Monday, May 08, 2006

Nintendo Wii & design

As a part-time video game player (one who waits for the game machine to get below $200 and for games to reach $20), I can't say I've been following the development of the next generation machines that closely. (After all, it would be a couple years before I'd buy one.) But the new Nintendo has caught my interest just because they're trying to do something different.

I honestly can't see, right now, what buying a new Microsoft or Sony machine would get me other than more expensive games. (I'm much more into playability and fun than the evermore realistic look that the industry seems obsessed with.) But I'm starting to think that the Nintendo could be a new, fun and innovative game environment. Couple this with a lower price (I've seen rumors guessing as low as $99, though I wouldn't count on that), and we may see one in my household sooner rather than later. ("May" being the operative word -- I haven't exactly had a lot of time to play games that don't involve my two-year-old.)

And now Time magazine has gotten a "first look" at the machine.

Nintendo has grasped two important notions that have eluded its competitors. The first is, Don't listen to your customers. The hard-core gaming community is extremely vocal -- they blog a lot -- but if Nintendo kept listening to them, hard-core gamers would be the only audience it ever had. "[Wii] was unimaginable for them," Iwata says. "And because it was unimaginable, they could not say that they wanted it. If you are simply listening to requests from the customer, you can satisfy their needs, but you can never surprise them. Sony and Microsoft make daily-necessity kinds of things. They have to listen to the needs of the customers and try to comply with their requests. That kind of approach has been deeply ingrained in their minds."

And here's the second notion: Cutting-edge design has become more important than cutting-edge technology. There is a persistent belief among engineers that consumers want more power and more features. That is incorrect. Look at Apple's iPod, a device that didn't and doesn't do much more than the competition. It won because it's easier, and sexier, to use. In many ways, Nintendo is the Apple of the gaming world, and it's betting its future on the same wisdom.

Sounds like a winning strategy to me! Now we wait and see if they can execute on it.

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