Although Nintendo almost single-handedly rescued the North American video game industry from ruin after the 1983 video game crash — too many consoles and too many expensive games flooded the market soon afterwards. Its real innovation came in 2006 with the release of the Nintendo Wii console. The Wii broke away from traditional console cycles by moving beyond features like the cutting-edge graphics similar to that of Sony’s PlayStation 3 and the aggressive networking strategy of the Microsoft Xbox 360.It instead focused on a single idea: making the very act of playing a video game fun.
Nintendo’s approach was three-pronged. The first, a revolutionary controller, sent information to the second and third prongs. Until the release of the Wii, video game consoles featured roughly the same control scheme they had been using for decades. There were minor steps forward: the transition to 3D graphics and gameplay required one thumbstick, then two. But the gameplay was always dictated by the directional pad or some combination of thumbsticks.
The Wii uses a motion controller called the Wii Remote, sometimes in conjunction with a separate device with a small thumbstick, the Nunchuk. While some games use the Remote as a traditional controller — it includes a directional pad and seven auxiliary buttons — the ones that take advantage of its unique motion capabilities have been some of the console’s most successful both in terms of gameplay and in terms of sales. The motion element makes video games more attractive and accessible to the casual or inexperienced player.
The second prong of Nintendo’s strategy with the Wii is one that they began with the GameCube: an emphasis on game design over graphics. This allows Nintendo to draw upon its rich back catalogue of games while driving the overall cost of the machine down. The Wii debuted at a $249.99 price point, and came bundled with the game/proof of concept Wii Sports; Compared to the $499 or $599 launch price for the PlayStation 3 just days earlier, it’s easy to see why consumers flocked to the Wii. The third prong, after all, was Nintendo’s goal of reaching a wider audience than just traditional gamers.
With its new play style, easily understandable lineup of games, and low prices, almost everyone could justify purchasing a Wii. With 87.57 million units sold, to call Nintendo’s three pronged approach a success may be underselling the point.