Nov 2, 2007

Wii Juggernaut Reveals Mortality

The big story in gaming news this month will undoubtedly be the gradually shrinking lead of the Nintendo Wii over Sony's PS3 in Japan.

Though still outselling Sony's tech-powerhouse by an average of two to one, Nintendo's lead over Sony has decreased now for 4 straight months. Nintendo, of course if asked, will have a number of factors to point to in explanation, but the slowly-shrinking gap should be a warning signal to Nintendo nonetheless: produce some decent games, or get ready for one of the largest upsets in video game history.

With only two weeks to go before the Wii celebrates its first birthday, Nintendo needs to be honest with itself; the runaway success of the Wii is still based primarily on the same novelty it had during launch – Wii Sports. No one can fault Nintendo for riding that success for as long as possible, and unlike the other two market players, Nintendo has been able to sock away a respectable profit with each system it's sold. And believe what you will about whether the Wii's supply problems were planned or otherwise, part of Wii Sport's novelty staying power can be attributed to the difficulty consumers have had finding their own system to play it on.

But seriously… besides its pack-in, what other game has been released that makes people want to go out and buy a Wii? Metroid Prime III, though reportedly fantastic, can hardly be considered such a title. Zelda: Twighlight Princess, purchased primarily at launch, was basically a GameCube game with tacked-on Wii controls, and posted disappointing sales figures. Even my personal favourite so far, Resident Evil 4, was again, a GameCube remake.

The new Mario incarnation, Super Mario Galaxy, out in Japan, and set for release in North America in 2 weeks time is receiving rave reviews, and may generate post-Wii Sports console excitement. Whether it has the console-selling power that Halo III is producing for the XBOX 360, (which outsold the Wii for the first time in a year last month) remains to be seen.

The Wii version of Guitar Hero III, now on store shelves, though a cool, cool title, is unlikely to have the system-moving effect it had on the PS2 due to the overshadowing affect Rock Band, (due out in two weeks on the PS3 & 360 only) threatens the franchise with.

Inversely, it's unlikely that the delay of much-anticipated Super Smash Bros. Brawl will have the negative impact on Nintendo predicted by so many in the industry. Though it undoubtedly takes away from holiday season software buzz, the pushed-back Feb 08 release does give all those lucky enough to find a Wii under their tree Christmas morning, something to look forward to shortly thereafter.

Though it's still far to early for overt optimism, each month Sony shaves an inch off the sales gap with Nintendo adds more credibility to their claim that their Zeppelin PS3 is a slow burner. Their recent price drop has certainly helped in that regard, but it's still not enough make their console accessible to the mainstream. The technological sacrifices Sony has made to bring about this necessary price cut, (lost PS2 compatibility, fewer USB ports, smaller Hard Drive, etc.,) threatens to turn off Sony's target market, and push them towards the 360… at least in North America.

In short, this holiday season will be a bloody console war of historic proportions for the gaming industry. Sony Vs. Nintendo in Japan, Nintendo Vs. Microsoft in North America, and a myriad of dynamics in UK/Europe/Latin America round out a most unpredictable outcome.

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