Who Watches the Watchmen?

WiiWinningBig news in the next-gen console wars this week: Nintendo’s Wii has come out from a late start and overtaken the Xbox 360, becoming the highest selling next-gen console out there with some 9 million units sold, compared with Xbox 360’s 8.9 million and the Sony PS3’s 3.7 million, according to the Financial Times. (According to VG Chartz, the numbers are 11.54 million Wiis, 10.95 million Xbox 360s, and 4.6 million PS3s.)

What I find most interesting about this is that, nine months ago, across the board, most analysts were spot on wrong in their predictions preceding last November about what would happen when the PS3 and Wii were released. The Yankee Group published a report in August claiming that, by 2011, 11 million Wiis would have been sold, compared a virtual impossibility unless Nintendo stops production today. JupiterResearch also predicted lackluster results for the Wii, saying that it would control only 7 percent of the console market share in 2008, compared with 26 percent for Xbox 360 and 17 percent for PS3. It almost makes me wish I’d consulted the Psychic Cat on the Santa Monica Promenade in order to see how her predictions matched up to most industry analysts.

Before everyone gets all angry with me for suggesting that major industry analysts misguessed the popularity of the next-gen consoles, claiming that, out of all of them Wii would sell the worst, let me say this:

I bet if you examined gamers, the analysts’ numbers would be correct.

Instead, what we’ve seen is that the Wii is increasingly being purchased by those outside of normal gamer demographics (it’s worth noting that we have a generation of new parents right now that grew up playing Nintendo’s original NES, and that may affect it was well). Outside of non-standard gamer demographics, though, the console is even being adopted to fit non-standard applications for gaming consoles. It’s being used by retirement homes as an alternative social activity, it’s being used by schools as a physical education supplement. Heck, it’s even being used by physical therapists to treat stroke victims.The reason it’s so popular right now isn’t that it’s strictly beating the other gaming consoles. It’s that the Wii is attracting an audience that probably wouldn’t have purchased them in the first place.

I’ve always been a big believer that the Wii isn’t a competitor to gaming consoles like the PS3 and the Xbox 360. The Wii is simple, intuitive and rather non-complex; every iteration of the Playstation and Xbox gaming consoles has shown an increase in the amount of buttons on controllers. The Wii has an almost rudimentary graphics engine; the PS3 and Xbox 360 have graphic engines and processors that, if not better than most standard personal computers, certainly presents a strong rivalry.

And that, really, is why I think the analysts were wrong. They didn’t take into account the fact that consumers usually outside of the sphere of gamers would be interested in purchasing the Wii. That maybe, by its very nature, it would appeal to people who didn’t care about bigger and better graphics or the ability to do more with the buttons on their controllers. And that, maybe, Nintendo had accurately predicted a very lucrative consumer segment ripe for the picking.