Nintendo aiming Wii at 'average American'

Nintendo aiming Wii at 'average American'

Nintendo remains one of the most recognizable gaming brands in the world, and unlike its major competitors Sony and Microsoft, it remains devoted solely to the video game space.

When Sony and Microsoft introduced DVD movie playback to consoles, Nintendo ignored the convergence opportunity. Now, with Sony and Microsoft in a costly high-definition gaming battle with high-end consoles, Nintendo is aiming for the mass market with Wii, a $250 console that comes with a game and offers innovative gameplay options via a motion-sensor controller.

As a bonus, every Wii console that ships will make money for Nintendo, a feat that neither Sony nor Microsoft is expected to accomplish over the next-generation console life cycle.

Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo of America vp marketing and corporate affairs, says that Wii is targeting everyone, in the fall and beyond. She says the new console is for Nintendo fanboys as well as for lapsed gamers who found new controllers too complex. The device also is for new gamers who have never tried interactive entertainment.

Nintendo will reach out to all of these demographics through an extensive marketing campaign that will focus on getting Wii in the hands of as many consumers as possible.

"Our console isn't the most powerful box on the market -- we'll let Sony and Microsoft fight that battle," Kaplan says. "Instead, we've designed Wii for the average American."

Kaplan is targeting that mainstream audience with initiatives that will place Wii kiosks in malls nationwide as well as in traditional gaming, electronics and mass-market retailers. She says there will be events that will target specific consumers groups who will be able to play Wii at gatherings that sound like Tupperware parties.

"We had editors from Good Housekeeping and Vanity Fair attend our Wii launch event in New York City," Kaplan says. "Outlets like those have never covered our games before."

All of the big game publishers are on board with Wii, and developers are finding an assortment of ways to allow consumers to interact with the device. For racing games like "Excite Truck," the remote controller is used like a steering wheel, while Ubisoft's shooter "Red Steel" uses the remote like a gun. A second controller, called the nunchuck, enables gamers to control the action in other ways. About 40% of Wii games will require both controllers, Kaplan says. Activision's "Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam," which was designed from the ground up for Wii, uses the remote like a skateboard for pulling off big tricks.

Anyone can swing a bat or point a remote at the TV, as opposed to mastering the buttons on a sophisticated controller, and that opens up a huge audience for Nintendo in every territory. Of Nintendo's 4 million hardware units, the company is expected to ship as many as 2 million Wii consoles to the U.S. in the fall.

Nintendo has said that 6 million Wii consoles will ship by the end of March, but analysts believe that Nintendo will face no launch problems and should be able to feed the international markets with many more Wii consoles by then.

Nintendo also is embracing online support for the first time on a console as each Wii is equipped with WiFi capabilities (Nintendo DS also supports WiFi gaming). The focus at launch will be on the sale of digitally distributed games from NES, Super NES and Nintendo 64 that will cost from $5-$10 each on Wii's Virtual Console. In addition to Nintendo, Sega and Hudson Soft games, Activision and others are expected to sell classic games via Wii's Virtual Console.