Top 25 "It" products of all time: #9 -- The Wii

I am the benchmark. By the time a consumer electronic product makes it into my hands, you know it's become a cultural icon. And so it is with the Wii.

Because I'm not playing. I don't care about TV, video games, electronics or being at all hooked-in to today's world. I'd heard of Wii, of course. But I wasn't interested. At. All. I didn't care how many accolades I read, how much hype was thrown at me. I would not have anything to do with Nintendo's Wii.

As is always the case with these things, however, it's the younger generation that bring us along, kicking and screaming.

My kids got their first taste of Wii at friends' house (everyone else seems to have one already.) And by the time our neighbor brought hers over for the kids to play, you'd have thought she'd offered them free Disneyland passes for life. After watching them play Wii bowling for an hour, I let myself be talked into trying it myself. And normally I don't even like bowling.
I haven't had that much fun on a weeknight since my last Christmas party. Soon thereafter the girl got one for her birthday, and we officially became just another North American Wii household.

One of Nintendo's stated goals in creating the Wii was to broaden the playing audience. Just after the product launched in North America in November, 2006, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata told a panel, "The thing we're thinking about most is not portable systems, consoles and so forth, but that we want to get new people playing games." The company has succeeded in doing that.

And it's changed the nature of gaming forever. With its easy set-up and cool interactivity, it lends itself to a much wider audience than that of standard console games. It's a product that will help me with my yoga practice (and Wii yoga ain't for sissies!) while also enabling my son and his friends to kill Super Mario, or whatever. You gotta love a product that embraces different generations.

This was all part of Nintendo's gamble. Long the under-dog to Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo decided to break out of the box (pun intended) and develop something new. First, it decided that not everyone wanted to blow things up for fun, and secondly, that maybe not everyone needed first-rate graphics to play a game. What about softer games in a more casual setting? And what about capturing motion instead of relying on buttons and joysticks to move characters? Rumors of something different started percolating back in 2004, and by the time Wii was ready to hit the stores, you could taste the froth coming out of the mouths of a million fanboys. The hype was overwhelming. There were nowhere near the consoles to meet demand in North America or Europe.

The company has made inroads on the supply side. Even so, the juggernaut of Wii demand may be slowing due to huge unemployment and general tightening of purse strings. Nintendo recently slashed its forecast for full-year-sales of the forecasts by a million units, estimating it will sell 26.5 million instead of the earlier forecast 27.5 million.

Also, critics say that by bringing the soccer mom and her young kids into the fold the company has alienated its hard-core gamer audience, but I think that's short-sighted. The hype of Wii has kept the Nintendo brand relevant, which in turn always helps when you're trying to further push the envelope. In the meantime, mainstream consumers are still plunking down nearly $300 for a console and $50 per game to keep everyone's Wii lust in check. That's not hurting anyone's bottom line. And how many of those elementary school kids are going to turn into hard-core gamers in a few short years? I don't want to think about it.

Back to my yoga mat. Wii need to mediate.

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