There have only been a few times in my life that I’ve held a piece of technology in my hands and thought, “This is what the future looks like.” Using my first laptop. Listening to a friend’s first-generation iPod. Using a smartphone app to order a burrito. Yesterday, it happened again, because yesterday I met the WiiU.
Nintendo’s WiiU had a lot of problems to solve. How will Nintendo incorporate streaming video services like Netflix
(NASDAQ:NFLX) or Amazon
(NASDAQ:AMZN) that are already such a huge part of the features provided by the Microsoft
(NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox 360 and Sony
(NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 3? How will Nintendo shed the “casual gamer” image that has been associated with the Wii’s bouncy, cartoonish graphics and family-centric game library?
Most importantly, though, how will Nintendo justify calling the WiiU the first true eighth-generation gaming console?
First of all, the degree to which television is integrated into this system is staggering. Gone are the days of switching the TV to “game” mode and plugging in the Sega Genesis. You don’t run the WiiU through a TV; you run your TV through WiiU. Every viewing experience—streaming, cable, DVR—is run by a master remote system on the WiiU’s controller.
Oh, and all the tweeting going on during every episode of every television show? That’ll no longer be taking place on mobile phones or laptops, Nintendo says. The touchscreen on the controller/remote has social media platforms like Facebook
(NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter (as well as Wiiverse, its own horse in the social media race) built into the system, meaning that as big moments happen, tweets and wall posts will start popping up in real time.
When I spoke to Jonathan Silverstein of GolinHarris for Nintendo America about the system’s impact as a whole, he was especially excited about the system’s potential impact on the way we watch television. “If the WiiU has a killer app,” he said, “it’s the TV part.” The social media aspect is especially intriguing; in the ultra-convenient controller/remote, Nintendo has found a very persuasive argument for its own platform’s indispensability.
When it comes to the questions about its viability as a gaming console, I was prepared not to be persuaded. My friends and I tended towards Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in college, crossing over to the Wii only for party-friendly games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl
. Games that spanned all three consoles, like my beloved FIFA
franchise, had significant drop-offs in graphics quality on the Wii.
This is no longer the case. And that’s a big, big deal.
Microsoft and Sony had better have something great up their sleeves for this generation because their hardware advantage is gone. Nintendo has managed to get Activision on board as a marquee developer, and the upgraded hardware means that Activision games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II
(yeah, I got to play it) don’t just get by; they look absolutely stunning. It remains to be seen how the system will hold up (the Xbox has certainly had its issues), but at first glance, the WiiU is just as viable a proposition for elite gamers as any other console.
Because of the way that Nintendo designed and marketed the Wii, it has been trapped for several years in a niche market; the console has become almost exclusively a social gaming tool, a cute and family-friendly alternative to the no-nonsense systems favored by the Bugles-for-breakfast demographic.
By expanding the limited Wii into an all-encompassing entertainment system, Nintendo is set to burst out of that niche. Because the WiiU is no longer limited to a certain market, its sales will likely bridge several different consumer bases: It’s affordable enough for families, powerful enough for elite gamers, and useful enough for people who aren’t even interested in video gaming.
It’s not a perfect system by any means -- the TVii user interface is a little goofy, and the insistence on incorporating social media into every nook and cranny of the experience is a little exhausting. But this is all secondary to the feeling of holding the controller in your hands, the feeling that this is the beginning of a minor technological revolution.
Looking out over the next generation of video games, you don’t just feel that Nintendo has turned a corner (although it really has). You feel that we’re starting to reach an exciting point at which video gaming technology is actually catching up with our collective imagination.
No positions in stocks mentioned.