Monday, October 2, 2006

Wii's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and how they are blowing it

When I was at TGS a little while ago, I had a conversation over dinner with a bunch of developers, and one of them (who shall remain nameless, but he's got a very credible track record on one of the world's biggest franchises) said something about the Nintendo Wii pricing strategy that stuck with me. The more I think about it, the more I think he's right. I'd quote him here, but a direct quote is impossible since it needs the context of the dinner conversation, so I'll attempt to paraphrase.

In truth, I'm taking a little dramatic license in addition to just paraphrasing, but I think it's important to get the point across.

"I think Nintendo's mistake is not the $250 price tag on Wii. Many people think that's high, but it's reasonable especially in light of the higher prices of the 360 and PS3.

"Nintendo's mistake is the high price of the second controller, which is expected to cost around $65 (controller + nunchuk + tax). That's around 25% the price of the console itself, and more than the cost of buying another game.

"as a result, a lot of parents buying the console for their kids at Xmas will buy the console with one controller and one or two games. Kids will have fun with it, as they would with any other console.

"on the other hand, if nintendo had priced it at, say, $275, with the second controller being, say $35, or if they'd managed a 2-controller bundle for, say, $300, then something else would have happened...

"... instead of one kid playing some games off in the den on Christmas day, while the rest of the family relaxed in the living room, you'd instead have Dad, in his PJ's and bathrobe, and his son or daughter in their flannel pj's, jumping around one another playing Mario Tennis, laughing, and bonding around a game console in a way that many toys aspire to but never acheive.

" Nintendo is losing out on the opportunity at a once-in-a-lifetime, Hallmark moment, which would forever cement their brand in Mom and Dad's heads as 'the toy with which we played... together' ".

I really think he had a point. And there's a reason I feel this way.

My own introduction to gaming dates back to three seminal moments: (1) The first time I saw an arcade machine (a cocktail-table Asteroids machine in a cafe in Sugarbush vermont in 1979), (2) the first time I saw a game written in Basic typed into a TRS-80 machine (my first year of high school, 1981) and saw what happened when you typed R-U-N, and (3) my very first intro to gaming that predates either of these.

One Christmas, my dad (a geek before geek was chic) bought us an "APF TV Fun" machine. It was one of the many Pong variants.

I remember a scene that evening that today seems surreal. My neighbor (a French Canadian kid named Jean Francois - he went on to become a tennis pro. Whether APF TV Fun tennis was an influence in this happening is a subject for another blog post) and I, both kids of seven years old, playing an hours-long tournament in front of an audience of what seemed like EVERY ADULT ON OUR STREET, all of whom were laughing and cheering, crowded into my parents living room. It was before gaming was taboo, and it was a fun time.

I guess I agree with this one man's opinion that maybe we had another chance at a few thousand families having a similar positive, formative, experience around games, and am a bit sad that fewer will have it because of something as silly as a poor pricing strategy.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the concept but I don't see the actual situation as such a big deal.

A Nunchuck is not necessary to play Wii Sports, which is more party-oriented and multi-player than most other launch games, and it's included in the price. For $250 + $40 = $290 you have two-player party gaming for this xmas.

I agree there should be a bundle like that for $285, even if just to encourage people to buy a second Wiimote rather than another game. But I can't agree with the "lost opportunity" scenario.

mesklinite said...

An interesting point of view I hadn't thought about.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I think the newness of GAMES caused the crowd at your place way back when.

Games and consoles are mainstream commodities. I think the xmas kodak moment would still happen with the better bundle.. but it won't turn into a viral marketing tool that leads to more sales, just a nice memory in someone that already has the box. I do not see it as a lost opportunity... in fact, I see it just the opposite way... the Dad would buy the extra controller because he knows it is a multiplayer game and wants that Kodak moment. Still happens, better margins for Nintendo.

How many more games from the same manufacturer to you or your family buy as a result of the cul-de-sac sideshow?

Anonymous said...

You make a good point. The Wii will be fine as just another console, but Nintendo is missing a golden opportunity to really set themselves apart from the pack.

The controller is really the whole point. If they don't find a way to really encourage its purchase they're still going to come in third in a three way race, again.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, on several counts. Nintendo seems to very emphatically think of their console as an in-the-room multiplayer machine (in contrast to the Xbox 360, which focuses on online multiplayer). If you want to sell that vision to non-gamers, controller-bundling is the way to do it---they certainly won't think of it on their own when buying little Billy "a new Nintendo".

Also, can I just say that selling the controller and the nunchuck separately strikes me as a bad idea, at least at this early stage? Yes, Wii Sports and Wario don't seem to need the nunchuk, but every other game we've seen sure does! Down the line, there seem to be plans for lots of other attachments, but until those are here, the separation strikes me as a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

Nintendo's mistake is the high price of the second controller, which is expected to cost around $65 (controller + nunchuk + tax). That's around 25% the price of the console itself, and more than the another game.