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.”
Beyond 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.
In 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.