Wii, Hollywood ready to play

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Nintendo's next-generation Wii console debuts Monday with a price tag of $250, making it the most affordable of the new consoles on the market.

Wii games top out at $50, with several titles, including "Chicken Little: Ace in the Hole," selling for $40 at launch. That compares with the $60 price point of all PlayStation 3 games and the majority of Xbox 360 games.

While film- and TV-licensed games usually are released a year or two after a new console ships, Wii has changed the dynamic of that strategy. Out of the gate for this year, 11 Hollywood-licensed games based on hit movies or TV shows will be available for Nintendo's new console.

"Nickelodeon is really excited about partnering with Nintendo because we're both very focused on providing family-friendly entertainment, and have been for many years," said Paul Jelinek, vp digital media products at Nickelodeon. "They're a perfect partner for us because they share our creative enthusiasm for innovation. Wii allows us to be a leader creatively in the gaming space, which is a significant area of our focus in offering content to both kids and families."

Unlike Sony's PlayStation 3, which launched at midnight Thursday for $500 and $600, and Microsoft's Xbox 360, which retails for $300 and $400, Nintendo has targeted the mass-market consumer from Day 1. Industry observers said Sony and Microsoft will get around to the casual gamer, once their price points drop. That's when more Hollywood-licensed product will enter their respective pipelines. Microsoft does have an Xbox 360 "Cars" game from THQ, an "Eragon" game from Vivendi Games and a "Superman Returns" game from Electronic Arts out this month.

By comparison, games ready to go for the Wii platform include titles based on the film and TV properties "Dragon Ball Z," "Cars," "Happy Feet," "Open Season," "Barnyard," "Chicken Little," "Ice Age: The Meltdown," "The Ant Bully," "Avatar: The Last Airbender," "SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature From the Krusty Krab" and "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy."

David Zucker, president of Midway Games -- which has three Hollywood-licensed Wii games -- said the technology is easier and less expensive to get the games developed for Wii than Xbox 360 or PS3.

"When you see 'Happy Feet,' it's made for the Wii," Zucker said. "It's sledding and dancing and all of this kind of stuff that you can do with the game. It's a dream for a developer to incorporate this type of gameplay into a Wii game."

The heart of the Wii is its motion-sensor controller, which allows gamers to physically interact with the onscreen characters in new ways. Players can connect more directly with film and TV characters with this one-handed controller, which works great for gamers, kids, adults and nongamers alike.

"When we took a look at the Wii -- the interface and the controller mechanism, combined with the accessibility of the console from both an affordable price and the hardware accessibility for launch -- we believe that this is going to ramp up much faster with kids titles than previous platforms," said Bob Aniello, senior vp worldwide marketing at THQ.

"We're very bullish about the adoption of Wii with kids under the age of 14 this year," he said, "and when you look at what the big brands for these kids, it's really Disney/Pixar and Nickelodeon that stand out."

Nintendo will have 4 million Wiis available worldwide for this year with the majority targeted at the U.S. market. That's double the number of PS3 that Sony has said it will ship this year. When you factor in the low price point and the pick-up-and-play controls, Nintendo has the potential to grow the gaming market with Wii like it is growing the portable market with Nintendo DS Lite. To ensure that consumers know all about the Wii, the Japanese giant is spending $200 million to market the console throughout the holidays.

Such game companies as Atari, Ubisoft, Midway, THQ, Buena Vista Games and Vivendi Games also will be able to ride on the coattails of Hollywood film and TV marketing for their Wii titles. Consumers already are familiar with these brands, and Wii adds a new gameplay twist to the experience that other current or next-generation consoles simply can't match.

Jelinek said Wii marks a tipping point that offers a new way for Hollywood studios to reach a broader audience that encompasses both kids and families.

"Wii has also allowed us to creatively innovate with these games and make the interactive experience that much more immersive for consumers," he said.
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