Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!

Right now the Nintendo Wii seems like the perfect case study in approaching a problem from a different angle. With everyone else spending their time trying to figure out how to pack more power than a Ferrari into a little box, Nintendo decided to take a different approach and it seems to be paying off.

What they did is spend a lot of time looking at the video game market, something they once lead by 20 lengths, and reassessed it. They examined the market and realized that hardcore gamers were driving the choices of its biggest competitors (Microsoft and Sony). They were the ones demanding more power and life-like games.

According to Time Magazine amongst the questions the Nintendo folks asked themselves is “Why do people who don’t play video games not play them?” The article continues:

[Nintendo president] Iwata has been asking himself, and his employees, that question for the past five years. And what Iwata has noticed is something that most gamers have long ago forgotten: to nongamers, video games are really hard. Like hard as in homework. The standard video-game controller is a kind of Siamese-twin affair, two joysticks fused together and studded with buttons, two triggers and a four-way toggle switch called a d-pad. In a game like Halo, players have to manipulate both joysticks simultaneously while working both triggers and pounding half a dozen buttons at the same time. The learning curve is steep.

So they did the obvious: They rebuilt the controller from the ground up. No one had actually considered that up to this point, all the biases of the industry had prevented them from seeing a seemingly simple alternative. Instead of one of those confusing controllers with 62 buttons, they built a simple one that looks just like the remote control you know and love. The catch on this special controller is the built-in motion sensor, after all, what could be easier than swinging your arm around to control a game?

They took an approach similar to the one Gordon Rugg took to solve a code that had been plaguing mathematicians for centuries. Rugg’s method, which he called ‘The Verifier Approach’ involves three easy steps: “watching how they work and think, testing their logic, and uncovering ways to help them solve problems.”

Shifting gears for one quick second, one of my favorite marketing stories is probably not true, but it goes something like this: P.T. Barnum or another equally mythic figure bought a tuna fish company. At the time, every other tuna brand on the market had grey tuna. There was nothing wrong with it, that was just the color it was for whatever reason. Needing to find a way to compete [insert mythic figure here] decided to change the conversation and came up with the slogan “never goes grey.” All of a sudden the world everyone once knew had been flipped on its head. Disregarding any ethical issues for a second, the point I walk away with is sometimes you just need to change the conversation.

That’s what they did. They changed the conversation and in doing so created one of the most amazing gaming systems I’ve ever experienced. I have played a fair amount of Wii in the last two weeks and the magic of it doesn’t seem to go away. It’s a system made for social play, it makes people smile. It inspires people to create ads for free.

The only problem: They’re all sold out.

Update (2/6/07): It must be Wii day because Steven Johnson wrote up a few thoughts on the new system as well.

February 6, 2007

Comments

  • amber says:

    what an amazing post! as a person who never got past Super Mario World, it makes me want to re-explore video games. I also like the tuna fish story. a lot.

  • harris says:

    I heard it was white salmon being sold; “won’t go pink in the can.”

    Is the conference room free?

  • Noah Brier says:

    Amber, glad you liked the story, as Harris reminded me, I heard it on West Wing and it may have been salmon and it may have been white, not grey. But who’s counting?

    And for the record, I was in the conference room playing Wii when Harris asked this.

  • Chet Gulland says:

    for realz. don’t know if you’ve read Smartbomb, but the section on the rise of Nintendo in the 80’s is pretty amazing. Shigeru Miyamoto is a god, and the wii follows in his legacy – it’s incredible. one of the most interesting companies ever.

    and don’t forget about the powerglove. that was a conversation changer that only suffered from immature technology. that thing was a dream! it just didn’t work that well.

  • Chet Gulland says:

    …turns out miyamoto is still active at nintendo – i thought he was more or less out of the picture these days. what a guy.

  • candice says:

    Also in the way before its time club: The Virtual Boy.

    Though I like the current stand in front of the giant screen phenomena much better. (Or the curl up on the sofa playing halo thing.)

  • Noah Brier says:

    Chet, here’s a great interview with Shigeru. And you want the sad truth on the Power Glove? I never tried it . . .

    Candice, what was Virtual Boy?

  • jeff says:

    Do they have Wichelle Wiiii Golf?

  • Noah Brier says:

    I’m sure it’s in the works . . . They do have a golf game and it’s actually pretty damn fun.

  • Erik says:

    Nintendo developed the Wii not by giving it’s core customers or new consumers what the customers said they wanted, but what Nintendo inferred they wanted. An example of a corporation hearing their customers and not just listening (or is that the other way around?).

    Almost every time a new feature of the Wii was revealed (e.g. the remote, the attachments, the name change), video game blogs mocked and belittled Nintendo in a knee-jerk fashion. Nintendo kept on truckin’, whereas Sony redesigned (regressed?) the PS3 controller in response to blogs and the comments they received.

    Just thought I’d needle you in your blogosphere by mentioning Nintendo brought a great product to market by knowing when it was right and proper to ignore you…or at least give you some time. ;)

    You didn’t have the Power Glove, but you did have U-Force.

  • Bonnie in Albuquerque says:

    I am one of those people who stopped playing a lot of games because they took too much effort to learn how to do them or just did not interest me. I play video games to get my brain off the academic stuff, not to think :) I love the Wii!!! Got one for Hanukkah and have truly enjoyed the simplicity of the games and how much fun they are. Even my 4 year old nephew and 66 year old mom can enjoy in the fun too. I also love how it looks….so simple….great post, makes me want to go home at lunch and play

  • candice says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_boy

    (knowing about this reveals extreme levels of nerd, sadly.)

  • Karl Long says:

    perfect example of a blue ocean strategy, by bowing out of the 3d arms race that the other industry giants were in they changed the competitive landscape. I’m actually am a pretty hard core gamer, I love halo and gears of war, but I also love the Wii. The Wii is a much more social device, I was hanging out at a friends house for the super bowl and afterward we all played Wii bowling and Wii Boxing, and i’ve never had so much fun watching someone else playing a video game.

    I actually think that the clues to Nintendos strategy stem from the Nintendo DS, and it’s blockbuster game Brainage. That was the game that suddenly took aim at a much larger market of the baby boomers and totally ignored traditional game demographics. Same for Nintendogs as well.

  • El Gaffney says:

    Awesome. I also think it’s about Changing Behavior. Or at least about not being deterred by the fact that “they don’t do that.” Iwata set out to make something so great that it would get the people who don’t play video games to play them—sounds like that was a primary objective, not a “nice to have.” It started with Nintendo not being afraid to Change the Target.

  • Josh says:

    It’s interesting to me how in the video game world, Nintendo sort of occupies the same valence that Apple does/did in the personal computer world: They’re revolutionary, they set the bar for their competitors, and they’re the sales underdog (aren’t they? I have lots of friends with PlayStations, but not many with Nintendos of any kind), but they have a devoted fan base who keeps coming back for the same quality of product.

    (This is a random thought; I’m sure there are plenty of holes that could be poked in it.)

  • Jarrett says:

    My brother has a Virtual Boy somewhere if you’d like to try it out. Mario Tennis was great.

  • range says:

    Like the analysis.
    Between you and me, I do have an Xbox 360 that I enjoy playing from time to time. But I did have a Gamecube and I am planning on getting a Wii in the next few weeks. They are not sold out and PS3s and Wiis are easy to get in Taiwan.

    The only problem I have is getting US games from my North American Xbox 360.

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