Happy Birthday, Nintendo Wii!

Nintendo Wii - Image 1The year 2007 has really been a special one for Nintendo. Their Wii game console proved to the world that power isn’t everything and ushered in the renaissance of casual games that everyone can enjoy. To date, it’s the fastest-selling console ever, taking the market lead by eclipsing the Microsoft Xbox 360 in 10 astounding months. You better believe that Miyamoto, Iwata and company are only getting started. Now to commemorate the completion of its launch: Happy first anniversary, Nintendo Wii!

(Editor’s Note: While we are aware that the Nintendo Wii’s real birthday was November 19, 2006 when it was first released in retail across North America (Japan got it December 2), what marks December 8 special for the Wii is that 1) it was the date that the Wii was released in Europe, and more importantly 2) December 8 marked the completion of its launch in four of its key markets. Hence, to put things in perspective, we greet the Wii a happy birthday today, to commemorate its launch. Happy Launch Completion Birthday, Wii!)

“The consensus was that power isn’t everything for a console. Too many powerful consoles can’t coexist. It’s like having only ferocious dinosaurs. They might fight and hasten their own extinction.”

That was the core ideology when video game industry patriarch Shigeru Miyamoto and his team over at Nintendo had in mind back in 2001 when they first conceived the idea behind the Wii game console. Analysts, competitors and gamers scoffed at the thought of an under-powered game system banging with the big boys at that time, but guess who’s laughing now.

Around the same time, the Nintendo GameCube was still in its early launch stages. The sixth-generation console from Kyoto would later lag behind industry leader Sony‘s PlayStation 2 by a wide margin, sending the impression to some that Nintendo was all but finished. A lot of us had good reason to think so. After all, the Nintendo 64 of the late 90’s didn’t exactly take the world by storm either. Nintendo, however, begged to differ.

After it became clear that the GameCube was headed for defeat in the sixth console cycle, Miyamoto assembled a team of designers and engineers with sights set on the future of gaming. From 2003 to 2005, development was commenced and given the codename “Revolution.” By the end of that period, the Wii’s interface was set for demonstration and was pencilled in for E3 2005. The appearance, however, was later shelved because some “troubleshooting” had to be done according to Miyamoto.

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A few months later in the Tokyo Game Show, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata presented and demonstrated the Wii to an enthusiastic crowd. That showing paved the way for E3 2006 which is acknowledged by many as a key moment in the console’s marketing.

Heavy-hitter games were put on display, leaving those in attendance wanting more. The promise of ace titles like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Super Mario Galaxy , Sonic and the Secret Rings, Dragon Quest Swords: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, Fire Emblem: The Goddess of Dawn, Red Steel,  and Excite Truck marching in with fresh gaming experiences involved drove home the point that Nintendo may be on to something big.

While a lot of people started to understand why Nintendo chose the name “Revolution” for its next console, few welcomed the move which saw the Kyoto firm switch to the odd-sounding Wii. Jokes pertaining to the name soon lit the Internet up, while more serious critics pointed out that the name “Wii” does nothing to remove the stigma on the machine that it’s a kid-oriented electronic toy.

Nintendo bosses just smiled and acknowledged the criticism and ridicule. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime calmly explained in a quote that:

Revolution as a name is not ideal; it’s long, and in some cultures, it’s hard to pronounce. So we wanted something that was short, to the point, easy to pronounce, and distinctive. That’s how ‘Wii,’ as a console name, was created.

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A marketing campaign thought to have cost some US$ 200 million was then launched across the TV and Web media. Spearheaded by Academy Award winner Stephen Gaghan, Nintendo drove home the point that the name “Wii” signifies the essence of having fun and playing together. Ads featured players of all ages coming together and enjoying the redefinition of gaming.

The strategy worked like a charm as the November 19 launch loomed large and pre-orders reached sellout pitch. Long lines were reported everywhere the Wii launched, and gamers aged 3 to 103 were soon reported to be enjoying the little box of joy.

From that point forth, there was no looking back for Nintendo as it topped rivals Microsoft and Sony with big margins. As the first half of calendar year 2007 ended, it was clear that more Wiis were sold than Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s combined. On September 12, 2007 the Financial Times reported that the Nintendo Wii had eclipsed the Xbox 360 in total unit sales. That’s no meager feat considering that the former leader launched a year ahead of the Wii.

This amazing development that earned the Wii the distinction of fastest-selling console ever left game publishers and analysts rewriting their notes on Nintendo’s innovative system. As it stands, third-party developers are taking the Wii more seriously than ever with its amazing success story.

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For Iwata and Miyamoto, 2007 is only the beginning. As rivals Sony and Microsoft start to fight fire with fire in terms of casual gaming content, Nintendo is striving to keep itself steps ahead with more innovations. Peripherals such as the Wii Zapper and Wii Wheel have been introduced in the 2007 E3 Show to support future games. More interestingly, a new game called the Wii Fit comes with an unprecedented Wii Balance Board peripheral.

The Balance Board is seen as a gold mine of potential and has launched in Japan this week. We’ve seen hints that it’s doing great on its first week out, and the next week might be even more welcoming after the Wii stole the market lead again.

There’s no doubt that 2007 is the year when king Mario took back the console throne that he lost more than a decade ago. Will he hold on to it long enough to still be the leader on the Wii’s second birthday? We’ll find out. Happy birthday, Wii! May you bring us more waggling fun in your second year in the market!

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