Nintendo: Caught in the Horse Latitudes


The little console that could conquered our hearts and homes, blowing away analyst and fan expectations with sales so high it’s still almost impossible to find one in stock. However, with the six-month mark come and gone, the first adopter crowd is starting to grumble. Discontent is setting in among the people that waited in line and those of us who managed to snipe one via relentless page refreshing. We’ve saved the princesses – Twilight and otherwise – and gorged ourselves on nostalgia at the Virtual Console buffet. Wii Sports tried our patience and hurt our elbows, and we’ve finally put it aside until the next time we’ve had enough drinks to make it sound like a good idea. It was fun while it lasted, and it’s a neat concept, but it needs more. Now, the little white box lurks under the TV, unused for weeks and months on end, and we wonder if this is it. The revolution we anticipated seems to have fizzled out, especially when the PlayStation 2 is still the place to go for neat games on the cheap.

There’s always a drought after a console’s launch, and, admittedly, it’s hardly time to cry disaster from the battlements when eager consumers still can’t buy the damn thing. But gaze upon the Upcoming Releases for the Wii, ye mighty, and despair. I’m as pumped about Mario Strikers: Charged as any soccer and Mario nerd can be, and there’s the occasional bright spot of a neat-sounding game, but there’s nary a Dead Rising or Gears of War, something to get incredibly excited about, on the horizon. Wii owners find themselves caught in gaming’s Horse Latitudes, wondering why they stood out in the cold for an industry caught flat-footed by success, struggling to figure out if maybe, just maybe, there’s something to this Nintendo thing all the kids are talking about.

Indeed, the reason for the becalmed state of gaming on the Wii is the industry itself. As a new console generation approaches, third-party developers choose up sides. When one console tanks, half of them get burned and flail around trying to get onboard with whatever turned out to be the hot console. This is The Way It Is. In the case of the Wii, however, just about everyone bet against it. The traditional developers were caught on their heels when the Wii’s sales surged, while the PlayStation 3’s tanked. Nobody bet on Nintendo, save for Nintendo themselves and the occasional third-party with the foresight or money to bet on all three. In the words of a thousand winning sports teams, “Nobody expected this! We didn’t get any respect all year!” And in this case, it’s largely true. Success hasn’t usually been a speed bump, but that’s where we find ourselves now, owning a console that’s still impossible to find in the store but has only a handful of games worth playing.


Fortunately, that same success assures the dry spell won’t last, though it may take a while to snap. A console with sales approaching 8 million is going to have games made for it, simply because the market demands it. And the Wii has lower development costs, though it also requires thinking a bit differently to adapt a game to its controller. Porting a game isn’t simply a matter of tweaking the engine and adjusting the control scheme from one console to another. Businesses hate change, but we’re already seeing the lumbering industry gearing itself up and grumbling to itself. In hindsight, it’s hard to believe most of an industry missed the incredible buzz the Wii generated pre-launch, though no one was quite sure how the little console with the gimmick controller was going to sell.

Getting out of the Horse Latitudes will require stepping beyond upgrading the engine and optimizing things for the next generation, but that will only be a net benefit to an industry wrapped up in chasing the next Unreal Engine. Low development costs, a different market and high demand will also make the Wii the platform of choice for up and comers with a grand vision and a low budget, especially since they won’t be competing with a lot of the big guns. We’ll break the calm eventually. It’s just a question of how many old warhorses have to go over the side to make it happen. And one day, we’ll look back and remember the time an entire industry was baffled, not by failure, but by success.

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