Will the Wii make you play less (and buy less games)?

Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft and have to admit I'm a big Xbox 360 fanboy so I will not be fully objective on this topic.

Ever since Nintendo has annouced their new controller, I've had very big doubts about betting the console on such a concept. The controller in itself seems to be beautifully executed and more precise than any other previous attempt at a motion-sensing controller, but I fully agree with Peter Molyneux that for most players, the most confortable position to play is lying on the couch with the controller resting on the beer belly. Only the thumbs move, and they do so very little, which enables us to play for extended periods of time (not that we *should* play that long, but we do, and that eventually makes us buy more games). And I call that motion sensing too: the pad is very efficiently detecting very small movements of my thumbs...

If I have to be in an upright position and wave my arms around to play, I can assure you that I won't play for more than 20 minutes to half an hour. The Wii controller will certainly work beautifully for a tennis game, or a golf game, or a sword fight game, and you can trust Nintendo to be just as creative with that as they've been with the DS touch screen (why we weren't smart enough to do this kind of games on Pocket PCs years ago and why we're still not doing them is beyond me). Still, I prefer to do my sports outside. Video games, for me, will stay in the couch, mostly not moving for hours. That will make me buy more games, a Wii wouldn't.

So when I saw the PS3 controller, after the initial shock - or lack thereof - (motion sensing? no, they didn't? hey, what's the big round button in the middle of the controller?), I thought that they had actually been pretty smart about the whole thing: their controller will be perfectly fine for any game, even though it won't come back when thrown and it will be somewhat less ergonomic for tennis games than the Wii controller. Then again, the tilting pad was tried before, including by Microsoft. I still have a FreeStyle somewhere in my closet and it was excellent at Motocross Madness and racing games in general (because we already tend to move with the pad in this kind of game) but terrible at almost anything else. So is this just Sony going "me too"? You decide.

But wait a minute... Didn't Sony already have a few PS2 games (mainly sports) that were controlled by the player's body movements? Well, yeah, and by a strange coincidence, the kind of games that work with the Eye Toy is exactly what the first batch of Wii games will be. Come to think about it, this is probably the most sensible approach (and it seems to be the XBox team's approach too).

Another powerful idea is that what seems like such an obvious control scheme may not be as efficient as your intuition will tell you. Here's an interesting comparison... When you think about FPSs and how the keyboard+mouse combination is the absolute best control scheme for them (even though the devices themselves were created for something entirely different), it's just mind boggling because it's so non-obvious. You'd think that detecting eye movement for example would work better for aiming in such games. Well, it doesn't. As a recent study showed, it is less efficient by 25% and just less enjoyable in general. Maybe that's because eye movement is widely unconscious whereas the eye-hand coordination is something that works really well in human beings.

I really like the idea that one controller can't be perfect for all games but that the default controller should be versatile enough to be ok for all games. I've owned a force feedback wheel for the PC for years and it just makes racing games much more immersive; I own a big joystick for flight simulation; an arcade stick will be better for Street Fighter and Pac-Man; mouse and keyboard work best for FPSs. In the same way, the camera will provide motion sensing for those games where it makes sense. But all of these games can be played with a regular controller without a problem, it's just that a special optional controller can make the experience better. The Wii controller just seems perfect for a very small number of games and terrible for everything else. In my opinion, it should be an option because it's just not versatile enough.

UPDATE: the reports from the first people to play with the console for extended periods of time are starting to come in, and it seems like the Wii, like a Gyration mouse, does not necessarily require big movements and can be enjoyed for long periods of time. Well done then. What still needs to be determined is how well the controller will work with "ordinary" games.

UPDATE 2: an interesting account of the first reactions of a person who didn't know about the Wii before.

UPDATE 3: Penny Arcade on the Wiimote.

UPDATE 4: I just read Ars Technica's review of the Wii and they have very good things to say about the system. In particular, "I found the nunchuk + Wiimote combination to be incredibly comfortable in long playing sessions. I was able to rest my hands on either side of my legs while playing Zelda, and that wouldn't be possible with a classic controller design" struck a chord with me. Again, I'm ready to be proven wrong and will gladly admit I was wrong. After all, the DS stylus gaming has been dimissed by some as a gimmick when it was introduced, but it has been working absolutely flawlessly. I'm a big fan of the DS (I have both the phat and the light models), it works perfectly for me, my wife and my three year old daughter who is addicted to Nintendogs. It just leaves me wondering why we didn't get games like those on PocketPCs years ago and why they're still nowhere to be found. If the games deliver on the Wii like they did on the DS, I'm sold, I'll get one and I suppose I'll buy Mario and Zelda. Again. And again. I'll try the Wii at fwends' house and make a first hand opinion soon.

UPDATE 5: Joystiq made a *very* interesting (although unscientific) poll of their readership that kinda confirms the title of this post:


  • Hi Bertrand,

    yes, I like the force feedback wheels too - but is it just me or is there really no support for them in the newer games? Some of the old devices you cannot even plug into a modern computer anymore - PC joystick port anyone?

  • I didn't realise the XBox controller was 'effective against more than one toxin or strain of micro-organism'. But anyway, the Wii controller comes with the nunchuck extension that'll allow you to lie on your sofa eating pies to your heart's content.

  • Have you had the oppurtunity to use the Wii controller? Or are you just going by what you see in nintendo's insane ads?

    I've seen several videos of people playing the new zelda game, and they are barely moving the nunchuk (controller) around. It's just like a regular control but slightly different in the way it moves. I think the impression that you HAVE to do cartwheels while you are using it is way off.

    Also, i think involving more parts of the hand instead of your thumbs only is a good thing. My friend said he'd play games until his thumbs blead. It will help against RSI and other issues that arise from doing any activity for a long time.

  • Jag: no, I haven't used it and I may very well be completely wrong about all this. I'm just skeptical about the whole motion sensing stuff because it's been tried before and it failed miserably, but Nintendo may very well succeed where everybody else failed. I guess we'll have to wait and see the execution of all that.

  • Not an Xbox fanboy: sorry about that, I updated the post to use a better word. Bear with me here, English is not my first language and in French, polyvalent is a synonym of versatile.

  • I am not a great fan of the new nintendo game controller. I don't feel that it will lend itself well to game play. Of course I have not used it yet, but with all the information that I have read so far I believe it will be very awkward.

  • I think your comments are way off the mark and sound very much like someone who has been born into the playstation generation! I have a 360 and I am already becoming bored and annoyed with it. £50 for a game that I can get on the pc for £30!!! why? I would not mind paying £50 for a 360 exclusive but not one that is available elsewhere for cheaper. Also it is not exactly innovative, the graphics have improved but don't look (so far) 5 times better than the xbox or even 3 times better for that matter. The only Stand out feature is Live Arcade (which is still not innovative as it appeared on the original xbox!). This has great potential although so far not many original games have appeared. The other thing that is annoying is the backwards compatability. The vast majority of my xbox collection is still unplayable (Please can microsoft forget 'Shamu's Deep Sea Adventures','Shadow The Hedgehog' and 'Barbie Horse Adventures Wild Horse Rescue' and get on with converting Streetfighter collection, Outrun 2 and Pro Evo 4?) and even some that have conversions still do not work (Half Life 2 just goes to a black screen during the game!). Also While we are on the subject of controlers, can microsoft one day work on designing a good digital pad? have you ever tried playing a 2D fighter with the original x-box or 360 controllers? it is almost impossible due being less than directionally positive, pressing slightly up when wanting to move left and so on. Maybe this is something that you can take from nintendos controllers. The Wii will be the only true Next Gen console as it is the only one really doing something the current ones don't. And don't forget that there is also a normal controller available for it to play normal games with too.

  • I didn't say you were playstation generation. I said you were sounding like one.

    You point out that the 360 has some new arcade controllers. Is this not the same thing as the Wii having an optional controller too?

    I don't think my comment about Wii being the only true next gen is 'Hilarious'. I do not consider Hi-Def (or Graphics at all) to define Next Gen, In fact in Europe (Especially the UK) Hi-Def Tvs have only been on sale a short time and are incredibly expensive (around $3,500 for a medium size one!). We will not be seeing even a moderate perentage of 360s connected to Hi-Def here for at least 3 or 4 years. So The fact that Wii is not Hi-Def is not of particular importance (Especially if it helps make the games cheaper and hence I will buy more of them).

    If you like to play on the PC and find the same games for a lower price, fine, go for it. As for me, I prefer to play it on the console even if it costs me more. Guess I'm not the only one or the prices would be different. mmmh... Maybe there's a reason why games are cheaper on the PC... Let's try to remember our Economics 101... Oh, maybe that would be because nobody wants to buy them?

    Most of the people I know do not even own a 360 due
    to the prohibitive price of the console, the lack of many good games and the price of the games. I too prefer playing most games on a console but I fully understand why my friends use their PC's. Prey for £50, took 2 days to complete and the multiplayer is not that great either!!! now that is good value.. NOT!

    When I talk about the graphics on the 360 I am not denying that the graphics look crisper but I was not blown away like I was when I first viewed the PS2 after the PS1. I am told that Project Gotham 3 has as many polygons in 1 car than PGR2 had in the entire game world. I can fully believe this but it does not show so much in the finished product. Yes they look a lot crisper but not that much crisper! This just goes to prove to me that Nintendo were correct in moving in a different direction.

    I think the innovation in the 360 version of Live are the achievements and gamer scores. This is the thing that will make gamers buy more games (and ultimately that's what makes or breaks a console).

    I have to disagree. This has not made me buy more games. It just gets annoying in multiplayer when people are concentrating on getting achievements rather than playing the game.

    The Purchasing of extra content is a nice option but I am worried that it will be taken too far especially with microsoft suggesting consumable content which wears out leading you into buying new ones.

    I have thought of one feature that has made my gaming life better and that is the ability to stream music from my pc into the game. Now that is cool!

  • I can't believe how much you discount the idea (or hard evidence) of backwards compatibility. It obviously wasn’t the biggest selling point when the PS2 came out since PS1 and PS2 games looked like night and day graphically (it was hard to go back) … regardless, the classics have still lived on (thank God the PS2 can still run Final Fantasy VII). In addition, the lack of backwards compatibility only added to the shadow over Nintendo’s weakening presence (people still love the SNES to this day and consider it the heyday of gaming). While it may not be the biggest selling point, it still plays a major role (Nintendo learned their lesson the hard way and have preserved the backwards compatibility within the handheld systems). How many ‘old’ games do you know of that people still play and love regardless of graphic advancements (StarCraft anyone?). Magazines, like GameInformer, and even G4tv recommend classic titles that gamers may have missed at one time … leading me (and countless others) to buy and enjoy sleeper-hits and overlooked classics.

    Now-a-days backwards compatibility is more important than even because consoles can’t make the same level of advancements that they once did … and games that looked amazing 3-4 years ago, still look good today (Halo anyone?). Microsoft knew backwards compatibility was important, that’s why they promised it before the release of the 360 … unfortunately, they have yet to fully deliver on that promise; and if you’re not playing 360 online, then forget about it completely.

    In short, consoles can no longer depend on graphic improvements and extra buttons to sell their product, especially since games have already reached a visual level that most people are satisfied with … and without an HDTV, it’s hard to notice anyways. So now, more than even, it takes more than that … it takes support for the library of great games that already exist, and innovation that goes beyond “graphic improvements”. Networking gamers and providing online play is a definite plus, but gamers cannot live on MMOs alone.

    It’s not surprising that Microsoft hasn’t realized this yet (they still think IE6 is ‘good enough’) … and Sony seems to think that everyone has a 6 figure income (and with a poor track record for building quality electronics (PS1 overheating and the flimsy PSP)).

    This is Nintendo’s chance to make a comeback, and I sincerely hope they do. Despite their history of poor decisions (VirtualBoy anyone?) Nintendo has proved that they have learned from their mistakes … something that Sony and Microsoft have failed to do. Not only does the Wii offer the possibility of a more immersive environment to gamers, but it will appeal to parents of the gaming youth, eager to see a console that will help thwart the obesity that plagues children today.

  • I think the quality of the games will be key to the success of this type of controller.

    Surely there's nothing to stop Microsoft (or Sony for that matter) from producing their own version of the Wii controller for their consoles if they think it's worthwhile? Maybe future generations of consoles will ship with several different types of controller.

    With regards to the 'HD isnt next gen' debate. I just bought an HD TV for my 360, and it's definately made a BIG difference in the quality of the visuals. HD sets are stil expensive though (I live in the UK).

  • I'd like to pipe in for a moment, the Wii-mote (as it's affectionately being called by some) does in no way need to be waved around like you're retarded. The motions can be large and craz-o, or small and refined. No more than you naturally move the controller as you play games with a normal controller.

    You'll still be able to lay on your back with the controller on your stomach for most games.

    Something like Wiisports might require an upright stance at first, but you will learn to play those too on your back. Though it might take away from the realism (baseball is played standing up, not on a couch :D).

  • Yes, I've read that argument a lot, but there's still something bothering me: the smaller the movements, the more precise the detectors need to be. This kind of device has been notoriously imprecise in past attempts so while Nintendo may have perfected the technique, it remains doubtful to me you can have both precise control and small amplitude movements. But yes, until we get a chance to test it (which only Reggie knows when that may be) we won't know for sure. As I've said before, all this is only conjectures and I may very well be completely wrong.

  • Then again, the Gyration remotes are fairly precise even with relatively small movements, so yes, why not? I guess we'll see how the games exploit that.

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