Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wii, wii, wii all the way home

I'm no stranger to game systems, having owned an Atari 2600, original NES, and played on a room-mate's SEGA. When my kids were young we got a Nintendo Gamecube (though it was really for my spouse and I at the time), and as they got bigger we graduated to a Nintendo Wii. My son has a Nintendo DSi, and we now own an Xbox 360. I recount this history, not to brag, since there's people with a lot more credentials than me, but to show that for the most part, Nintendo has been a major player in my gaming experience for a long, long time. Looking at the future though, I'm afraid that's going to change.

Recently, Nintendo announced their new upgrade to the Wii system. However, they decided to choose price-point over innovation, so the new Wii U is a bit of a disappointment when it comes to performance (at least according to reviews). But, the bigger issue seems to be that Nintendo doesn't quite 'get it' when it comes to gaming of the future. First, there's the DSi, which my son wanted for his birthday one year. We picked one up and got a few games for it, but overall... he doesn't play it that much. When I first opened up the DSi I thought this could double as a cool internet device, but was quickly disappointed when it's networking stack wasn't able to connect to my wireless network. It wasn't that I was doing anything wrong with my network, but it simply wasn't a full featured wireless stack.

Then there's the issue that most of the games are cartridge based (physical media), meaning that you need to go to the store and purchase them and when you want to switch games, you need to switch the physical media. Compare that to the experience of an iPad or an iPod Touch. On those platforms that games are all downloaded from the internet, and you can play them on any number of devices that you've linked to your account. Plus, they're usually enabled to receive new content from time to time, keeping the game fresh and new. Add in GameCenter, with the ability to compare your stats against friends, and it blows the DSi away. Not to mention the complete full featured internet device capabilities available in an iOS device.

So is the Wii much better? In it's day, the motion controls of the Wii were amazing, and they adding a cool physical flavor to the games. However, people quickly learned that they weren't as dynamic as they thought, and that simple wrist flicks could produce the same results as a full golf swing. It was a neat innovation, and was something that set the Wii apart from all of it's competition. But what started as a neat innovation stagnated with a platform that just didn't deliver on the 'connected community' front. The Wii store was an interesting idea, but for the most part it just delivered nostalgia. Old games were available, but when it came to DLCs (downloadable content) for new games, there was almost never anything new.

So this past year we purchased an XBox 360. It's amazing the difference that a system like that makes when it comes to being connected. Most games that we've been playing on it have some form of downloadable content available if we want to extend our gaming. Plus, full games that we download are not 'trips down memory lane', but are full games of their own right. The connectivity to the XBox Live community is also second to none, and really adds a great social element to gaming.

What's the point of this Nintendo bashing? Well, it's two reasons. One to say good-bye to an old friend (my Wii is going to my kid's mother's house where her Wii has died), and talk about why I found it to be a great platform. But also to talk about why it's not the platform of the future, and misses the boat in many ways as to how to build a cohesive on-line gaming community. I'll miss you Mario and Kirby, but I think it's time to move on and join the ranks of modern systems that are looking to the future, and not hanging on to the past.