It was a friend who helped put it in perspective.
His parents had an old CRT. They’d had it for over 20 years. It had books for legs. He vividly remembers the day it broke down. He trembled with excitement. He knew what that meant. Within a week a brand new 68cm Toshiba had been delivered to the family living room, complete with remote control. His parents set it up as he stared, eyes all googly. He’d longed for this moment.
When Nintendo unleashed the Wii upon a largely unsuspecting populace in 2006, it did what all genuinely innovative consumer goods do -- create an itch that one specific product could scratch. The Wii’s popularity spread with the precision of a calculated, controlled bushfire. Nintendo very deliberately pitched and sold its new console to clientele that rarely experimented with games. People like my friend’s parents, who only bought their new Toshiba, complete with remote control, after the cathode ray tube in their old TV no longer functioned.
Nintendo created a gap then plugged it securely. In one fell swoop.
Maybe it’s a generational thing, it’s difficult to say. My own parents were very similar. There was a functional, rational pride in using electronic goods till the bitter end. Products weren’t replaced when surpassed by a new technology -- they were replaced when they couldn’t be repaired and not a second before.
This is the market that Nintendo sold its Wii to. It’s little wonder it’s struggling to sell them the Wii U.
I was eight years old. I was a spoiled little brat and I couldn’t sleep. Some of my friends had brand new Commodore Amigas while I was stuck with my Spectrum. I tossed and turned with an anxious jealousy; a weird tech lust. I wanted the latest thing and I didn’t have the patience to wait for it. I climbed out of bed and stomped to my parents room, determined to demand a Commodore Amiga.
But with each footstep my resolve weakened. ‘They’re going to get angry’. ‘They don’t understand’. I knew precisely what they would say: “what’s wrong with the one you’ve already got?”
What’s wrong with the one I’ve already got?
I’m certain that’s the question the vast majority of Wii owners are asking themselves right now. Nintendo can market the Wii U from here to Timbuktu, but it won’t make a difference. It’s the direct equivalent of trying to sell my parents a brand new fridge because the old one is a little bit smaller and doesn’t make ice cubes. It’s like whistling in the wind. What’s wrong with this fridge? It still keeps things cold. The freezer works. I don’t like ice in my drinks.
In a sense I almost feel sorry for Nintendo, because I’ve been in their position. They are the children who can’t sleep, anxiously creeping towards parents across the globe, losing momentum with each faltering step. Growing heavy with the realisation that they most likely won’t get what they want this time round. They won’t be able to make them understand, won’t be able to sell them what hasn’t broken down.
Another generalisation: most of us engaged in gaming culture are used to the cycle of new technology and far more willing to succumb to the lust of new tech. That’s what it means to be an early adopter. This is the audience that Nintendo is used to selling its products to. The people lining for new products simply because they are new. It’s almost as if Nintendo assumed that same logic applied to everyone who bought a Wii when it absolutely doesn’t.
And the difficult truth is this: there is no simple answer to the predicament in which Nintendo find themselves, no easy solution. As a result of the sheer volume sold, and the consumers who bought them, the success of the original Wii is utterly unrepeatable.
Nintendo’s desperation, it’s inability to adjust to these new circumstances, is palpable. And it’s hard to blame them -- does any-one else have any smart ideas?
Focus on the core audience after getting a sniff of those mainstream dollars? Not a chance. Stakeholders won’t stand for it. Invent a brand new itch? Sure, great. But billion dollar ideas don’t grow on trees, if that were the case Nintendo would have done it already, as would every other tech company across the globe.
In the absence of innovation, Nintendo must simply wait. But if my friend’s parents and their brand new 68cm Toshiba provide any kind of precedent, they might have to wait for a substantial amount of time.