Analysis: Who will be buying a Nintendo Wii?

Posted by Mark Raby

Chicago (IL) - With the last of the three next-gen game consoles finally being announced, more game enthusiasts will be looking more seriously into which console offers the most value. Nintendo hopes that it will not only keep its existing base, but pick up the mainstream crowd and, here and there, Playstation and Xbox gamers.

See the Nintendo Wii slide show here (5 pictures)

If you are beginning to look into buying your first or next game console, then Nintendo certainly starts out with a significant deficit. Strictly judging by the numbers, the Wii is the least impressive out of all three on paper. The heart of the system, the "Broadway" CPU for the Wii clocks in at 729 MHz, while both the Xbox 360's Xenon processor and the Playstation 3's Cell processor run at 3.2 GHz. All three processors, by the way, are manufactured by IBM.

Additionally, the PS3 and Xbox 360 are designed to handle much more than gaming. They are built with the intention of being an entire media center for the living room. The PS3 will integrate a Blu-ray disc player, which not only gives PS3 games a much higher capacity, but it also allows users to watch high-definition movies right out of the box.

The Xbox 360 has connectivity with Windows XP Media Center, which means that it can control videos, music, digital slideshows, and more directly through the console. Rumor has it, that Microsoft is currently selecting manufacturers in Taiwan to update its Xbox 360 with an internal HD DVD drive. However, the Wii shies away from the HD idea. As always, Nintendo is focused exclusively on the games and has no functionality for the Wii to play other multimedia formats.

Price may play an important role in the next-gen console race. While the packed feature set of the Xbox 360 and PS3 force Microsoft and Sony to take a loss on every unit sold, the Wii's relatively short list of goodies also means that Wii is relatively inexpensive to manufacture. This is why the Wii comes in first place in terms of price, being the most affordable option at $250.

The Xbox 360 currently sells for $400 for the premium package and the full-featured version of the PS3 will carry a price tag of $600 when it launches in the U.S. on 17 November. Both the 360 and the PS3 also have less expensive, scaled down versions for $100 less. The Nintendo Wii will launch in just one SKU.

The Wii's price, which is $50 more than the original price of the Gamecube, indicates that Nintendo will be going after the mainstream and users who aren't willing to pay the price of an entry-level PC for a game console. On several occasions, the company said that it wants to attract people that have never considered themselves to be gamers. This strategy expands on the recent campaign with the Nintendo DS and games like Brain Age. With the unconventional video game software, Nintendo has helped to put gaming hardware in the hands of the middle-aged and senior citizens.

However, this generally appealing price and hardware specification does decidedly alienate some hardcore gamers. For many, this next generation is about console gaming that will finally be more technically powerful than PC gaming. Nintendo will step away from that designation. Regardless, with Nintendo finally embracing online connectivity, the company will be able to provide experiences with time-tested franchises that neither of the competitors will be able to.

The Super Smash Bros franchise, for example, has become a cult hit among gamers of all ages. For the first time, with the Wii, gamers will be able to stage battles between classic Nintendo characters in online play, with the Super Smash Bros Brawl title expected some time next year.

What sets the Wii apart from the other consoles is the controller. Unlike anything ever seen in console gaming, the majority of game play is controlled by a motion sensor in the controller rather than a slew of static buttons. This is the crucial part in Nintendo's aim to make the console easily accessible. Much like the intuitive touch screen control on the DS, playing games on the Wii will be an easy skill to pick up.

Looking at the list of launch titles, it is clear that Nintendo is not entirely focused on just one group of gamers. Their target audience is probably the most widespread out of all of the next-gen systems - their target audience appears to be everyone. Expected at launch or shortly thereafter are titles like Rayman Raving Rabbits, WarioWare, and Wii Sports, which are "cartoony" games that are meant for short spurts of playing. There will also be games such as Red Steel and Call of Duty 3, more violent, intensive titles that are there to please the more serious gamers.

In the current generation of video games, the universally accepted standard price for a new game quickly became $50. However, the Xbox 360 and PS3 are crossing that line. Because of significantly higher development costs, $60 is the new norm for 360 games, and PS3 titles are expected to reach as high as $70, or possibly even higher. The Wii, however, plans to stand firm with the current pricing structure, with new games to retail for $50 or less. Of course, on the other side of the token, these games will not pack nearly the same amount of content and power as an X360 or PS3 title.

In essence, those consider gaming an more casual event, will likely like the Wii. The same can be said for those who are looking to get into the video game craze but are too intimidated to turn to a super-machine like the PS3, or parents who want a family-friendly system for their children. However, there are a lot of really intense gamers out there who have an affliction for the blockbuster series like The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and Donkey Kong.

Even though these gamers will probably log more time overall into the Xbox 360 and the PS3, the Wii could easily be added to their collection, and the relatively low price on the system and games is accommodated for that.

Related articles:
IBM ships Broadway CPU for Nintendo Wii console
Nintendo prices Wii game console "below" $250
Nintendo steals Sony's, Microsoft's thunder at E3
PS3 controller looks a little wimpy against Nintendo's Wii
Nintendo Wii hitting store shelves in Q4