Remember the good old days when mature consoles cost around $100 with a game? I do. You know, back when the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo came in the sort of oblong boxes you're more likely to find an imitation guitar in nowadays?
Imagine if Nintendo's Wii suddenly pulled a late-twentieth-century and plummeted to $100. The system still costs $200 today, bundled with Nintendo's "best-selling video game of all time," Wii Sports. "Of all time" because you buy a Wii, you can't not buy a copy.
EA boss John Riccitiello thinks a price cut is all that's needed to rejuvenate slumping Wii sales. While the Wii continued to outpace both Microsoft and Sony in 2010 (it was only surpassed by the Xbox 360 in recent months, and then only slightly) its year-on-year numbers have been less than exemplary.
"I would say [Nintendo] did exceptionally well in '07 and '08, [but] started tapering in '09 and '10," Riccitiello told Industry Gamers recently. "I think if they were to price down to $99, they would explode."
Riccitiello attributes the Wii's sales downswing to "gesture-based gaming" competition in the form of Sony's Move and Microsoft's Kinect. He also wishes Nintendo would "promote third-party content better."
But is it incumbent on Nintendo to promote EA's games? What about EA's promotional strategy? The third-party video gaming titan lists 72 Wii titles on its website. Ever heard of NERF N-Strike? Rango? Create? EASA NFL Training Camp? NFS Nitro? Littlest Pet Shop? Boogie SuperStar? Yeah, neither have I.
The more salient question--the one EA ought to be asking, and no doubt is in private--is the one Nielsen went after in a recent survey that pinned console use to the wall.
While the Wii was the "most played" console (as a subset of total console functionality), its metered per week use averaged just 1.4 hours compared with 4.9 hours and 4.1 hours for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation respectively.
So people are buying the Wii in droves, but as we've long suspected, they're just not playing it that much.
Drop the price on the Wii and you'll reinvigorate sales, it's practically a foregone conclusion. But if Nielsen's metered usage numbers are sound, and they're certainly the best I've seen, the Wii has A Brief History of Time's problem: Selling more of less, as in more of a product consumers are in reality spending less time with.
It's hard to say what the impact of that on the industry might be rolling forward, but customers that buy tons of something they end up hardly using probably aren't reliable customers the next time around.
This story, "Would you buy a $99 Wii? Would you play it?" was originally published by PCWorld.