Almost no one expected them to reach the current level of mainstream acceptance. It's even beyond what we possibly hoped for," Iwata said at last week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. "The market has expanded as video games have been accepted by more consumers than ever before. It's a cliche, but it's not just the 18-year-old kid; It's the mom on the train, it's the high-school girl after she's done with her homework, everyone plays games."
His company placed a premium on those moms and high-school girls, and they've carried the one-time playing card company on a tidal wave of success it hasn't seen since every kid needed an 8-bit NES back in 1985.
So the big question is, why is Nintendo altering its strategy?
Starting even before the March 10 release of Sega's MadWorld, Nintendo has adopted a new policy of trying to court the very gamers it has until now largely ignored: the hardcore, blood-and-guts crowd that loves most anything with guns, violence and lots of noise. You know, the rest of us.
The slate for this year includes a port of Capcom's Dead Rising subtitled Chop Till You Drop, a rail shooter version of EA's Dead Space and Sega's new FPS, The Conduit. This is in addition to titles like Call of Duty: World of War, House of the Dead: Overkill and Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (curiously all rail shooters), in which gore and mayhem are what pushes sales.
The strategy is obvious: Try to draw in gamers who have seen the Wii as a toy. The industry regards this as a much-needed move for the console; even the makers of the Grand Theft Auto series admit having serious discussions about the Wii and it's casual-gamer base.
"Some of our best content really isn't appropriate for the Wii," Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick told Gamespot.com in December. "Frankly, even for the M rated content that we think is much more appropriate for the PS3 or 360, we have to look at the Wii as a viable platform across all our labels. We have to because you can't ignore the install base. You just can't."
The risk here, of course, is alienating the very group to which Nintendo has staked its claim. Imagine a mom who has grown used to playing Wii Fit and Mario Kart with her kids suddenly seeing Necromorphs slaughter miners in Dead Space: Extraction, or watching Jack from MadWorld impale someone on a stop sign. And what about statistically average female siblings who don't want to murder digital avatars? Into the closet such an evil machine goes!
That's a shame, since those kinds of exclusive titles are what would ostensibly draw gamers looking for an adult edge to the little white joybox.
We'll have to wait and see if they bite. And if they can replace the fretting moms and grossed-out sisters who will be turned off.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.