A funny thing's been happening this holiday season: my older relatives are suddenly telling me they're getting a Wii.
I don't know how it happened, or why, and it frankly baffles me. The Nintendo Wii is a system which, in the eyes of many, has jumped the trendiness shark. Systems aren't selling out like they used to, and Nintendo's profits have even been dipping. There aren't that many games this holiday as opposed to other years, although Nintendo's done a nice job with titles such as Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Kirby's Epic Yarn.
And yet two of my older relatives are buying Wiis. Here's the even odder part--neither of them play video games.
My mother-in-law says she wants to use the Wii Fit to be more active. My cousin says he's discovered that bowling and tennis in Wii Sports are fun to play with friends. These sound like marketing taglines from Nintendo in seasons past, and yet I've been listening to my family recite them to me this holiday. These are family members who shy away from shiny gadgets, and generally don't buy much tech at all. (Note: when I tried to explain the Kinect or PlayStation Move to them, I received blank stares).
Incidentally, it all reminded me of a dinner with Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America's president, that several journalists, myself included, attended a few weeks ago. Mr. Fils-Aime is, not surprisingly, convinced that people of all ages are still attracted to Nintendo's games because of their family focus and ease of use.
This isn't a new stance for Nintendo: In fact, it's several years old. We've all read about nursing homes using the Wii and Wii Fit appealing to a wide demographic, but I assumed that was last year's trend.
I've been a bit skeptical about Nintendo's foothold in an Apple age of iOS devices and cheap apps, but Mr. Fils-Aime might still be right, even in a season in which everyone's been writing Nintendo off.
While Nintendo's overall profits might not reach their former levels, there's a possibility of a very long tail here when it comes to appealing to an older generation. My mom still uses her Palm Pilot despite also owning an iPhone, and my father-in-law faithfully and proudly sticks by his older Nokia phone. If Nintendo can win over some of my family, there's a good chance it'll keep them as loyal users for years. I'm not sure how many games my mother-in-law and cousin will buy after their initial purchase (my guess is none), but enough of these new customers each year could help keep the Wii alive longer than anyone might expect.
Will iOS games eat Nintendo's lunch? Well, my cousin already has an iPhone and iPad. In fact, this led me to a question I'll ask you: instead of iOS games stealing Nintendo's audience, what if casual games like iOS games are actually serving as the gateway drug for newcomers to try games on systems like the Wii?
We'll have to see what the post-holiday sales numbers indicate, but Nintendo recently announced it sold 2.7 million Wii and DS systems in November, which isn't shabby at all. In fact, according to Nintendo, Thanksgiving week Wii sales were better than in 2009.