Was the Wii (and motion controls) just a fad?

Usually my friends never made it off the couch

I am shocked that more publications aren’t talking about this.  The post-game analysis from 2011’s console sales should be in at this point and it almost feels like nobody wants to say anything.  Being the tiny gaming blog that I am maybe that’s where I come in.

Wii sales were down dramatically last year.  Nintendo’s quick jump to sales glory seems to be followed by an even sharper drop to near-obscurity.  What does it mean for the industry at large?  Was all this money, development and marketing spent on motion controls just a complete waste of our time?  Let’s investigate deeper into what happened exactly and see why not only the Wii was a just a just a huge fad, but motion controls to begin with.

The news that nobody seems to quite be grasping the real weight of is that sales for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were way up from previous years.  Not up from expected sales, not up from Wii sales, up from actual sales from past years.  What I mean to say is: 7 years after its launch, the Xbox 360 is doing better than it has in any previous year.  And the Playstation 3 isn’t far behind!

This graphic was made during the summer of 2011

This flies in the face of past consoles and their lifespans, which saw diminishing returns, even in the best of cases, after about 4 years and usually much less than that.  Part of the reason I think most of the industry doesn’t want to talk about this is because the news is so bizarre.  Nintendo is moving along the typical curve for their consoles, even if it did have an amazing rate of sales around its launch time.  Xbox and Playstation are completely throwing away the established product curve and creating a new one, one where we don’t really know what the peak of it is yet.

Some quick numbers:

  • Wii sales:
    • 2009: 10 million
    • 2010: 7 million
    • 2011: 4.5 million
  • Worldwide total sales:
    • Wii: 89.36 million (Sep. 2011)
    • Xbox 360: 57.6 million (Nov. 2011)
    • Playstation 3: 56 million (Nov. 2011)
  • Xbox 360 sales for Black Friday weekend alone: 960,000
My analysis: the Wii was a fad toy and nothing else.  Extremely limited support from third-party game makers and a surprising move on Nintendo’s part to not come up with some new first-party titles meant that after people played Wii Sports, they probably had no idea what to follow it up with.  Fads are what they are, part of the reason they are so ridiculously successful is because everyone and their mother is scooping them up since they see everyone else doing the same thing (see pogs, Tickle Me Elmo dolls and Tamagotchis).

A couple of years ago many deemed this console war to be over, the Wii was clearly out-selling everyone and it looked like motion controls were the new game in town.  What many failed to consider was that motion controls never even took off very far past that free game they included.  Sure, some great games came and went (personal favorite of mine was Boom Blox), but nothing really lasting ever seemed to stick, nothing that really defined what motion controls were capable of.  Other than Wii Sports, the Wii never had a console-defining title.  Every major Wii title ended up being the same Nintendo retread: Mario, Metroid, Super Smash Bros, Zelda.  How about something fresh?  A brand new way to play games seemed like a golden opportunity to add to the golden catalog of established Nintendo titles, make something that feels like Nintendo, yet only works with motion controls.  That idea never made it past Wii Sports.

Remember when this was hot shit?

What does this say for the attempt on Microsoft and Sony’s part to take some of that motion-control glory?  Well, by the time the Move and Kinect released it seemed like the fad was already on the decline, which didn’t seem to bode well.  I honestly can’t speak much for Sony’s device, because I generally don’t live in the Sony world, but a rudimentary search for Move sales turned up pretty dry: the last thing I found was 8.8 million total units sold in last June.  Microsoft is touting their 18 million Kinect sales, but it doesn’t seem to be a hot item anymore.  I’m starting to see the potential Kinect has now, but more as a multimedia controller, not a gaming controller (its actually pretty damn neat to just say “play Arrested Development” than having to scroll through several menus).

I don’t want to get into the potential that Sony has to overtake the Xbox 360 for the first time ever, but its there and may be a subject for another time.  What all this really tells us is that these 2 consoles have had a brilliant long-term support strategy that seems to be lending it to some fantastic sales figures, while the Wii remains a stagnant toy, to be tossed back with the GameCubes and N64s while people go to play on the real gaming machines.

At first I thought it was brilliant to name their next console the Wii-U, since people would say “oh the next Wii is out!”, but now I’m thinking their tune might sound more like “oh, another Wii, pass.” One thing is for damn sure: this console war ain’t over yet.

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About Ryan Saul

Hailing from Portland, OR I work by day and blog by night. I like to consider myself a video game connoisseur, playing as many new things as I can get my hands on. Its hard to hold me down to one game for very long before I move on to the next big thing. Luckily, that works pretty well in terms of video game blogging.

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