Friday, March 23, 2007

Ending the Wii is analogous to the Dreamcast debate

My words are in green. I am attempting to end the "The Wii is analogous to the Dreamcast" debate between myself and my very smart best male friend. Because this research represented an investment of my time, because my mind cannot keep track of factual details while his can, I didn't want to simply e-mail the work to him and have it be lost, so I present it here.

From Wikipedia:

Sixth generation

This era began with the launch of the Sega Dreamcast in November 1998 in Japan and September 1999 in the U.S.. However, the impending and much-hyped PlayStation 2 competed with the Dreamcast before it was even released;

This is something the Wii did not face, because the XBOX 360 had already come out and failed to wow gamers because it was more of the same - graphics. The old industry illusion that graphics, not content, sells games, which is why games get released before they are ready - they are released as soon as the graphics engine is done (Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2, countless other games).

Also, the Wii's controllers created enough buzz that, along with Sony's Ross Perot messages concerning the PS3 (faltering, changing, unclear), the Wii surmounted this issue that the Dreamcast faced.

this, combined with Sega's tarnished reputation among Saturn owners and third party developers limited its adoption.

Again, the Dreamcast released with hardly any games, and it was 9 months into its life before it even had as many games as the Wii.

For more, see the Dreamcast launch.

The release of the anticipated Playstation 2 in March 2000 in Japan and October 2000 in the U.S. meant that the Dreamcast no longer enjoyed its status as the sole next-generation console. The brand Sony had established with the original PlayStation was a major factor in their victory, both in terms of securing a consumer base and attracting third party developers;

Here the tables are reversed: Sony is becoming the Sega Saturn - the system that is too difficult to program for (cell processors on the PS3 and badly meshed dual cores on the Saturn), too expensive ($400 Saturn versus $300 PlayStation), while the Microsoft XBOX 360 is enjoying developer support, entrenched console sales over 16 months (which effect game sales) and great games (such as Gears of War).

the gradual increase in one tending to reinforce the other. The PlayStation 2 was able to play DVDs and was backwards-compatible with PlayStation games, which many say helped the former's sales. Any user considering buying a DVD player or PlayStation could view the PlayStation 2 as a cost-effective alternative, and the system effectively had a back catalogue available before it even went on sale. The Dreamcast competed with the PS2 for several months however eventually Sega's financial troubles left over from the Saturn's failure began to really show themselves and the Dreamcast was discontinued by the time the console war proper began.

Nintendo does not have this massive debt problem.

The Xbox, despite the formidable financial backing of Microsoft and despite being more powerful than the PlayStation 2, has failed to significantly threaten the Playstation 2's place as market leader.

Has this changed? Possibly? Of course the PS3 is dying and the XBOX 360 is growing strong. The Wii, basically, needs only to see more games mature.

However, it has attracted a sizeable fanbase in the United States and Europe and has become a recognisable brand amongst the mainstream. In Japan its sales are far poorer, possibly due to the physical size of the console, and Microsoft's inability to acquire many major Japanese developers for their franchises as exclusives for the platform (contrast with Microsoft's multi-million dollar acquisition of UK developer Rare). However, there is a niche fanbase, particularly as the online services for the console, " Xbox Live", offers more to users than Playstation 2's non-centralized online system and Nintendo GameCube's near total lack of online games.

Nintendo struggled with their own brand images, particularly the family-friendly one cultivated during the 1990s.

While this is still the case (in fact, submit that you still have an anti-Nintendo bias as much as I do concerning their childish games), Nintendo is spinning this old, unshakable image to say "We're for casual gamers, not these elite hardcore bastards who give you all a hard time." The latter is never said, but every time you see a Nintendo ad showing people playing together in the same room, they are proselytizing the exact opposite of traditional, anonymous, abusive online play.

The bottom line is their old image is keeping away many of the same kinds of gamers the Wii wasn't specifically designed for anyway, and at this point, Nintendo's only major error is placing too much weight on casual gamers, and not enough on the grazing herd.

Nintendo's franchises and long history in the industry are failing to give them an advantage against the Xbox and PlayStation 2 . However the GameCube's low price point and the release of The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition has kept it competitive. Nintendo GameCube is in second place in total console sales in Japan, and in a close third place in the United States and Europe.

World wide sales figures

  • Nintendo GameCube: 21.52 Million as of December 31, 2006 (Japan: 4.02, The Americas: 12.74, Other: 4.76)[5]
  • PlayStation 2: 115.36 Million shipped as of December 31, 2006 (Japan: 24.76, USA: 46.53, Europe: 44.07) [6]
  • Sega Dreamcast: 10.6 Million as of December 2004 (Japan: 2.30, Other: 8.30 )[3]
  • Xbox: more than 24 Million as of May 10, 2006[7]
The PlayStation 2 beat the Japanese school uniform miniskirts off of every other console and then savaged them mercilessly. Put together , every competing console only accounts for 48.65% of console hardware sales.

I submit that, like the SNES and Genesis days, this current war will not have a clear winner, but rather a market where two consoles will survive nicely, just as the Genesis and SNES did (see the History of Videogames Part 3 which details the SNES and Genesis battle) .

Sales as of March 2007:

Console Sales
Xbox 360 10,400,000
Wii 6,030,000
PS3 2,150,000

I'm not sure where they get these numbers, as VGcharts' worldwide graph conflicts.

Hopefully I have put to bed the comparison between the Sega Dreamcast and the Nintendo Wii. While the Dreamcast was considered "ahead of its time", this was more due to coming out between the window of the current generation and the next; the PS2's power overshadowed it.

The Wii may well be ahead of its time, but that is because of its controllers, and there is no game in town to threaten this - you can't wait and buy an XBOX 360 or a PS3 with controls like the Wii, and the SixAxis controller has met with as limited success as I first thought. The SixAxis is gimmicky, a Nunchuck and a Wii Remote put together is a different control scheme altogether.

Key points:
  • Wii has no impending (or existing) console attacking its intended market (casual gamers and people who can't afford pricey systems). This brings up an obvious counter-point as to how many games casual gamers and poor folks buy, but it shows that the Dreamcast and Wii are not like.
  • The Dreamcast was launched with next to no games, 4 months earlier than planned, the Wii was launched with a record-setting 17(?) games (as of records for this generation).
  • Brands are something the Dreamcast battled, but the Wii only has to fight it's own brand - literally, Nintendo's childishness, which has been spun as "games anyone can play," every commercial showing adults or families. The Wii, unlike the Dreamcast, is not facing an impossible behemoth; that enemy has slain itself (Sony), so it has a unique window of opportunity the Dreamcast never had.
  • The Wii can't be one-upped by hardware, while the Dreamcast was. The Wii is known to be less powerful, but it's got it's controllers and its price point, and this perception that filters through the New York Times to TV to word of mouth and blogs. The Dreamcast was never viral outside of the traditional hardcore.
If anything, the only relevant similarities I see between the Wii and the Dreamcast is that they are both less powerful than the Sony and Microsoft consoles, and it ends there.

Will EA abandon the Wii? No, because the Wii means money, and EA never leaves money. Why does the Wii mean money when the Dreamcast didn't? Because the trump factors the Dreamcast faced, and EA saw on the horizon, don't exist here.

Even EA said they don't expect to outsell Nintendo's 1st Party line, but plan on being a healthy 2nd place (I read this on Gamasutra, I think, but I can't find the article).

We may be back to discussing the future impact of the Wii itself, but we can at least close the analogy between the Wii and the Dreamcast failure.