Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Did you know that there are still people complaining about Wii Sports? And half the mini-game based games for the Wii. These rants and screeds usually devolve into complaints about the game graphics, or lack of depth, or even the control scheme. Some even go so far as to claim the Wii has no real staying power because the games released so far have been targeted casual gamers. But Wii Sports (and Wii Play) aren't games: they're toys. And because they are toys, they are perfect for getting people interested.

This post started in my head as a series of complaints against Wii Sports and Wii Play. I am a gamer, and I do seek more depth to the games that I play. These two titles are the mental equivalent of those ball-bearing spatial puzzles. I can play with them for a little while, but they become boring and repetitive. They lack even the mental addiction of having achievements and awards to collect. They are McDonalds(tm) Happy(tm) Meal(tm) toys and Cereal Box Boardgames. There is the potential for a a lot of interesting gameplay, but these games are not intended to provide it.

I would love to see well visioned golf game using a similar control to Wii Sports. Or a fully developed tennis game, or bowling tournament game (build and manage your bowling alley, while developing your bowling skills for online tournament play!). You could do more sports - like hockey, skiing, curling - and add levels of training, competing, and online play to flesh out the games into serious amounts of play. I'd love to see a full billiards simulation with multiple games/rules, trick-shot challenges, online play, and serious tournament handling. All of these ideas could even still use the Miis for avatars, just make the games deeper.

But Nintendo didn't want to the first games that new players encountered to be games of depth. Or real games at all. The best way to hook the uninitiated isn't to swamp them with detail, it's to give them a toy. What is the first game you are going to give to your non-gamer aunt to play: Twilight Princess or Wii Sports? The game that takes hours to play, or the toy that she can play with for hours? How about your uncle who loves sports, but hasn't touched a game since Pong? Would you dump him into an advanced golf or tennis game where you need to play tournaments and learn advanced skills, or would Wii Sports be the very first thing he plays and then the other sports games later?

Nintendo knew that the way into people's homes was to create something that everyone could play, and that everyone would play. Hook them by removing the mental barriers that the video game community has built around itself. Nintendo knew that toys have a much lower mental threshold than games do. So the first things you encounter when you buy a Wii are toys. If you get hooked, you'll look for more depth on your own.

I originally thought that Wii Sports was just a glorified tech demo. Something packaged with the system to show off what would be possible, and how to use the new controls. I was wrong. Wii Sports comes with the system so that you can show it to everyone you know, gamer or not, and they can play. It comes with the system so that the grandmother who buys the system already has the first toy, no video game store confusion. It comes with the system because it is the gateway to gaming: toy play.

Now Nintendo just has to get the real games to the waiting public. What's the hold up Nintendo? That's another post.

1 comment:

  1. You're right on the nose there. Fun, simple toys. Gateway games, if you will. It's still fun to break them out and play non-gamers as they are able to fully participate in the experience. Gone are the days when company means less time playing video games, at least in our household.

    I think the "hold up" is that they're letting the developers get their legs under them, I think. Look how long it's taken the 360 to get games which truly take advantage of the system. Then add the complexity of a whole new control interface...

    Neither of the full fledged golf games I've tried on the Wii have appealed to me. Hopefully someone will produce a full fledged gold game which maintains the intuitive nature of Wii Sport's swing controls and without the counter intuitive menu structures. A bowling game is promised for later this year.

    Patience is going to have to be our virtue, I think. This holiday season ought to see some significant improvements and I bet next year is going to be great.