Nintendo’s strange gambit

With about 50 million Wiis in the world (compared to 30 million Xbox 360s and 21 million PS3s) you'd think Nintendo would be patting itself on the back and maybe rewarding their customers. Instead, in what could very well be the stupidest move ever made by a gaming company, Nintendo has actually announced plans to raise their price by around $40 in the U.K. market, ostensibly to compensate for the drop in value of the British pound. However, prices in Canada haven't changed, at least not yet, despite the fact that our dollar has plummeted about 25 per cent since the Wii was introduced. The U.S. greenback is doing okay - only because it's the world's default currency and foreign nations own too many trillions of it to allow it to collapse - but it's taken a hit as well. Should Americans expect Wii price increases as well?

Electronics purchasers in the U.K. routinely pay a premium for electronics, hardware, software, and other products, and have never been happy about it. Some of the reasons given by manufacturers - e.g. unique specifications in terms of power supply and encoding, higher taxes, higher wages for U.K. staff, higher premiums on distribution, and the cost of translating games into foreign languages for the European market as a whole - ring kind of hollow when you consider how many consoles and games are sold there. While there is probably some truth to those reasons, it's also true that prices are high because people in the U.K. have always shown that they will, however grudgingly, pay a premium.

Now the Wii is in a unique position, with a huge number of installed consoles out there and so much demand that Nintendo still can't keep up with orders two years after launch. They clearly won this round - but only in terms of console sales.

When it comes to buying and playing games, Xbox 360 and PS3 users are spending more, and playing more as well. Some people are still playing their copies of Wii Sports that came with the console, or maybe shelled out some extra cash for Super Mario Galaxy or Super Smash Bros. Third party game companies are having less success with the Wii, and ports of games that play on all three consoles are less popular on the Wii because of issues like graphics and the limitations of the Wiimote controllers. For example, a recent port of the zombie killer Dead Rising to Wii is a shadow of the Xbox 360 version according to reviewers, with far fewer zombies on screen at any given time, poor graphics and sometimes awkward controls.

This matters because console companies have always relied on licensing fees to pad their pockets. It's the reason that both the Xbox 360 and PS3 were sold at a loss in the beginning. It could also be why Nintendo is raising its prices.

But while the Wii was always limited hardware compared to the other consoles, it always had one thing going for it - price. The Wii was the lowest priced next generation console on the market by far - half the price of the PS3 at launch, and about 50 per cent cheaper than the Xbox 360. For people who didn't care about HD graphics and were enamored with the Wiimote it was an obvious, fun, and family friendly choice to make. By raising their price at the same time other consoles are coming down in price, I believe Nintendo is overestimating the lure of their console and its controller. People care about value (e.g. what else you can do besides play games), and about the quality of the games themselves. Nintendo used to have an edge in value even if they were a little short on games, but they've shot that edge in the foot.

The Twitter thing.. .

For some reason it's all about Twitter these days. Members of congress and the senate were twittering from the floor when they were passing the economic stimulus package. Movie stars are twittering, sports stars are twittering, bankers are twittering, and people are sucking up those tweets like they were the nectar of the gods.

Why? Yes you can twitter by computer or by phone, so there's a convenience factor, and twitters have a kind of primal immediacy that social networking sites like Facebook lack - hence the crappy Facebook redesign that nobody I've spoken to likes.

Twitter is text-only, and you're limited to 140 words per tweet, so no doubt the simplicity of it is a draw.

I'll admit that they're good for business, keeping colleagues in immediate touch with each other and head office. And twittering is free so smart phone owners could save a few bucks a month by twittering instead of sending text messages.

Twitter use is currently growing 30 per cent a month, and I can't understand it. When I first wrote about Twitter almost a year ago, exactly zero of my friends were on it and I had no desire to subscribe to feeds. Now? I have exactly one friend on Twitter, and still no desire to subscribe to feeds.

I'll try again next year...

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