WHY ASK WII:

Putting Nintendo back in the game (Kim Peterson, 11/11/06, Seattle Times)

As president of Nintendo of America, the Redmond-based Western arm of the Japanese gaming giant, the 45-year-old Fils-Aime has rebuilt the gaming company’s image and business this side of the Pacific Ocean. Nintendo went from an also-ran in the console race to creating one of the most daring products in the history of the industry, and Fils-Aime has played a key role in that transformation.

Nintendo’s Wii game system — an unusual machine that pushes the limits of console design — goes on sale a week from today, setting up what looks to be an intense market battle with rivals Sony and Microsoft. Gamers are in a frenzy of anticipation about the system, and the $250 Wii is expected to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, must-have toys of the season. […]

Enter the Wii, which has attracted a lot of attention for its wireless, motion-sensitive controller, which lets players swing their arm in the air to play tennis or stand like Tiger Woods to sink a putt. It’s a feature that no other console has, and is risky in that it could change gaming forever — or it could be a dud.

Most of the innovation for the Wii took place at Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto, Japan, but Fils-Aime participated in strategy discussions at the highest level about the console’s design and development.

Nintendo is tying Fils-Aime’s star power to the console, to some extent. He’ll be at the Toys R Us store in Manhattan early next Sunday handing out the first Wii units to consumers. But he’s not going to become a celebrity spokesman; Fils-Aime is careful to note that he is just one executive in a large company, one collaborator in a group effort.

It’s almost a given that the Wii will sell out this year, with only 4 million units to sell worldwide. Even if it sells out, future competition will be brutal against Microsoft and its year-old Xbox 360 and Sony and its PlayStation 3, which debuts on Friday.

But the real test won’t come until the 2007 holidays, when all three are fully on the market and each has a long list of titles, said P.J. McNealy, an analyst with American Technology Research. Over the next year, he said, Nintendo will still struggle to avoid being compared with the other two.

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