Often imitated, never duplicated

We all remember the hilarity surrounding the Chinese answer to Nintendo’s Wii, the Vii. Now it seems a French company is doing the same thing and releasing its own family-friendly, casual-gamey, motion-sensey device for living rooms.

The device, which retails at EUR39.99, features a vibrant portfolio of games including Baseball, Ping Pong, Bowling, Boxing, Football and Tennis.

While it’s easy to laugh at what is blatantly an attempt to horn in on the Wii format at a budget price it is, in a sense, quite worrying. What bothers me is that the growth in casual/family oriented gaming could mean a downturn in the quality of both the hardware and software in production.

For those of us who have been gaming for a while it’s easy to know where we stand. We can identify what each console or format offers to us and correlate that with what we want as gamers. However, those who are not yet gaming, wherever they may be, blissfully unaware they are in the cross-hair of Nintendo or whoever else will not have this pre-existing knowledge of implied quality and may only see the price.

The cost and limited availability of the hardware has already pushed a lot of consumers away from the Wii in China.

While right now the Wii and its imitators are on opposite ends of a very broad spectrum, it may not be long before something pops up in the middle ground. It seems assumed that it’s the job of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony to expand the casual gaming market, that consumers outside of gaming will instinctively recognise them as the major players when they enter the market.

Maybe I’m just paranoid, maybe I’ve blown this out of proportion, maybe Nintendo and the rest will assert themselves on the casual games market in the same way Apple has done for mp3 players, maybe they will be the obvious choice for casual gamers we expect them to be.

While you should never underestimate the intelligence of your consumers and their ability to perceive, it’s just as important not to presume they automatically understand their environment. Otherwise, they may fall into the drag nets of cheap imitators.