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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Wii Gamers are Going Home

Based on the lines to try the Wii at E3 last week, it seems safe to say that Nintendo won the three-way competition for attention hands down. Without any doubt, the system looks like a load of fun, and I'm already planning to pre-order one. I'm sure I won't be alone. It would be easy to credit the novelty of the controller and Nintendo's franchise games, but I think there's something else going on.

I think serious gamers are going home.

Gamers love playing games. Most of us would rather play games than watch movies or TV. It's not that we're spending too much time on pointless activities, it's that we're spending our entertainment time in different ways.

Based on the price and features of the PS3, though, it is clear that Sony is more interested in building a home entertainment center than a game system. It's all about Blue-ray DVDs and HDTV...oh yeah, and it plays games. $600 may not be much for a machine that does all that, but if what you're primarily interested in is games, it's preposterous.

The Xbox 360 is better at being a game machine. It's less of a jack-of-all-trades than the PS3, with some upgradeability to add future features. Although the media center integration distracts a little from its primary purpose, those features haven't caused any delays or added expense because of DRM or extraneous components. The 360 is $400, but I can imagine maybe getting one eventually.

Nintendo is the only company that's really talking solely about games, and gamers who are interested solely in games are listening. This has been Nintendo's mantra all along, but people are only just now starting to notice. I began predicting this sort of market shift a long time ago: that MS and Sony would continue moving further and further upscale, with an increasing focus on producing the elusive set-top box entertainment hub, eventually leaving Nintendo as the lone game console company.

That hasn't quite come to pass yet, but from the directions the three companies are taking, and the statements their executives are making, it's easier to foresee that happening in the next generation.

Personally, I'll be glad to go back to Nintendo. The online library they're offering will give me a great chance to relive beloved classics, as well as try out games I missed the first time around. I predict there will be lots of 30-something gamers who are similarly nostalgic about our childhood games, and who are more interested in gaming than watching.

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