Wii Wants You

Nintendo is looking to harness non-gamers with its new console

This has been the biggest holiday season for the video game industry in years. The NPD has cited significant gains in sales during November. Gears of War has gone on to sell 2 million copies worldwide. And perhaps most excitingly, Sony and Nintendo have released their next-generation consoles: the PS3 and the Wii.

The latter system, the Wii, is arguably more intriguing from a marketing perspective. This is due to the fact that Nintendo has repeatedly stated that it's attempting to reach outside of the normal market for games, and expand game playing to everyone. But how exactly are they going to do that? We caught up with Nintendo of America's Anka Dolecki, Director of Public Relations, and discussed all the nitty, gritty details.

Wii want it!

Marketing the Wii offers intriguing possibilities and also perilous uncertainties. How exactly do you handle advertising to a non traditional gaming audience, such as the elderly? "Based on our own experiences and anecdotes we have heard, Wii definitely appeals to people who have never played before," Dolecki responded. "One man at the AARP event you cited hogged a Wii while he finished a full nine-hole round of golf. Wii has a simple, smart interface that everyone can understand the moment they pick it up. There are no complicated buttons to master. And our huge success with Brain Age for DS has shown us that seniors respond when you make fun, interesting applications that appeal to them."

"TV is important, especially with name recognition," she said, moving onto discussing marketing in different media. "But the thrust of our campaign is experiential. If you have played Wii, you know that for people to truly 'get' it, they need to hold it in their hands and try it out for themselves... It's a different kind of approach for a different kind of video game system. Ads on shows such as Oprah, Dr. Phil, and the Today Show."

Dolecki continued, describing Nintendo's so-called viral ambassador program: "Among the special campaigns we've had to get the word out, we have the Wii Ambassador Program. The yearlong initiative identified ambassadors in markets throughout the country. These ambassadors are of three categories: multigenerational families, hard-core gamers and modern moms. During the initial phase, Nintendo hosted events for each ambassador and 30 of his or her closest friends and relatives. The events offered an opportunity for everyday people from all walks of life to play Wii for the first time and share their experiences with others."

"There's also the Wii Mall Experience," Dolecki said. "Through mid-January, Nintendo has set up six interactive Wii kiosks in 25 Westfield shopping centers across the country. Trained representatives will show visitors new ways to play. A complete list of the participating malls is available at wii.nintendo.com. We're also conducting Wii giveaways with 7-Eleven, Pringles, and Comedy Central."

Wii = DS for Home Consoles?

There's been much discussion (and comparison) between the Wii and the DS. Some claim, with a likely amount of correctness, that the success of the latter inspired the creation of the former. Both are what could be labeled as "agile business moves" trying to push out in a new direction in order to secure greater market share and more profits. Only time will tell if this tactic will be just as successful with the Wii as it has been with the DS.

"DS laid the foundation for the Wii and its new gaming interfaces, so we expect there to be a lot of crossover," said Dolecki. "DS reminded people that games were all about the fun experience of playing, and that incremental graphical upgrades were not the way to keep the industry edgy and innovative. And DS remains by far the best-selling video game system in the world. It's too early to say who is buying what, but we expect to see a big adoption rate."

No system can be successful without games, however, and certain key titles (notably Super Smash Bros.

Brawl and Super Mario Galaxy) didn't make it out this holiday season. When asked about the Wii's game lineup, Dolecki responded, "We have a strong library of 33 new Wii games and 30 classic games available during our launch window. And we know there's huge interest in both of the games you mentioned. Expect to hear more about them in the coming year."

"Our aim is to provide a steady stream of top-quality games, both from Nintendo and from our third-party partners," she continued. "We still have some incredible games on the way, such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, WarioWare: Smooth Moves and Mario Party 8, to name just a few. And that's not to mention the new intellectual properties coming from developers worldwide."

The Wii has also suffered from a unique problem of thrown controllers due to a combination of overexcited play and broken wrist straps (see wiihaveaproblem.com). Nintendo has since ordered a recall on 3.2 million Wii Remote straps. When queried about this situation, Dolecki gave the very political response, "Nintendo recognizes that there have been a few instances where controllers have slipped out of people's hands and the wrist strap has broken. We are evaluating the wrist strap to determine how to minimize the risk of breakage when a player lets go of their controller during enthusiastic game play."

Wii still like the GCN and GBA too!

The overarching message for Nintendo appears to be a relatively simple one this holiday season, as simple as they would claim the Wii Remote is to use—appealing to gamers, be they young, old, hardcore, non-traditional or lapsed. And while the $200 million for advertising the Wii turned out to be an erroneous number (that's apparently Nintendo's annual marketing budget), Nintendo is obviously trying hard to get the word out.

But that leaves one final question: what about Nintendo's older systems (GBA, GCN)? The GBA had a very solid November, with over 600k hardware units sold and if there was any time for a last push with the GCN, now would be it. Dolecki offered, "Our focus right now is on Wii and DS, but we have a huge installed base of Game Boy fans. Third-party publishers have tapped into that audience, and we have a library of nearly 950 games for GBA," she said, adding, "Nintendo GameCube owners can also experience The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. "

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