With motion now standard and when equally priced, Xbox 360 more popular than Wii

The Wii has seen quite the drop in demand recently. After dominating the competition for the first four years of its life, the game-changing console has been relegated to second place in America for the last 12 months (give or take a month or two) behind Xbox 360. In other words, when equally priced at $199, Americans slightly favor Xbox 360, at least at this point in the Wii’s lifecycle.

On May 15, the Wii drops to $150. Microsoft is expected to at least match that price for Xbox 360 at E3 next month, putting the consoles on equally pricing ground yet again, and likely helping Microsoft keep the same competitive edge its maintained over the last year. 

The reason? Unlike the GameCube and Xbox of last generation, the Wii and Xbox 360 are two very different machines. And since a lot more people already own Wiis when compared to Xbox 360s ’ 86 million compared to 54 million, according to one estimate ’ it makes sense to see the once second-place console make a twilight surge in popularity.

Not only that, but HD is valued more today than motion control. Xbox has the former. Wii has the latter. But with the launch of Kinect last November (sold separately), Xbox also has the latter. Not as good, mind you. But comparable, not to mention different.

The interesting thing in all of this is that never before has the leading console conceded so much consecutive ground this late in a “console war.” NES dominated the industry its entire life. Super Nintendo eventually won the “most popular” award after trailing Sega Genesis for the first few years. PlayStation killed it from sunrise to sunset. So did PlayStation 2.

For Nintendo to regain the upper hand in the popularity contest, I suspect they’ll have to beat Xbox 360 on price. Say drop the Wii to $99 this holiday, a price the more-expensive-to-make Xbox 360 might not be able to match.

To be clear: I believe the Wii’s phenomenal success was much more than price. If you’ll remember, the base Xbox 360 sold for $50 less than the $250 Wii at one point, and that had zero effect on the still surging popularity and demand for Wii. And nothing can take away from what the Wii achieved, including gameplay innovations, market expansions, and just being a really fun console with a lot of great games.

Having said all that, perhaps the Wii was simply a victim of bad timing. It released a 2-3 years before HDTVs were mainstream, so Nintendo understandably opted not to include HD to keep costs down. But in 2008 and 2009, man, did HD ever go mainstream, leaving new owners slightly miffed by the Wii’s somewhat grainy and fuzzy picture ’ especially since the majority of HDTV owners don’t even own Wii component cables.

What do you think: Could the Wii have kept its mojo the entire time had the HD conditions been favorable? Might it become the no. 1 console again if priced at $99? Or are compliments in order to the resilience and job well done by Microsoft and Xbox 360 in forcing Nintendo’s hand?