Saturday, February 17, 2007

Would Microsoft or Sony copy the Wii?

This week I managed to pull off the impossible. I got a Nintendo Wii system. The next day I went out and got Excite Truck, and I've been playing it since then.

Yesterday a friend came over and I got him to play. Now, my friend has an Xbox 360, and is a strong supporter of the Xbox system. He loves it and is constantly harassing me to get one, which probably isn't going to happen unless somebody donates one for the purpose of getting a PPC Linux Distro to work. So Rob comes in, seeing me playing, and try's to figure out what I'm playing with, followed by a condescending "Oh you got a Wii?" So, I set him down, handed him the remote, and his next words where "Oh this can't be any good, there isn't even an analog stick, how am I supposed to control the game?"

Rob was appearently somebody who missed the big deal about the Wii remote control, that its movement is tracked in a full 360 sphere of motion. After a few minutes in the tutorial, he seemed to have a decent idea on how to use the remote to drive, so into race mode he went.

After about 45 minutes of watching Rob go at Excite Truck, giggling like a schoolboy after school has let out, I went to take the controller back... Didn't happen, he was that far into the game. After having crashed multiple times though, and having gotten several D ratings in a row, my friend finally tired of the game, and from there we started to talk about the merits of the system. My friend was puzzled as to why I didn't get a 360 if I had the money. (for those who donate, no, your donations were not spent on this) .

First of all, the 360 with the Hard-drive is well over $150 more expensive than the Wii, and since I'm on what one would call an extremely limited budget, it really wasn't an option.

Second, the 360, and the Playstation3 for that matter, offer the exact same gameplay of their predecessors. Lets be honest, most developers are not going to use SIXAXIS since they can't port SIXAXIS games to the Xbox 360 or to the Wii. Anyways, the Xbox 360 just offers more of the same as before. I already have a Playstation 2, a Gamecube, and an Xbox, not to mention several PC's. I don't need another device that does the same thing.

The Wii, however, offers a completely different gameplay experience. Games made with the WiiMote in mind are fundamentally different in how they operate. Sure, you don't actually have to swing the remote like a baseball bat in Wii Sports, but being able to do so adds a visceral element to the game that no other console can match.

As I was droning on about what set the Wii apart, Rob stopped me and stated that if it was so great, Microsoft would be offering this type of control on the Xbox 360 next year.

And now we get to the point of what I want to talk about. A lot of of people analyzing the video game industry have stated that the DS is a gimmick, and that the Wii is a gimic. Whether or not the console sells, or trashes it's competition, it is just a gimmick to some people. Rob is not the first person I've heard to express the opinion that if the Wii is very successful that Microsoft will add the remote functionality to the Xbox 360, and that Sony will upgrade SIXAXIS to WiiMote functionality.

There are several reasons why this would not happen.

The first reason is of course patents and licensing. If Nintendo has patented the implementation of Motion Sensing technology as it is used in the Wii, then Sony and Microsoft would need to license the technology from Nintendo. If Nintendo has not patented the implementation, but merely licensed it, then Sony and Microsoft would need to license it from who-ever Nintendo licensed the technology from. Money costs aside, whoever holds the patent or is licensing the technology could make usage difficult for Microsoft and Sony.

The second, and actually primary reason, is that Console Add On's generally do not sell as well as the console. Adding WiiMote functionality to the 360 or PS3 would alter the fundamental way their games work, thus altering the console. There only have been two vendors before that have changed the fundamental way their console has worked by adding components.

Sega: with the SegaCD, then Sega32x. NEC with the TurboGraphix 16 CD.

As we well know, Sega is no longer in the hardware business with a game console, and NEC has not touched the console market in over a decade.

On top of that, the general rule of thumb is that control peripherals that change the way a game is played, while being profitable, are not widespread.

Consider the number of dance pads available for DDR. Consider the Donkey Konga Bongo's, only used in 3 games. Consider the official Guitar Hero Guitar and The-Ant-Commando's guitars. Think about REZ and the um... "vibrator." Think about the Sony EyeToy.

Yes, there have been peripherals to consoles before that have changed the way the player interacts with the game itself. But, from a top down perspective, the most successful of these add on's averages less than 10% of the Install Base of the console.

The only exceptions to this are the Primary Controllers, and 3rd party Primary Style Controllers. You'll see MadCatz, Nyko, and Pelicon controllers selling just as well as "official" controllers.

The implementation problem for Microsoft and Sony is that if they added WiiMote style gameplay to their games, users would have to buy completely new peripherals in order to play the games. The hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of users who have picked up extra Xbox 360 controllers would be in the position where they would have to buy completely new controllers in order to play the game.

Because Microsoft probably won't go out of their way to completely alienate everybody who has already bought an Xbox 360, it wouldn't make sense to mandate WiiMote style gameplay.

Not enough people would bother buying new controllers, and many gamers may be in the position where they cannot afford new controllers.

Sony, with the current low sales of the Playstation3 may be in a better position to pull off a switch to WiiStyle remote. I just can't see Sony swallowing it's pride long enough to change anything about the Playstation3 to make it a success.

So, in the end, I think it's doubtful that Microsoft or Sony would add WiiMote style gameplay as an official supported gameplay type to their consoles.
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