A question of sport

A question of sport
Pinpointing the reason for the insatiable popularity of Nintendo’s Wii is a tough ask.

Certainly the unique functionality, inventive marketing and the explosion in casual gaming has boosted the system, but perhaps one of the biggest reasons for the console’s enduring success is the inclusion of Wii Sports.

The game has become the face of Nintendo’s mass-market monster, appearing at all the best house parties and on numerous TV programmes. It even received plenty of screen time during Hollywood blockbuster, Tropic Thunder, and is a regular feature of Nintendo’s various marketing materials.

“There’s one fundamental strategic reason why Wii Sports has performed so well – it is the perfect demonstration of what Wii is about – social, active and incredible fun to play,” says Nintendo’s product manager Rob Lowe.

“We’ve appealed to a wider market by taking away the barriers that stop non-gamers from enjoying video games. Immediate and intuitive controls have allowed anyone to play our titles, whilst innovative thinking has caught the imagination of UK families. As a result, Wii Sports has helped to bring men and women in their 30s, 40s and 50s into gaming for the first time.”

The success of Wii Sports – and indeed the Wii itself – has attracted wide-ranging publisher attention. Konami, Midway, Ubisoft, THQ and Sega have all released their own sports packages, and last month’s ChartTrack Top 50 was filled with Wii Sports-inspired releases, with Wii Fit, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, Wii Play, Big Beach Sports, Sports Party and Sports Island all in the Top 50. And the publishers behind these titles feel it is the growth in ‘bite-sized gaming’ that has led to this popularity.

“The success of the Wii as a platform in bringing gaming to the family and social market played a huge part in Big Beach Sports’ success,” explains THQ’s marketing director John Webb. “I see Big Beach Sports, and similar games, as very much fast-food gaming for the more mass-market audience – you can consume these titles in bite-sized chunks. The gameplay is easy to understand, especially given the accessibility and simplicity of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck.”

Konami’s UK general manager Pete Stone agrees: “The Wii is the ideal console for bite-sized gaming, and Sports Island has performed really well. It is great for a quick blast against friends, but it is also taxing without being off-putting. It’s like a bag of crisps – not a patch on a full meal, but instantly gratifying and great while they last.

“Sports Island is specifically aimed at the Wii Sports crowd – the people who have enjoyed the sports on offer in that game, and want to try their hands at similar, but different events.”

FUTURE PLANNING
Moving towards Christmas, and the Wii’s sporting line-up is continuing to evolve. Not content with the Wii Remote, more publishers are making use of Nintendo’s Balance Board peripheral. Koei’s recent G1 Jockey title, Namco’s Family Ski and Ubisoft’s upcoming Shaun White’s Snowboarding: Road Trip are the latest titles to make use of the Board, and next year brings a new peripheral set to revolutionise the Wii sports genre. The Wii MotionPlus.

“Third parties were taking advantage of the Wii Remote from day one, and there’s a whole host of Balance Board software in the pipeline,” continues Lowe. “So I’m sure the same will happen with the Wii MotionPlus, as it will improve immersion and precision. It’s great to see such a variety and plethora of different titles coming out, with many of them bringing new and exciting ways to experience the Wii.”

However, sports publishers have been quick to point out that the accessibility of such titles, and not new peripherals, is still the most important factor when developing Wii sports software.

“I imagine these titles will get more immersive,” says Stone. “It is vital such games remain accessible and fun, so the amount of control and the way they are controlled is the best way ahead.”

Webb concludes: “In the long run the key to the success of this type of gaming is down to the ease with which one can pick-up-and-play. As long as we focus on making games that are ideal for family and social gaming with simple, competitive components, then we can expect similar success in the future.”

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