It’s a joy to use, it has transformed a genre, oh, and it’s white. If Apple made a games console, it would be a lot like the Wii…
We finally took the plunge at Christmas. Following some not-so-subtle promptings from my eight-year-old son, we have become Wii.
Like most parents, I am deeply ambivalent about computer games. Of course I recognise the creative achievement and the skill involved, I just don’t want my son to be stuck in front of them all the time. But the Wii is very different.
For a start, the whole experience is far more sociable. Over the holidays, three generations of our family gleefully got involved, whacking imaginary tennis balls and navigating diminutive Italian plumbers and their friends around go-kart tracks. I’m not sure I buy into the fitness aspect of the Wii (surely, real-world exercise is still the better option?) but no other games console seems to generate the same feelings of well-being.
The white console and accessories bear an obvious cosmetic similarity to Apple products, but the comparisons don’t end there.
The Wii has transformed a sector in the same way that the iPod and the iPhone have done. Like those products, it was not the first but it is, if you’ll excuse the pun, game-changing. The underlying essentials of the Wii may not be all that different to a PlayStation or an XBox (if you choose to, you can play games in very much the same way as you would on its rivals) but, thanks to its design, the overall experience is, for me at least, far more rewarding – as it is on an iPod compared to any other MP3 player, likewise the iPhone versus other handsets. Just like Apple’s products, there are aspects of the Wii, I’m sure, that are technically inferior to its competitors, but that’s not the point. It’s the fact that it’s such a joy to use that sets it apart.
And for the original iPod’s wheel or the iPhone’s touch-screen, read the Wii’s hand-controller – a genuine breakthrough product. It taps into something that interaction designers have known for a long time: even in a digital world, the physical is still important to us. Take the technology behind the Oyster cards that are used on London Transport, for example. I am assured by those more technically-minded than I that it is entirely possible to engineer such a system so that the cards work without having to actually touch them on a reader. However, the designers felt that travellers would want the reassurance of having to carry out this action and receive feedback to assure them that their card had been accepted. Likewise, the physical actions involved in using the Wii make it a much more natural, engaging experience for us (despite the dangers of collateral damage and the initial slippage problems).
This engagement is brought home in the Wii’s advertising (by Karmarama). Again, the similarities with Apple are obvious, as the Wii concentrates on simple product demonstrations, just like we are used to seeing with the iPhone and iPod. When you have a product that is genuinely different from its competitors, it’s really all you need to do (although, to be honest, come the new year I was heartily sick of the Redknapps).
Like Apple, I very much doubt that the Wii will win any awards for its advertising: there will be complaints that the campaign lacks an ‘idea’. But when you have a good product, there is little requirement for the torturous brand positioning that, for example, PlayStation has tried recently.
So, if Apple set out to make a games console, maybe it would end up a little like the Wii. But, if you believe some writers, Apple, almost by accident, already has a games console: in fact, it has two. With the explosion of games to download from the Apps site, the iPod Touch and the iPhone may come to rival the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP as hand-held gaming devices. Maybe with a bit of adjustment to the in-built accelerometers and a TV-mounted sensor, we could even find ourselves waving them around in some kind of tennis simulation game. Sounds familiar…