Gimmicks have a long history in the gaming industry. From the spectacular 3D failure of Virtual Boy, to the dizzying heights of Wii’s success, we’ve come to know these inessential but standout features. We either love them or hate them, but one thing’s for sure: when properly executed, gimmicks can come to define product generations, especially in gaming.
Back in the late 20th century, Nintendo took a gamble in the failed Virtual Boy, a 3D console. You might know of the recent success of the 3DS in that area, but with early knowledge of the technology, the NES maker couldn’t do anything but to present migraine-inducing red lines. It was a massive flop. Fast forward several decades and they’ve learned their mistakes with the new 3DS.
It can’t be denied that Nintendo’s record of gaming systems is far from perfect. There are some really bright spots though; Wii’s 100 million-strong fanbase is a testament to that. Sony’s Eyetoy for PS2 sold well in Europe back in the day, but in the worldwide stage, Wii was the first truly successful stab at motion control for a gaming system. This was achieved with the WiiMote, the primary controller that included some of the customary gamepad’s buttons. The real highlight was the remote’s motion control functionality. It’s a stretch to say the implementation was perfect, but for the most part it served as the console equivalent of Apple’s touchscreens. Wii was far from revolutionary, but the motion control’s accessibility exposed it to the wider market.
The Nintendo DS was released some time before the Wii, but it too had its own gimmick; the design allowed for two screens, the bottom one serving as a touchscreen. Released in 2004, the DS went on to become the best-selling handheld of all time, racing past the Philippines’ preferred PSP. Call it a gimmick, but the two screens and touch control allowed the system to stand out and allow for an additional layer of immersion as players could interact with their games on a “physical” level.
Both of these systems were very successful, but take a look back at the other end of the spectrum and you’ll see a familiar sight for Filipinos, the PS Vita. Released in 2012, Sony’s handheld tried to keep up with iOS, which had taken a large chunk of the mobile gaming pie. It included a touchscreen, dual cameras, an accelerometer, and even a rear touchpad. Vita went on to disappoint sales-wise, and it’s easy to point out its main difference from Nintendo’s successes: instead of using a forward-thinking approach, Sony took on the role of the follower and adapted to the changes Apple had made. One could argue the rear touchpad points to the contrary, but in hindsight, a touchpad on the back of a handheld could only have limited uses as opposed to Wii/DS’ more apparent functions.
The bottomline is, gimmicks can be used to great effect, even if it’s a risky proposition as opposed to following the traditional path of standard inputs. It’s better reserved to companies who thrive on serving as the disruptor, like Nintendo. Sony tried it and failed. Companies with the right people though, can go the extra mile and try their hand at revolutionizing an entire industry.