The Rise & Fall of The Nintendo Wii

At Arc90, one of our meeting rooms is proudly called the Wii Room. It’s an informal meeting space with a whiteboard, projector and…a Nintendo Wii. When we first got the Wii a couple of years ago, it was a universal hit at Arc90. The bowling and golf games in the Wii sports package were just plain fun.

Fast forward about six months from the time we got the Wii and it’s a completely different story. It was hardly being used. Fast forward two years to today and I can confidently share that it probably hasn’t been turned on in over a year.

And this isn’t only about the cumulative short attention span at Arc90. A handful of friends have told me that they hardly ever play their Wii’s anymore. The narrative is fairly similar across the board: “we bought it, played bowling and stuff like crazy and then we just sort of…stopped.” my circle of acquaintances, Nintendo is reporting that sales of the Wii are slowing considerably. They cite a few different reasons, but it’s all a fairly strange turn for a product that I and many others were gushing over as a great example of innovative, forward-thinking design. We lauded the approachability of such a simple and intuitive platform. It attracted such an incredibly broad audience beyond the hardcore gamers. From the elderly in retirement homes to little kids barely past first grade, everyone loved their Wii’s (at least for a while).

So what happened?

Before trying to figure out what happened, it’s worth mentioning that the Wii is still, by just about any measure, a resounding success. With less impressive, but more innovative hardware, Nintendo rose from the ashes to become a major player yet again in the console market.

That said, it could be argued that one of Nintendo’s brilliant strokes: to appeal to a much broader, less technically savvy market, actually ended up putting an expiration date on the appeal of the Wii. By winning over the unwashed masses and not just the “gamer” demographic, the Wii’s appeal declined almost as quickly as it rose. In other words, the Wii became a fad.

Merriam Webster defines a fad as “a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal.” (emphasis added). Oddly for the Wii, one of the reasons it became a fad are the very reasons it was so wildly successful in the first place. It was easy to pick up and play. The initial batch of games lacked any perceivable depth or complexity and it was just plain fun to wave around a controller. It was a novel experience that nearly everyone could relate to.

As the next round of game releases started to hit the Wii, that same audience had no interest in them. The novelty of waving around a controller wore off and newer titles that were more complex or required more of an up-front time investment weren’t appealing to the population that had found the Wii so compelling in the first place.

And what of the hardcore gamers? They never bothered to come over to the Wii in the first place. It was the gift you bought grandma. You still needed your Xbox 360 to play Grand Theft Auto.

One of the design lessons that can be learned from the Wii’s story to date is to think long and hard about how we can create things that are both welcoming and captivating but also have an eye towards longevity. It’s one thing to initially capture someone’s interest. It’s a whole other matter to have a longstanding, evolving relationship with its user. all fairness, the Wii did about as much as it could to succeed with the demographic it won over. While my grandma may love bowling and think it’s an absolute blast, she will never, I repeat never go to Gamestop and pick up a few new Wii games. In fact, she doesn’t even know that games are on DVD’s in the first place. She just turns it on and bowls. That may well be the crux of the issue. The Wii made such a powerful first impression that it narrowly defined itself. It became novelty, no different than the Rubik’s Cube or Beanie Babies.

So be warned product designers, be novel, but be careful. People love to stereotype, and once they do, it’s pretty hard to break out of it.

15 Comments The Rise & Fall of The Nintendo Wii

  1. Joel Potischman

    Our kids go through waves of playing it constantly and then not touching it for months. I think that makes sense given the more casual nature of the game and the platform. You can get a fix whenever you want one, but unlike the hardcore systems, you don’t have to feel like “only” spending 8 hours a day on it will just make you cannon fodder for the really serious players.
    But if this story about Netflix streaming is true, expect a lot of people to rediscover their Wiis very soon.

  2. Kevin Makice

    This is an interesting anecdotal observation. However, I’m wondering if Beatles Rock Band changes this somewhat.
    My 5-year-old son, who didn’t engage with much beyond WiiFit runs and sometimes boxing, is all over the Beatles songs. He’s memorized a few lyrics and likes to sing. The Wii has had a big rebirth in our household as a resulg.

  3. Guillaume

    Your post describe exactly what happened between my wii and I.
    From my point of view, the wii lacks serious games, for grown ups.
    That’s I ended up buying a serious xbox 360 with real gaming advantages. I still play the wii for Guitar Hero 3 and Mario Kart. That’s all.

  4. Adam Ant

    The games are few and far between, but they do show up every now and then. Ghostbusters was great on the Wii (at least for me), Dead Space to name another. And Epic Mickey looks like it could be fun. We had a lot of fun with Punch Out too.
    So, I think it’s a bit inaccurate to say that there are no good games of any depth – there are, just not as many as for the 360 and PS3.
    Our Wii definitely does not see as much action as the 360, but it still gets used regularly.

  5. Tomjonjon

    I guess I would consider myself a hardcore gamer (I own ever major system from the past 20 years) and I got a Wii on day one. I don’t play it as much as my 360 but every couple of months I pick up a game or two.
    I recently picked up A Boy and His Blob which is fantastic. I also love being able to buy old games via the Virtual Console service.

  6. Mike

    The new Super Mario game is coming out in a couple weeks. That should give the Wii a big boost, as it is probably the most popular first party franchise and the new game is designed to appeal to hard core platformers and casual players alike with two distinct play modes.

  7. Nina

    Interesting thoughts.
    I wonder what Nintendo could learn from it’s DS player. The mechanics of that system aren’t mind blowing, but it’s really natural to use. The main thing is, I find myself using it a lot over the couple years that I’ve had my DS. I get obsessed with different games, and at the very least I can play sudoku on it.
    It’s also interesting because I think the DS has a cue for use – mainly, it’s a must take with me when I know I’m going to be traveling. I make sure, if I’m going on a trip I have my DS and a couple interesting games to take with me. The Wii on the other hand, doesn’t have an associative cue like that.
    Then again, it’s also true that the DS’s area might be being attacked by the iPhone and other mobile gaming solutions. It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.

  8. jhn

    Baffling how Microsoft is actually beating them with ease of use for online games and casual games. I hate the 360 but XBox Live is just the best.
    You’d get a lot more Wii-use if there was good online poker.

  9. Tim Lapetino

    This is an interesting phenomenon, and similar to the behavior I find myself in when I play my classic video game systems–the original NES, the Atari 2600.
    Since the Wii and these lend themselves to simple games that you can just pick up and play for a few minutes at a time, the sustained play (and interest) really isn’t there. I think it’s less of a fad issue, and more that this is a style of gameplaying that we haven’t seen since the early days of home video games. Very different than more “modern” style gaming.

  10. Gratis Bilder

    I doubt they’ll manage to adress new target audiences successfully. Creating an image for a new product is alot easier than changing an existing one. It’s white, it’s fun, but noone would mention the word “gamer” or even “shooter” in a sentence with “wii”

  11. Ben Paddock

    Nice article. I’ve always thought of the Wii as a gimmick, maybe a predecessor for something greater. It shined bright, but I suppose it has to slow ebb away at some point.
    I remember seeing stats posted on “best selling consoles” or various gaming sites, with the Wii always at top. But if you ever noticed, best selling games were rarely on the Wii. Oddly enough, it was usually Nancy Drew or the Sims.
    In all seriousness, who didn’t see this coming? The reason Nintendo had trouble in the first place was because systems like the Playstation and XBox came out that offered a cornucopia of mature titles. It turned gaming from a child’s toy to something far more intense. I believe that Nintendo’s core philosophy is to stay away from violent, “offensive” games, which I can respect, but until they at least take a dip into mature gaming in a sincere fashion (beyond the silly Wii Manhunt version), they’ll continue to create trendy hardware that’s over-reliant on Mario and Zelda to hold it afloat.

  12. webs

    And what of the hardcore gamers? They never bothered to come over to the Wii in the first place. It was the gift you bought grandma. You still needed your Xbox 360 to play Grand Theft Aut


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