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Why the Wii Could Win the World (but Probably Won't)

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wii-wonder Last month I had the chance to chat with a top U.S. Nintendo exec and suggest how, with a few savvy improvements to the Wii system, the company could turn it into the living room Net appliance of choice. But despite the opportunity Nintendo has with the Wii, the company seems determined to let it remain a mere video game console.

Big-screen HDTVs have reached a price point of several hundred dollars. That means consumers are now bringing home television displays both large and crisp enough for browsing the Net from their couches. And all the latest video game consoles come with Net access. Yet the Xbox 360 (s msft) and Sony (s sne) PS3, despite attempts to broaden their user base and include new mainstream-friendly features, seem unable to expand beyond their niche audience of hardcore gamers. Meanwhile, the Wii’s global install base is already double that of its competitors combined — and its growth shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, Merrill Lynch expects the console, which has attracted buyers from both genders and across the demographic spectrum, to reside in one of three households by 2011.

Add to this the Wii’s innovative Wiimote, which is essentially a 3D mouse, and thus ideally suited for the speedy, point/click/drag navigation that a true big-screen Internet experience requires.

With that in mind, I think Nintendo would only need to add three features in order to win it the world — or at least, the world’s living rooms. [digg=]

1. Full-featured, optimized web browser

The Opera browser that comes pre-installed in the Wii is no-frills, and frustrating to use. A Yahoo-style (s yhoo) web portal would greatly increase its popular appeal; a version of Opera robust enough for, say, watching Quicktime movies, editing Google (s goog) Docs, and playing casual Flash games, would be even more compelling. Add a Nintendo-branded keyboard peripheral, and your game console suddenly becomes a low-budget, cloud-computing PC.

2. iTunes-like (s aapl) interface for purchasing content with Wii Points

Wii Points already links virtual currency to users’ credit cards, but other than casual and classic video games sold in the remarkably crippled Wii Channels, there’s little to actually buy with them. Wii Points cry out for purchasable movies, music, and other audio/video content, but none have been forthcoming. (The lack of a hard drive for downloading content is, of course, part of the problem.) Why stop there? Imagine if a site like Amazon (s amzn) were added to Wii Channels and accepted Nintendo’s currency. The Wii would become an online retail shopping appliance, too.

3. Multiplatform social network with seamless chat/IM

With little ability to really interact across the Net, the Wii’s cute-but-trivial Miis are avatars without an MMO or a social network to give them a community. Linked to Facebook, the iPhone, Nintendo’s handheld DS, and other platforms, Miis would become your “home” avatar, the communication stream you’d use from your couch.

While the Nintendo exec I spoke with listened attentively, he explained that such features don’t fit the company’s main goal: to provide a platform for fun and games. For the moment, then, the Wii seems destined to become this generation’s Playstation 2 — an epically popular game console, but little else. Which is a shame, because if Nintendo misses out on this opportunity, we do, too.

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28 Responses to “Why the Wii Could Win the World (but Probably Won't)”

  1. The point here is, that with relatively little effort, this box thats already in the living room of so many people, could become a lot more.

    I just started looking at the News application, and I saw that BBC and stumbleupon both have sites that work on the Wii.

    These are great additions, and they don’t take away from the simplicity of the wii. The xbox 360 on the other hand has a ton of settings, and is probably way too much for you average user.

    I’d love to see an rss reader, and a youtube interface added, and maybe eventuall video downloads.

    When you look at iTunes, a platform that makes it super easy for users to spend money, once they have an account setup, why wouldn’t you do the same with the Wii? I’d love to be able to download more games, or pay for a youtube app.

  2. majortom1981

    You do know its not nintendos fault with the web browser right? Opera controls that. Also yell at adobe about flash support. There mobile flash is only at flash 7 . Opera cant do anything about the flash support until adobe gets off their butts and makes mobile flash compatible with 9 0r 10.

    Also i feel the wii browser is much more usable and easier to navigate then the ps3 even with its latest firmware update.

    Also youi guys have no ideas how the wii works. All of what you said is possible. Its the thrid parties who dont want to do it. The thrid parties can make this and put it up for sale in the wii store.

    You guys are blaming nintendo for things that are not their fault .They are mearly providing the p[latform. ITs third parties who have to take the initiative.

  3. I was about to blast you for some incredibly techno-geek centric, lack of product marketing understanding but it seems some others here have pointed that out already. Because of its tight focus, ease of use, and appeal to its market its going to be hugely successful. PS2 of this generation – thats bad? How much money did Sony make and how many company’s rode PS2 platform to massive wealth?

    Note to self – don’t contact Wagner James Au when we need Product Marketing help…

  4. cinnamon

    Wii comes with a 3D mouse, but the rest of the apparatus is 2D or 1D (relatively speaking). Firstly the box – needs computing overhaul. Needs to (be able to +) run a descent browser (no, not opera, but webkit). Needs to run Flash. Needs storage. And then it can call itself “net ready”. And then the fantasy of being the “one-point net device” can be considered. But is the rest of the world sleeping? Aren’t there other devices which have all of these except maybe a 3D mouse? And even when you have one, you are not exactly singing all the way to the bank – because do people need that “one point net device” …and when and for how much. Try making a business case.

  5. Wow i think you answered your own question, the Wii will be the PS2 of this generation because it is simply a game system. I have a PC and a laptop that I can hook up to my TV. I purchased my first game system because I wanted to just stick a disc in and play. I want to play casual games and not have to read a 30 page instruction manual or search the internet for clues. I also don’t want to hear a bunch of thirteen year old cursing on a game system. Microsoft is the worst thing to happen to PC and console gaming. They took hardcore games an moved them to the gaming systems. While they made constant money from hardcore gamers they only accounted for 20 million gamers. PS2 took the other 100 million and gave them what they really wanted. For some reason Sony decided to do the same thing along with trying to be a home media hub. Well again I have a laptop for that. This why Nintendo will rule the world. This is a gaming system for console gamers, not an excuse to move computer gamers to consoles for better profits. Until Microsoft and Sony figure that out they will continue to trail Nintendo.

  6. I don’t say you’re not clever, but isn’t it a bit self indulgent to start the article with a sentence where you are pretending to know what’s good for Nintendo, a company that’s invented a succesful product you didn’t come up with? Nintendo is doing quiete good on its own.

  7. Mark Pith

    I agree: I feel the Wii is especially popular with families who have young families or those who (obviously) don’t have high needs for high specced machines. By combining the Web and Games (most popular among youth) parents have the ultimate entertainment system on which their kids can play and surf in the living room; there were parents can easily keep an eye on them.

    I don’t agree the Wii doesn’t have enough computing power, it already does flash well enough for youtube and I’m sure future (customized) versions could be easily improved.

  8. Nintendo is smart to focus on being the best in a lucrative niche (family games) and enable others to perform the heavy speculative lifting – either on their platform or off it. Nintendo still has room to press its lead on the Wii and DS as is. They shouldn’t dilute their focus trying to compete in areas where others are already dominant and they have no core competency.

  9. It will be Interesting to see if Opera when it releases the Wii Browser 2.0 in December sometime will upgrade the Flash version to flash 9 at least .

    Maybe you should of asked the Wii Exec about the Wiiware platform and Everybody’s Theater that is going to be launched in Japan a TV and Movie PPV service that can play various video codecs including H.264.

    The Wii is capable of Playing video just look at the Nintendo Channel but dont expect Nintendo to be creating their own Content service when they can get a 3rd party to develop a service on the Wiiware platform .

  10. I could see those being useful… but one of the Wii’s strengths, in my opinion, is that it isn’t so broadly focused. It has a very narrow focus… it just plays games. It does some other stuff too, but does it less efficiently. I’ve read news through it, checked weather through it, surfed the Net with it… but it was always clear that this was a game machine, which is something that the other two lack, trying to be a whole home entertainment experience.

  11. Shadowlayer

    Do you even know the specs of the wii? it’s basically a gamecube, a system running on a G3 from 1998!

    Flash won’t work in it, and it’s going to have a hard time playing the new video formats out there.

    The problem with the wii is that it was never meant to go against the PS3 and X360, but be a new kind of inexpensive console built mostly for casual gamers.

    With that in mind, what you propose is like saying “hey, there’s more Scion’s than BMW’s on the street, maybe Toyota should add a V6+DSG to the xB!”

  12. I think that there is a much more important missing feature than the “social network” fluff – regular DVD playback. It is incredible that Nintendo hasn’t allowed official DVD player functionality for Wii yet, even as an add-on.

  13. Pete Lloyd

    “to provide a platform”

    I dont see why Nintendo has to provide those features – they just provide the platform. I would love to purchase the Opera game… or the “movie rental” game.
    I would even buy the hard drive add-on where I could store the movies I got while playing the “purchase movies” game.

    If Nintendo is building a gaming platform, it seems reasonable that they’d provision for games that make heavy use of the internet, and for hardware add-ons.

  14. You know, in 1980 they said that the Walkman was going to be a flop because it didn’t have speakers and a FM radio receiver. Because naturally people want a high-end experience in all their devices, and it’s only natural for people to want all the functionality in a single device. Right?

    I don’t need my video game machine to be a media hub. I would prefer a dedicated media hub (Apple TV, Roku, Tivo) because the media hub user experience for game consoles is terrible.

    I also don’t need my game console to be a web browser (I have a laptop with a keyboard for that).