The Wii Fit Balance Board is a console

Infendo

225_japan-wii-fit-box.jpg“I have an idea for an Infendo post you should do…”Sean Malstrom

And so began this simple post on an extraordinary idea. Perhaps a bit crazy too, but then again all disruptive technologies are labeled as such before they’re accepted en masse.

The idea? That the Balance Board packaged with Wii Fit isn’t an accessory at all. It’s a console, just the like Wii or even the PlayStation 3.

You were wondering when Nintendo would update the Wii? Unveil a Wii 2? Good news: The Wii Balance Board is it.

Some might argue that no, the Balance Board is an accessory, like the Wii Wheel (awesome fun, by the way) or the Wii Zapper, but they’d be wrong.

Those two bits of white plastic enhance the Wii console. They bridge a gap between traditional gamer and non-gamer by mimicking their real-world behavior and mapping it over a video game. The Balance Board, on the other hand, is its own little world, and creates as much of a new market for video games as the Wii and Wiimote did when they launched in November 2006. Enhances versus creates. It’s a subtle difference in wording, but it will make all the difference once developers start to treat the board as a console with its own fanboys and girls and audience.

If you think they won’t, then you’re again one of the many people who first dismissed the DS, and then the Wii, for the very same reasons. And you’ll be wrong again with Wii Fit and the Balance Board. As always, there’s hard data to back this opinion of mine up, starting first in the markets where Wii Fit has launched and is currently launching.

nintendo_fit.jpg Japan gets Fit
Or, Let’s put Final Fantasy XIII on the Balance Board

“You should declare Wii Balance Board to be an honorary console. After all, it is almost in second place in Japan against the PS3. Third parties might very well abandon the PS3 and put their games on Wii Balance Board.” — Sean Malstrom

I hereby declare the Wii Balance Board to be an honorary console. There done. Now here’s why.

In Japan, Wii Fit has almost sold as many units as the PlayStation 3. And that’s with only one game, the pack-in title Wii Fit, mind you.

So, using the simple fact that developers will develop games for the consoles that have the hype and fan base to make them a profit, we can say that the Balance Board is as profitable a platform as the PS3, in Japan, to develop games for. Since we’re talking Nintendo here, and lower horesepower, we can also say something else about the board.

“[The] Balance Board is cheaper to develop [for], [has] less competition for games, and beat Sony as it will be the first console that has no disk drive. It will be cheaper (and probably sell more) if Final Fantasy XIII was put on the Balance Board instead of the PS3” — Sean Malstrom

A little confused? Don’t be. Here’s why. Wii Fit is 1/50th of the size of the smallest PS3 game. That’s rough fuzzy Jack math, but I’m only going by eyeball estimates, graphics and the fact that most PS3 games today are already pushing the huge storage limits of Blu-Ray discs. As I’m sure has been discussed ad neaseum at Nintendo HQ already, WiiWare will be one of the driving platforms for Balance Board development–if not the platform.

And why shouldn’t it be? The Board was designed for a non-traditional audience. It is an audience that is well-versed in having their music delivered over the Internet; Tivo’ing their favorite shows; and not having to deal with the process of picking up a physical title at GameStop, which they are afraid of because, like it or not, they don’t like the people who hang out there. In effect, since the Wii Balance Board is the latest console to hit the market, it will create its own Balance Board fanboys and girls.

“They will parade the forums, declare Wii Balance Board has a higher TIE ratio than the other consoles and say, “Sure, your console can play DVDs but can your console SAVE YOUR LIFE? said Malstrom during our discussion the other day.

Miyamoto already let slip that online was coming to Wii Fit, thereby giving this simple title a rather complex means with which to compete with other Wii Balance Board consoles around the world. Didn’t think you could compete with fitness, sit-ups and Yoga? Join the club, but regardless it’s going to be a whole new spin on “gaming.”

Lastly, a Square Enix Balance Board game has actually already been discussed on the record. In July, Square Enix’s Motomu Toriyama told IGN the company was “intrigued” by the idea of using weight and balance to control games.

fat_american_kids.jpgMoving Americans
Or, If you get Oprah, you get the world.

Amazon’s top sellers list, or most popular items, or whatever it’s called, has long been a sketchy way of throwing around fanboy taunts on NeoGaf, etc, but I’m going to cite them here anyway because I can. In the lead up to the Grand Theft auto IV release yesterday, do you know what video game had the most pre-orders? No, not GTA IV. It was Wii Fit and the Balance Board. But GTA was next, right? Nope. That slot was for Mario Kart Wii. and after that, you ask, then surely at least the Xbox 360 version of GTa IV made an appearance. Not quite. That stupid waste of plastic you make fun of but secretly want to try out anyway, the Wii Wheel, THAT was number three. Then GTA IV, Xbox 360 version.

And that’s without Nintendo’s multi-million dollar Wii Fit marketing blitz. That comes later with, we’ll assume, an even more amazing number of pre-orders, lines and Wii mania.

Speaking of that marketing push… it’s pretty big. Pretty console-like, if I do say so myself. Like they’re trying to establish a solid base of board owners with which to market to developers looking for something fresh in this FPS, gun-toting haven gaming inhabits today. As of right now, there’s also zero competition for these board owners, until Microsoft releases their Xbox Balance Board Xtreme to the Maxxx, sponsored by Mountain Dew.

When we look to the East, we can see the base forming literally by the second. At UK store Woolworth’s, Wii Fit sold an astonishing 90 units per minute last week, which was faster than GTA IV. But that’s not even the ace in the hole. Today, another UK chain, Curry’s, announced that the Wii fit momentum lasted through the weekend, with a unit selling every four seconds.

People are moving to get moving with this “game” in the hundreds of thousands — and millions in Japan. That’s great for the short term, but what about this holiday, when the press and forum types begin to beat the “gathering dust” drum again? (over their plump, under exercised bellies, natch)

Well, that’s when the aforementioned WiiWare kicks in, if it hasn’t already.

As I wrote about this last summer, when the Balance Board was still just an accessory to me and many others, Wii Ware is surely on the minds of many a developer–especially ones looking at the Balance Board with hungry eyes. I’ve changed my tune about a few things, but the basic forward-thinking message still holds true:

Having WiiWare developers shoulder the majority of 3rd party games for the balance board does two things. First, the costs involved with developing a WiiWare title are already bare bones, so the risk is lower. This means we might actually see some pretty amazing, albeit simpler games developed exclusively for the balance board (or that at least utilize the board for integral control functions).

Second, this scenario creates a base from which larger developers can field ideas or even acquire these smaller companies. Either way, it reduces the apprehension developers might have about developing a game that requires a peripheral to work properly — as opposed to, say, bolting optional motion controls onto a PS3 game.

And the best part is — at least for the early WiiWare developers — is that when the Wii Balance Board launches sometime in 2008 and is snatched up en masse by non-traditional gamers (and some hardcore — just you watch), they’ll have a healthy installed base of at least a million or so users to work with.

Again, this is why the board is no mere accessory, and why it actually reaches out not only to non-traditional couch potatoes and fitness buffs, but to intelligent, fresh thinking developers, and even the rough and tough hardcore sect that will inevitably at least experiment with the board when the momentum begins to build.

With the board, Nintendo has effectively extended the life of the Wii itself. Not in the traditional, accepted way that requires a hardware update, faster processor or better graphics, but in a new way that actually takes what is there and expands it outward–not upwards.

This is the third time around the gimmick assaults and dismissive tone towards a Nintendo product have been leveled. You would think people would have learned by now.

So today I officially label myself not only a rabid Nintendo fanman, but a Wii Fit/Balance Board fanman as well.

Oprah, care to join me?