updated 11:55 pm EST, Sun November 20, 2011
Nintendo Wii surged from peak to valley
Yet another game console had an anniversary in the past week as the Nintendo Wii turned five years old on Sunday, just as its creator launched a long-delayed game, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The company's most successful console by sales launched November 19, 2006 and was an immediate return to form for Nintendo. Most of its first few years were spent in near perpetual shortages, even lasting into early 2010, and led to a total of 88.3 million shipping as of October.
The system was the first to introduce motion-based gaming into the mainstream. Most observers have credited its long-term success to a design that made gaming understandable even to those who had never played a video game, since it avoided the emphasis on memorizing buttons and mimicked real-world actions, like tossing a bowling ball or swinging a sword. Nintendo saw it as a way to promote health and put out the Balance Board and Wii Fit to encourage exercise.
Nintendo's success began to sour in mid-2010. Its $250 launch price stayed through most of its existence, but gamers eventually turned more to the Xbox 360 as the price gap narrowed and Microsoft's game library grew stronger. Nintendo has had to cut the price two times and now sells the Wii at $150. It's still believed to outsell the PS3, but it hasn't outsold the Xbox 360 for nearly one and a half years. Some of that downfall has been blamed on a game strategy that still relies heavily on Nintendo's own games to trigger increases in sales; most Xbox 360 and PS3 games are too advanced to run on the GameCube-derived Wii hardware and can't be ported over, leaving most developers to skip the Wii if they want maximum impact.
Unlike the Microsoft or Sony consoles, the Wii is already considered in its sunset and should be replaced late into 2012 with the Wii U, a major rethink that keeps motion controls but gives a large tablet-sized controller with a traditional gamepad and a touchscreen. The system will likely be the first of the next generation to ship, rather than one of the last, and has a chance of restoring Nintendo to the limelight.