Bach FUDs Wii Shock
Posted at 19:40 on 15th May 2007 - permalink

And right on cue (erm, a month after my last post) here’s a great example of Microsoft’s games people sending the wrong message.

At some fundamental level Microsoft really don’t seem to ‘get’ Nintendo. Every console manufacturer likes to claim that they don’t consider the competition a threat. But even now, with the stratospheric, global, cross-demographic demand for the DS and Wii showing no signs of abating (with the Wii’s success – finally – turning into serious third party commitment), Microsoft are only just starting to grasp that it’s their lunch that’s getting eaten.

One executive in particular doesn’t appear to have updated his crib sheet of interview responses since before the Wii launch. Step forward Robbie Bach:

(Interviewer: So, is Nintendo disrupting things for you, or were you surprised to see them?)

I’m actually not—the product has gotten more broad-base acclaim that I would have expected. It’s a very nice product, but it actually has a relatively specific audience and a fairly specific appeal, frankly, based on one feature, which is the controller itself. And the rest of the product is actually not a great product—no disrespect, but … the video graphics on it aren’t very strong; the box itself is kind of underpowered; it doesn’t play DVDs; there are a lot of down-line components [that] aren’t actually that interesting.

In the casual space they’re going to do very well, because the controller is pretty intuitive and the game experience is pretty simple, and Nintendo can produce a lot of those simple game experiences themselves.

The challenge they have is that third parties aren’t going to make much money on this platform because Nintendo is going to make all that money, and their ability to compete with something like a Halo or produce an experience like Madden on their system is going to be tough. They don’t have the graphics horsepower that even Xbox 1 had. So it makes sort of the comparison set a little bit difficult. (Read the full interview)

The first two paragraphs are familiar. A wrong, but understandable, attempt to play down the importance of making games more accessible, and to foster the idea that the Wii remote is somehow less capable than a joypad. (As opposed to being the pad’s inevitable, superior replacement, which it is.)

But it’s the third paragraph where we can smell the fear. Bach goes beyond the usual passive-aggressive, damning-with-faint-praise and resorts to an outright lie:

They don’t have the graphics horsepower that even Xbox 1 had.

The assertion that the Wii is less graphically capable than the Xbox 1 is ludicrous. The Wii’s superiority is unambiguously proven by the specs alone, and driven further beyond doubt by even a cursory appraisal of the visually strongest Xbox, GameCube and Wii software. And even if it were true, why would this matter?

There are two possible explanations for Bach’s fibbing. Either he’s pretty hands-off, and reliant on over-optimistic (i.e. dishonest) briefings from marketing cheerleaders and technicians with fragile egos; or else he knows perfectly well he’s wrong, but thinks that the press are docile enough to let comments like this slide. I think the second is more likely, in which case, in the main he appears to have been proven right. Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal commendably picked up on Bach’s comments and dissected them, and still managed to arrive at this bizarre wimp-out conclusion:

While Bach’s statement that the Wii is graphically underpowered compared to the first Xbox wasn’t quite a bulls-eye, it’s so darned close to the mark–technically speaking–that we’ve got to compliment him on his aim.

Has Croal traded away his spine in one of his wacky bets? Or do we have to give credence to statements that deserve to be met with hoots of derision, just because they’ve been tabled by senior executives?

We can expect to see the “Wii=underpowered” mantra being repeated often in Microsoft communiques over the coming months. This is how the seeds of doubt are planted.

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