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The Business of Play

Game On


Published March 7, 2007 at 5:00 p.m.

Nintendo's not playing around.

Before the Wii launched, financial analysts such as Merrill Lynch expected the system to retail for $199, maybe even less. The trouble with that wild guessing was that Nintendo never had a reason to sell the Wii for less than $249 - its current price. With a bottom-end Xbox 360 selling for $299 and a new PlayStation 3 landing on the shelves starting at $499, Nintendo can sell a machine for anything less than 300 bucks and have consumers look at the purchase as a real gaming deal.

"Wii Play" shows up months after the console's launch to prove the point. For $49, you get nine little games packaged with one extra controller. Anyone who has played the Wii knows that the system shows its best face when a roomful of people get together and enjoy some multiplayer fun. Oddly, the Wii shipped with only one controller. And even though you can play "pass-the-controller" in games such as bowling or golf on "Wii Sports," the fact remains: more controllers equal more fun.

Nintendo solved this problem by selling "Wii Play," an add-on package that provides the missing piece. The genius of this plan: It lets Ninetndo hang onto a value-price point while still keeping the revenue rolling in. So, instead of selling a $300 Wii with two controllers and setting a retail price dangerously close to the Xbox, Nintendo just held back on the missing controller and offered it as an extra that every Wii owner in the world will want.

Much like "Wii Sports" - the game that came packed in with the original system - "Wii Play" bundles nine simple games that show off the system's technology. Some of the games - including shooting, pool and air hockey - work well. Others - like fishing and cow racing - seem a little like Web-game castoffs. "Pose Mii" and "Find Mii," which use bobblehead cartoon avatars players create for themselves, are actually as fun as they are weird.

Whether or not you consider "Wii Play" a gimmick to sell controllers or a perfect set of party games, Nintendo's strategy seems to be working. With close to 5 million Wiis shipped globally and a maddening shortage of units in the stores, gamers can't seem to get enough of the Wii. As much as Sony and Microsoft had hoped to push the base price of the home game system up, Nintendo has shown that $250 remains the more popular figure.

This might seem like dull boardroom banter. But under-standing a little about the business of games can help to explain what's going on in the industry. You can sit and wonder why Nintendo would release another collection of OK, casual games rather than worrying about getting another "Mario" or "Metroid" on the shelves. "Wii Play" finishes the job of packing up the Wii that should have shipped in the first place.

Who's It For: If you have a Wii and any friends, you'll want "Wii Play."

If You Like This, Try That: "Wii Play" provides loads of fun in a simple package. The recently released online Wii channel, "Everybody Votes," lets players vote on simple questions (Cats or dogs?), and then compares their answers to global results. Simple, silly and supremely enjoyable.

Best Part: In a world of ever-increasing graphic quality, the decidedly low fidelity of the Wii's graphics have started to grow on players. Who cares about levels of detail when you're playing a game that has all the visual charm - and enjoyment - of an arcade game from the '80s?

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