Sunday, December 2, 2007

Wii R Number One!

Today I spent an hour shuttling between two Best Buy stores in hopes of scoring a $250 Wii console for my niece and nephew. Not having bought a videogame console before, it didn’t occur to me to show up at 8 a.m. for a store that opened at 10 a.m. At both stores we were too far back in line to get one of the allocated units (125 and 80, respectively).

My 9-year-old wanted to know why a year-old console was in short supply, and I couldn’t answer — other than the Wii is obviously this year’s hottest Christmas gift. Reporters are writing stories about the shortage while consoles are going for twice the asking price online. Unlike in college football, it’s very clear who’s number one in the latest round of the videogame platform wars. (Even if Sony beat Nintendo for one month in one country).

The customary lesson from the VCR wars and various generations of videogame platform battles is that time to market and software are everything. The conventional wisdom is: line up content, and the customers will follow. But wandering through Best Buy (while my wife waited in line), it was obvious that there was more than enough content for Xbox 360 and a fair amount for PS3; in contrast, the Wii content was selling out. And some of the most important content is available for all platforms, like the Guitar Hero that my young relatives don’t know they’re getting to go with the Wii they don’t know they’re getting.

Instead, the Wii was the surprise winner against two behemoths fighting each other over gigahertz and polygon rendering frame rates. The Xbox was even first to market this time. Maybe price was part of Wii’s success, but my sense is that the motion-sensitive controller and fun games — i.e. innovation — were what made the difference.

So the next time someone assumes that network effects are the be-all and end-all, they should remember the Wii and the idea that (as Liebowitz and Margolis reminded us) sometimes the better mousetrap actually does win.

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