In 2007, I bought a Nintendo Wii, that finally died earlier this year. When I attempted to replace it, what I found was a Wii bit surprising.
1. A Wii Bit of History, and a Wii Decision
In the 90’s we had migrated from the original NES to the SuperNES, and eventually we were able to afford a used ’64.
As the lifecycle of the Nintendo 64 slowly wound down, the choice was to continue with Nintendo, and upgrade to the GameCube, or jump the track and go with a Sony.
The early Playstation systems were slow and bulky. With a 1x CD drive, loading a game could take 5 or 10 minutes. A cartridge-based system was compelling, because you could “pop in” a game, turn it on, and be playing within a minute or two. With young children, cartridge-based systems meant that the games were more durable than CD-based games that could easily be scratched or broken.
By 2000, the Playstation 2 was released, but due to the high cost, Playstation 1 sales were still strong. Meanwhile, the Playstation 1 hardware had improved tremendously, with faster CD drives, more memory, better controllers, and games that ran on much more sophisticated software.
In comparison, the Nintendo GameCube was billed as a next-gen system, and although superior to the N64, it was an evolutionary advancement, rather than a significant leap. It used optical media rather than a cartridge, but the optical format was a proprietary, chopped-down CD, with all of the disadvantages of a CD, and also the capacity limitations of a cartridge. The worst of both worlds. The controllers were an advancement over the N64, but compared to Sony’s ever-evolving DualShock, and eventually the SixAxis controller, the GC controller seemed both limited and awkward. The release titles for the GameCube were standard Nintendo fair, with a few Nintendo franchises and licensees, while the Playstation 1 had a massive library built up over 5+ years.
With a significantly lower price point than the Playstation 2, a much larger library, and technical superiority over the Nintendo GameCube, the Playstation 1 made the most sense.
Eventually, the price point of the Playstation 2 dropped, and the transition to a Playstation 2 seemed like the logical choice, as it was highly-backward compatible with the Playstation 1.
The disadvantage to hopping on to Playstation railways was the lack of Nintendo-only games and licensed franchises.
In 2007, for my son’s birthday, he wanted a GameCube so that he could go back and play some of the “new classics” that he had missed during the Sony era at the Parr household.
With the decreasing price point of the GameCube, it was rather trivial to justify the cost of the console, a couple of controllers, and a memory card.
Knowing that the GameCube’s lifecycle was winding down, the smarter investment was to spend $200 on a Wii.
Having been introduced in late 2006, the Wii was 100% backward compatible with the GameCube, and having just gone through the traditional 6-month post-release price drop, it was a steal at $200, compared to $50 for a GameCube.
Of course, the $200 “bare” system, only included the console, one Wiimote controller, one “nunchuk”, and the Wii Sports game. A couple of GC controllers, a GC memory card, an SD card, and a few games later, it was pretty easy to rack up another $200, yet about $80 of that would have been invested in GC controllers, cards, and games, regardless.
2. Wii Bit the Dust
After 7 and 1/2 years of faithful service, proving countless hours of entertainment, the Wii died.
It didn’t technically die all the way, it just lost the ability to read discs. Considering how long it lasted, this is a good indication of the quality and integrity with which the system was built and designed, and if you think about it, the one part that failed is one of two moving parts in the entire unit: The optical drive and the fan.
The kids are older now, and they primarily play the PS3 or PC-based games, so my wife is the primary user of the Wii.
3. Wii Don’t Have a Good Option
To my surprise, replacing the Wii left me with a number of equally-painful decisions.
3.1. Bad Option #1: Don’t Replace it
As mentioned, my wife is now the primary user, but there are some kids games that are also played, when we have young relatives or neighbors visit.
Considering my wife’s extensive “Just Dance” collection, and the “Easy Button” factor of buying “quiet conversation” by handing a WiiMote or GC controller to a 3-year-old, “Don’t Replace It” is not an option.
3.2. Bad Option #2: Replace With Next Gen (Wii U)
What is the Wii U? It’s the so-called “next gen” version of the Wii.
The Wii U sports better specs, more storage, expanded online capabilities, and a…. thingy. That… you do stuff with. The “thingy” is a “controller screen”, incorporating a d-pad, two analog sticks, some buttons, and a phablet-sized touch screen. What is it? A conphablet? A phabtroller? Who knows? Actually, that’s the problem: no one knows.
The concept is that, perhaps, during a racing game, you could peek down at your controller, which would display a mini map.
Or, during a first-person shooter, you could use the touch screen to see a tactical view, and deploy resources.
In reality, it was too expensive, and no one knew what to do with it!
No major publishers signed with Nintendo, and there were only a few new titles in traditional Nintendo game franchises such as Mario Kart, Zelda / Link, and Super Smash Brothers.
Sales of the Wii U were completely lackluster.
Nintendo announced at one point that it would go the Sega route, becoming a software-only company, and would develop for Sony and Microsoft platforms. They seem to have recanted this year, with the announcement that a “new next gen” console would be announced next year.
On a personal note: Releasing a controller with a built-in display seems to be the death-knell of game companies. I’m looking at YOU, Sega Dreamcast!
Fortunately, in a brilliant move by Nintendo, the Wii U is backward-compatible with Wii titles and controllers, but unfortunately, it’s NOT compatible with GameCube games, accessories, and equipment.
So here is where we stand: A brand new, base Wii U system costs $300. That’s a huge investment in order to play some “Just Dance” titles! Also, I’d lose access to the dozens of GameCube games (e.g. “Mario Sunshine”) that are kid-friendly, and get played occasionally.
Synopsis: The Wii U is an obsolete system with a high price point, and limited compatibility.
3.3. Bad Option #3: Replace New
I bought a brand new base Wii system for $200 in 2007. The current price tag is $240!
The poor market performance and high price tag of the “8th Gen” Wii U drove up prices of the previous “7th Gen ” Wii!
If the difference is $60, between an obsolete end-of-life console and a brand new end-of-life console, I think I’ll choose neither!
3.4. Bad Option #4: Replace with Wii Mini
The Wii Mini is about $90 New, and is a red-cased small-form-factor version of the Wii!
Actually, we bought one.
Then, we found out:
- It DOES NOT support an internet connection, nor any “online” features. It JUST plays disc-based games.
- It DOES NOT support GameCube compatibility
- It DOES NOT support component (RGB-LR) video, and only outputs at 480i on composite (VCR) cable.
- It DOES NOT have support for virtual console, apps, nor any DLC (Note: NO INTERNET! ) You can’t even watch Netflix on it!
So…. what good is it?
Very simply, no good at all! It did come with a spiffy, red “Motion Plus” controller (the newer, upgraded controller). The Wii Mini is a rip-off.
Let’s go through, point-by-point why the Wii Mini is a non-starter.
What marked the 7th Gen consoles? Internet connectivity and online play! Why would you release a “7th Gen” console without 7th Gen features, namely, Internet and social interactivity?
What’s worse, you can’t use any downloaded software or content. No virtual consoles, no retro games, no Netflix. So if you go from a Wii to a Wii Mini, if you have bought ANYTHING in the “Wii Store”, you can’t use it.
In addition, if you have DLC (Downloadable Content) for any of your games, going to a Wii Mini means you lose all of your DLC.
No GameCube Compatibility
For most people, this is not a deal breaker.
HOWEVER, part of the value proposition that led to my original Wii purchase was GameCube compatibility :-/
No Component Video
Again, at first, this doesn’t seem to be a big deal. Let’s recap. The UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT killed the standard-def TV when it killed the analog signal format with the so-called “digital cut-over”. No one watches the big 3.5 networks any longer, all the content moved to cable and the internet, digital gave rise to cord-cutters… and… NO ONE has a standard-def (480i) television any longer.
As a consequence, the “NTSC” Component Video interface is dead. Component “VCR” cables have a yellow video cable, and red / white (or white only) audio cables. The Component Video format supports 480i at a maximum of 15 frames per second at 320 x 480 resolution (there is no “480i widescreen” format), in a 4:3 screen aspect ratio. No television manufactured in the last 5 years is natively 4:3, therefore, you’re buying a brand new product that doesn’t properly support the TV to which it’s being connected.
I popped my composite (RGB + LR Audio) cable on to the Wii Mini, and it took me 10 minutes to figure out that this piece of crap didn’t support composite. I could hear the audio, but couldn’t see the video. I was so pissed off, I didn’t even hide the cable, I just ran it in front of the TV. My philosophy is that if something is a poorly-designed piece of crap, you should SEE the defects. It should stare back at you, every time you use it.
Why is this such a big deal? The Wii supported ATSC (digital) 480p over composite. Composite supports widescreen formats, and resolutions up to 1080i. Most important? Things will not appear “squashed” because 480p supports widescreen, and 480i “NTSC” doesn’t! Everything you play on the Wii Mini looks like crap.
No Virtual Console, No DLC
Any Virtual Console games, any apps you’ve downloaded, and any Downloadable Content (DLC) for which you’ve paid, will simply not work on the Wii Mini.
Why? All of that gets downloaded over the INTERNET, and the Wii Mini DOESN’T HAVE INTERNET.
Synopsis: The Wii Mini is appropriately colored red: The international color for danger! This thing is a complete piece of crap with no redeeming value. It’s a rip off. Don’t buy it.
3.5. Bad Option #5: Repair it
A new optical drive would cost me about $30. I’m pretty handy, so I think I could repair it, and I actually did start to take it apart, until I ran in to tri-wing “security” screws.
See my rant on security screws, here: Rant on Security Screws
Between the time, trouble, and effort, plus the cost of buying “a Nintendo screwdriver”, I’d just as well have purchased a used model.
3.6. Least Bad Option: Replace Used
You literally never know what you’re going to get, when you buy a used console online. Scrupulous and meticulous dealers are careful to check their products, clean them, erase them, and return them as close to “factory spec” as possible. Unfortunately, the used games market is HUGE, and not all dealers are scrupulous nor meticulous.
My recommendation is to visit your local used video game store. When you buy online, there is significantly lower accountability. In addition, when you buy over the counter, you can inspect the unit before you purchase it. You always have the option to say “No thanks! That thing is a piece of crap!”
A used Wii in decent condition, as of this writing costs about $70.
Again, this is an indication of how many people DO NOT want a Wii U.
I ordered a unit online, that was dirty and grimey, had a red marker stripe on the front, came with a Nyko (3rd-party) crap controller, and no stand for the sensor bar, but it worked.
I carefully cleaned the grime off of the outside of the case, scrubbed the red marker stripe, and wiped it down.
I booted it up, only to find a bunch of save games and other crap, that the reseller should have wiped via the “Factory Reset” option in the menu!
I performed a factory reset, connected to the WiFi (NOTE that the Wii ONLY has an option to connect via WiFi… In 2007, not everyone HAD WiFi)
I set up “wide screen” 480p (ABOUT TIME), set up all of the other options, and popped in a disc to make sure it works.
THEN, I ran in to the main problem with the Wii.
The Wii Store uses “Wii Points”. 1000 Wii Points is basically $10 USD. You have to BUY Wii points, and then use the Wii points as currency in the Wii store, to buy other things, including all games, apps, and DLC.
When you buy stuff, it never occurred to me, the stuff you buy is tied to the serial number of your Wii!
So, Nintendo designed an entire online empire based on uniquely identifying consoles, with very little support for transferring content between them. There’s no online account or any other unique identifier that ties “me” (Justin Parr) to “console #1234JX7” (or whatever).
You can download a data transfer utility from the Wii Store! BUT, it only works if you’re transferring to a Wii U!
You can search online for support, and there are plenty of articles for transferring content. BUT, they only pertain to upgrading from a Wii to a Wii U, or migrating to a 2nd Wii U!
YOU HAVE TO CALL NINTENDO in order to get your stuff back.
In this case, a guy bought a Wii U, it didn’t work, he replaced it via the retailer, only to find that his “transfer” of Wii content was “locked” to the original Wii U that he had already returned!
“Console-locking” is just…… STUPID!
Fortunately, I’ve only got about $20 worth of “Just Dance” DLC wrapped up in this, and I DID CALL Nintendo to initiate the transfer. The guy was really polite. He asked for the old Wii serial number, and the new Wii serial number, and initiated the transfer. He said I’d get an e-mail in 2-3 business days.
So rather than a self-service transfer option, Nintendo has basically disowned the Wii, and disavowed all knowledge pertaining to it, and replaced all of that with the expectation that you’re going to go jump over small buildings to go trade your Wii in for a Wii U. The downside to going the “Replace Used” option is that this is marginally-supported by Nintendo.
It’s the best option because you get to keep your content, the price point is 30% of new, you keep all of your GameCube functionality (if that’s important to you), and you are back to “normal”, after a painful phone call to Nintendo, who assumes you bought a Wii U, because, why WOULDN’T you.
4. Conclusion: Nintendo Has a Few, Wii Problems
4.1. Get Rid of Console-locked DRM
Guys….. Seriously…. this is something we learned in the 90’s: USING A HARDWARE KEY to prevent piracy is a pain in the ass. It’s troublesome for YOU, and it’s troublesome for your CUSTOMERS.
Logic: EVERY piece of hardware will eventually die. If you have some kind of permissions, entitlements, or authorizations tied to hardware that CAN AND WILL die, that’s a problem.
Entitlements should be tied to an account, linked to a phone number and an e-mail address.
From what I’ve read, this is LARGELY the case with the new Wii U, and the “Nintendo Club” account (WHAT, am I six years old??) but there is obviously still a console-locked component that is problematic.
Neither Sony nor Microsoft handle DRM with console locking. Get rid of it.
4.2. The Wii U is a Failure. Get Over It
The fact that Wiis are selling for $240 new and $70 used is a clear message: There is still a lively, healthy market for the Wii.
Give the market what it demands — tools and support for the Wii.
Don’t deny it. Don’t disavow it. The Wii has a proud history as a ground-breaking, popular console. Don’t blame people because they don’t want to swallow the Wii U’s price tag and minimal title library.
The best decision any company can make is to acknowledge its failures and move forward.
Legitimize the Wii. Make a Wii Micro, with all of the features of the Wii (full-size).
4.3. Get Rid of the Wii Mini
It’s a rip-off. It’s bait-and-switch. You think you’re getting a Wii, but you’re getting about 1/2 of a Wii.
It costs a lot of money, and unsuspecting buyers think they are getting “a full Wii” in a smaller, “sporty red” package.
Give the market what it wants: A small, cheap, fully-functional Wii. Sony did this with the PS2, and again with the PS3, and the model works! As long as you’re selling units, there’s a market. A healthy used market indicates the lack of a primary market.
Make a Wii Micro, with all of the features of the Wii (full-size)
4.4. Keep up the Excellent Customer Support
When you call Nintendo, you can talk to a real, live person in all of about 2 minutes. The person to whom you’re connected is knowledgeable, and COMPLETELY EMPOWERED to help resolve your issues. (Unfortunately, they automatically assume you bought a Wii U, but that’s fixable)
This is the best customer support model I’ve seen in 10 years.
Keep up the good work, and MANY fortune-500 companies could learn from your support model!
5. Bottom Line
If your Wii dies, buy a used one, at a reputable LOCAL used game store, where you can inspect the merchandise, and they should be able to hook it up for you to test. (I made the mistake of buying used, online — mine works but was pretty grimey)
Test the following:
- Able to connect a new WiiMote
- Able to access the internet
- Able to load a game from disc
- Able to save a game
- Able to load a game
- Able to save or copy a game to the SD card (able to access the SD card)
- Able to boot and play a GameCube (GC) game
- Able to use a GameCube controller
- Able to use a GameCube memory card (save, load)
Wipe it (it should be wiped), connect it to the internet.
Call Nintendo: 1 (800) 255-3700
Pick the option related to “I have a problem with my account”, otherwise, they will direct you to an online URL that really doesn’t work.
Tell the rep you need to transfer all of your stuff from a Wii to another Wii, and emphasize that both systems are Wiis, NOT Wii U’s.
Nintendo is incredibly helpful, and will be able to resolve any content you’ve purchased, and can walk you through copying game saves and other content to an SD Card, where it can be moved to the new system.