OCT. 05, 2007 • In the console hardware battle one of the key distinguishing features is software that is exclusive to a particular platform. Therefore, DFC Intelligence is taking a close look at the software development efforts of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. This month we are focusing on the Nintendo Wii and first-party titles being developed for the platform by Nintendo Co. Ltd.

With the success of the Nintendo DS and Wii it is easy to forget that Nintendo’s real dominance has always been as a software publisher. In the 32/64-bit generation of the late 1990s, Nintendo was far and away the market share leader, even at a time when its hardware system was a distant second in the marketplace. This was amazing because other software publishers develop games for multiple systems and the PC. Nintendo only develops software for its own platforms.

It was only with the rise of the PlayStation 2, and the third place showing for the GameCube, that Electronic Arts was able to surpass Nintendo in software revenue. This changed in 2006. In fiscal 2007, Nintendo’s software revenue once again passed Electronic Arts at over $3.1 billion. However, most of this was because of the DS. Because the Wii launched in limited supply in late 2006, console software revenue was well below, not only the late 1990s, but the height of the GameCube in the 2002-2004 period.

By the end of fiscal 2008 this coming March, Nintendo forecasts it will have shipped more Wii systems than it did for the entire lifespan of the GameCube. Clearly this means that Nintendo will likely be back in a big way as the software publishing force of both portable and console market. Investors are clearly expecting big things and Nintendo’s stock price has been driven up to nose bleed heights. Considering that, most of Nintendo’s profit is from software there is clearly a key focus on products that Nintendo is publishing for the Wii.

The main thing to note about the product lineup for the Wii is that Nintendo’s key franchises are coming out for the system very rapidly. This is in contrast to the Nintendo 64 where Super Mario 64 was a huge launch title, but Nintendo had no follow-up act. It took two years for a Zelda title to be released on the N64 and the Metroid franchise never made and appearance. The Wii already has stellar Zelda and Metroid titles. It took over a year for both these franchises to appear on the GameCube.

Of course, Mario is Nintendo’s biggest franchise and so far he has not made a major appearance on the Wii. That will change shortly, however. Mario has already appeared in a Wii sports game (Mario Strikers Charged), a party game (Mario Party 8) and an RPG (Super Paper Mario). Nevertheless, these were just teasers for the big guns. The biggest launch title for the GameCube was Super Smash Bros. Melee. Its sequel will be an important holiday title and along with the epic adventure Super Mario Galaxy, will bring Mario to the Wii in full force. Mario Kart Wii looks to be the first major Nintendo product of 2008.

Nintendo has also released console versions of some of its key portable franchises such as Pokemon, Fire Emblem and Advance Wars/Battalion Wars. These games are generally better suited for the portable platforms, but they help add some diversity to the Wii lineup.

It should be noted that many of Nintendo’s core franchises were available for the GameCube, but the system still finished in third place. Clearly with the Wii, Nintendo has expanded its focus. Wii Sports was bundled in with the Wii and gave the system a great deal of mass market buzz. The best-selling Wii title through the first part of 2007 was actually Wii Play. This collection of mini games was a mediocre product, but it came with an extra Wii Remote and showed off some nifty controller tricks.

New control schemes have been a major part of the Wii’s success. With the Wii, Nintendo is putting a major focus on accessories that expand the play options. For holiday 2007, one of the big new accessories is the $20 Wii Zapper which will come bundled with Link’s Crossbow Training.

However, the biggest new accessory for the Wii will appear in Japan on Dec.1 for ¥8,800 ($75), the Balance Board. The Balance Board will come bundled with Wii Fit. Release dates in Europe and the U.S. were not announced, but it is expected to be at least in the $100 range. The Balance Board is about the size and shape of a typical bathroom scale and it looks to be a true fitness product. At the very least Wii Fit and the Balance Board will give the Wii all kinds of new mass market buzz. Furthermore, as an active product, it will definitely appeal to families and parents that feel video games are not healthy. Therefore, Wii Fit and the Balance Board are the next critically important examples of how the Wii is different than the traditional video game console.

Online games have never been a major focus for Nintendo systems, as the company has felt the mass market is not really demanding online play. Nevertheless, the Wii comes with a surprisingly strong online component. However, so far, actual online game play has not been a major focus. The first Nintendo title to support online game play was Pokemon Battle Revolution, released in June. Consumers that love to play FPS titles like Halo or Call of Duty online will find the Wii Wi-Fi Connection service clearly lacking when compared with Xbox Live or PlayStation Network.

However, the Wii comes with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity and it is just as easy to hook a Wii up to the Internet as it is for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Instead of focusing on online game play, Nintendo has so far focused on the community and digital distribution features that an online connection can provide. The Virtual Console is Nintendo’s way of offering consumers the ability to purchase classic titles from not only Nintendo platforms, but also the Sega Genesis and NEC TurboGrafx 16. Consumers buy Wii Points cards at retailers for $20 for 2,000 points.

Games can be downloaded from the Virtual Console service at about 500 Wii Points for NES, 600 for TurboGrafx, 800 for SNES and Genesis, and 1,000 for Nintendo 64 titles. The Virtual Console games are being introduced on a gradual basis of about three per week. By fall 2007 there were about 150 classic games available for download to the Wii.

The Wii has also focused on community features with its concept of channels. The Mii Channel allows users to create 3D avatars of themselves which can then be exchanged with friends or incorporated into games. Compared with a service like the upcoming PlayStation Home, the Miis are crude. However, they are simple and fun to use. Other community features include services like the Everybody Votes Channel where users can respond to questions and compare their answers to every other Wii user. Finally there is full Internet surfing via the downloadable (for 500 Wii Points) Opera Web browser. In short, the Wii is not the cutting edge of online, but it may offer enough features to keep the average consumer happy. In the mass-market consumer-oriented entertainment business, a product does not always need to push the bleeding edge.