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Wii Fit: Innovation in Gaming or Marketing?

Illustration for article titled Wii Fit: Innovation in Gaming or Marketing?

I'm on the road again today with my wife, son and two dogs. Trish is driving us back from El Paso, Texas to Denver. I spent a longish weekend visiting my mom and step-dad and since I'm going to be reviewing Wii Fit soon for Kotaku, I decided to bring along my Wii and a copy of the game.

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Shortly after setting it up my step-dad wandered into the room to see what was going on. My son was hammering away at the Ski Jump mini game and it wasn't long until he wanted to give it a try. My step-dad, you may recall, is the one who fell asleep watching me play Grand Theft Auto IV. It's an understatement to say that gaming isn't his thing. But after about 15 minutes with the game he went to go get my mom. I think she'd really like this, he said.

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Turns out she did. She likes it so much that I left my Wii Fit with them, but only after they promised to buy a Wii once they could locate one. Even more surprising, my wife, someone who doesn't like to talk about games or watch me game, let alone play games, actually stepped onto the Balance Board to give it a try and said she wanted to "check it out" in more depth when we got home. Chills, it gave me chills.

The thing is, I'm still slightly convinced that the Wii Fit is the Brain Age for the Wii. Brain Age was the game that convinced thousands of aging baby boomers, including my mom, to buy the DS only to use it for a week, maybe a month, and then forget the device. I can say with 100 percent authority that my mom hasn't just given up on the DS, she's forgotten she owns it.

The Wii Fit will certainly strike a chord with some aging baby boomers, but I think it will strike a bigger chord for that group one generation younger so worried about their health and physique. But will it really get them into gaming? I don't think so.

When deciding whether they were going to buy a Wii, my mom and step-dad asked me if it came with Wii Sports. Then they asked if they would ever need to buy another game again. I'm thinking this is more about buying an ideal, a concept: That Wii Fit will make them fit, or healthier, than it is about getting them interested in gaming.

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As much as I want to believe Nintendo's line, that the Wii in breaking from tradition and cutting a path into the untapped non-gamer, general population, I think what they're really doing is finding ways to attract people to gaming who will rarely stick to it by tapping into the fears of an aging population.

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DISCUSSION

TheSadClown
Nightshift Nurse

Several things continue to astound/perplex me about the Wii (and Nintendo in general).

Chief among those is why in God's name Nintendo (or anyone else) ever considered the "casual gamer" to be some sort of silver bullet for sales. Every casual I've known in the past whose felt the itch to pick up a console whenever one experienced landslide popularity (read: NES, PSX, PS2), they never bought more than 2-5 games for it for the entire life of the system. And frequently those titles were either purchased used or at bargain prices.

It seems to me that Nintendo has screwed themselves in the long run as they have not created a sustainable fanbase. And even if they can maintain high number of users, it will only be through means of enticing them with a procession of electronic novelties like the Wii Fit. In essence, they'll be shifting from home console developers to toy makers.

Titles like Brain Age and Wii Fit seem to have more in common with board games than video games in so much as that they remove consistency from the equation. I don't know a single person (my wife for example) who uses the DS for said titles and actually plays it more than once every one to two weeks. Video games as they have traditionally evolved across all platforms are meant (or at least intended) to be played consistently, frequently, and often at great length. I believe that's one of the factors (though certainly not the only one) that has typically turned off casual players from the idea of taking them up as a hobby. Now Nintendo has, in effect, removed the whole concept of "hobby" from the equation. Look at Yahtzee. Yahtzee's not a damn hobby, it's something you periodically pull out of the cupboard, play for an hour, and then put back. Nintendo's new approach is Yahtzefying videogames (at least for them).

I honestly believe that Nintendo's current success in the home console arena is anomalous. Eventually, the casual buying public will gradually forget about the Wii the same way they've forgotten about so many other fads...Wii Fit is a poster boy for this phenomenon. Good marketing has done well for them, but it's unintentionally burned quite a few bridges and I don't think they're going to have an easy time convincing already skeptical developers to hop on board for their next home console after the Wii.

Honestly, I think the only reason the DS has escaped this fate is because handhelds not only have a traditionally pre-installed base of hardcore users, but the format itself isn't utilized quite as easily for so many gimmicky, crowd-pleasing efforts. And while it may still be getting hot and cold running puppy training, it also sees its fair share of shoot-em-ups, RPGS, and other content to appease the traditional gamer.

I think we're approaching Nintendo's last stand in the home console market, and ironically it's been impeccable marketing that helped get them there.