Harvard Hero Moment #5: Wii-th or Wii-thout you

Ben Roberts

25 Sep 2019

In 2006, Nintendo was a company struggling. The immense power of major rivals Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation had left Nintendo on the back foot. Nintendo’s console before the Wii was the Gamecube, which – while loved by Nintendo fanboys like me – had gained very little traction. It looked weird, had tiny discs and didn’t have the graphics to match the PlayStation 2 or Xbox. Then the Wii was released, and everything changed. Since its launch, the console has sold over 100 million units, making it the third most popular home console of all time. To put its success into perspective, it sold almost five times the amount the GameCube did. How did Nintendo do it? It did what every great tech company does in that environment. It innovated.

The Wii

Unsurprisingly, Shigeru Miyamoto played a major role in the new console’s development. Miyamoto is somewhat of a god in gaming. He’s the designer behind Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong. he mentored the individual behind Pokémon and so much more. With his creative mind among many others, Nintendo completely transformed how gaming worked. Its Wii Remote controller used a combination of accelerometers and infrared to determine movement within a 3D space. What that basically means is that if you swung your Wii remote like a tennis racket, it could understand what you were doing. It completely revolutionised what people thought was possible with games. Imagine wielding a sword and shield, or holding a bow and arrow, or trying to flip a pancake!

The Magic

The truth is, the real magic from the Wii was opening up gaming to entirely new audiences – arguably the holy grail for games and console developers. Many of you will have sat around the TV with friends, parents, grandparents and children all playing Wii Tennis or Wii Bowling; screaming expletives at elderly relatives as they slam another strike (or was that just me?). It achieved this not by producing highly accurate body movement trackers – which both Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move tried to achieve – but by capturing the imagination of people. You didn’t need a huge gaming skillset to access the games; they just worked and were fun. Crucially, however, there was also depth too for the keener gamers. Just look at Mario Kart as a perfect example where everyone loves it, but everyone also has “that friend” (me) who can’t be beaten. And games like Mario Galaxy and Resident Evil 4 stack up as some of the best games ever made. I’m getting emotional thinking about them.

Thank you, Nintendo

While people might say that the control mechanisms ultimately haven’t lasted, it changed how people thought about gaming entirely. It also opened up casual gaming, which I believe many smartphone games should be thankful for. I love the Wii more than I can put into words. It truly is a Hall of Famer in the tech world. And that’s why the Wii gets my vote for a tech hero moment.