Game Theory: The Wii Effect

Game Theory: The Wii Effect

Nintendo is justifiably cocky about the cross-market success of the Wii, but does this mean anything for gamers as a whole and PC gamers in particular? Is Nintendo’s claim of driving a 69 percent growth in the gaming industry for real or mere bluster?

There is absolutely no question that the Wii has an appeal that crosses generations, markets, and demographics. Yet the games with the most newb appeal are not what we’d call “gamer games” but rather simple pick-up-and-play titles like Wii Sports. Predicting some kind of ripple effect that will wash across the entire industry assumes that a) the Wii is more than a mere fad and b) its unique control and design elements will have an effect on other platforms.

We can dispense with the control element quickly, as far as the PC goes. Wii-style motion control is a nonstarter for the PC as long as it remains deskbound. Plenty of space and a very large screen are required for a Wii-mote to work, and until people get more comfortable running their PCs through their TVs, this just isn’t going to happen.

Game design is more intriguing, since a strong element of the “Wii effect” is the device’s ability to bridge the divide between hardcore and casual gamers. We can see a glimmer of this design potential on the Xbox 360, where the games Catan and Carcassonne (both from veteran PC developers) are near-perfect embodiments of the netherworld between casual and serious gamers. Both are deep and reminiscent of PC games but instantly accessible to nongamers.

In the end, it’s not how the Wii will affect design on the PC, but what the Wii will do to the gaming market. Nintendo claims it’s bringing millions of freshly minted newbs into the gaming fold (true) and that it can then challenge them with increasingly more complex, yet still accessible, designs (debatable). Essentially, the company claims to be building a new generation of hardcore gamers with the Wii as the “gateway drug” to bigger and better things, and all gamemakers will benefit. The success of this Wii effect is impossible to predict right now, but the vision is certainly appealing, and the technology is clearly in place to make it happen.

Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is editor-at-large of Games Magazine.



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