July 24, 2008, 5:26 PM — The Wii is a genuine phenomenon -- no doubt about it. Nintendo has created the least expensive gaming console among the big three players, and yet it is the only company making money off the machine, which continues to fly off shelves.
Every company off-site retreat that we have, our gaming aficionado brings several consoles for the rest of us to play with, and the Wii always draws the biggest after-hours crowd. It's an amazing piece of technology. So why is it that Nintendo can't pack more than half a gigabyte of storage into its system?
According to a blog on Gizmodo today, Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo's U.S. president, said in an interview with MTV that he recognized the "increasing number of Wii owners" who are frustrated by the lack of capacity on their systems for things such as games downloaded from Nintendo's WiiWare service, but he would say no more about any future plans to address the problem.
What's more, even though it has a USB port, the Wii is not compatible with hard drives from third-party manufacturers, and Nintendo officials told users last month that they would not be offering their own external hard drive for the Wii, so there appear to be no future plans for an external capacity upgrade.
I'm a bit puzzled by all of this.
Consumer-grade hard disk drive storage costs 0.38 cents a gigabyte. Solid-state disk goes for US$3.45 a gig. In fact, public relations types regularly send me USB flash drives with a gigabyte or more of memory for free just as a way to get their news releases and product photos out in electronic form. That begs the question: Nintendo, is the issue really that you can't afford to include a little more onboard capacity for the Wii?
Sure you can upgrade using the Wii's SD slot for $19.99 per gigabyte, but with the card comes the onerous chore of game shuffling because you can't execute a game from the SD card. For example, say you're able to fit five games on the console's internal storage and five on the SD card. If you want to play one of the five games on the SD card, you're forced to delete or move one of the games on the console and then copy the game from the SD card to the onboard storage.
Unlike the Xbox, which has a 20GB, 60GB or 120GB internal drive, the Wii seems to have not been built to be upgraded for capacity. A little shortsighted if you ask me. The bottom line is that when a $200 iPhone has 8GB of storage capacity and a $250 gaming console has 512MB, there's a pretty obvious technology disparity.
According to our Wii expert, one issue Nintendo may be grappling with is how to balance the need for more storage with its efforts to block piracy by allowing people to copy downloaded games from one Wii to another, but limiting storage capacity is not the answer to copyright infringement.
It may also be true that many gamers may not have hit the storage limitation on their Wii consoles yet, but it won't be long before they do with the uptick in downloads. Yet, while addressing that very issue last month, the Wii's European marketing director pulled a smooth move by insulting frustrated Wii owners, referring to them as "geeks and otaku" (Otaku is a term the Japanese use to refer to people with obsessive interests). I understand that he later apologized. But Nintendo appears to show disdain toward hardcore gamers. Maybe they just prefer the casual weekend crowd.
Nintendo needs to recognize that gamers are by nature always seeking the next big adventure, a greater challenge, and that limiting the vehicle for that may eventually lead gamers to alternate gaming universes.