| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s 7974.OS Wii
video game console was the surprise hit of the holiday season,
but fans are wondering when it will match rivals Microsoft and
Sony by offering a way to compete in cyberspace.
The Wii is online-ready right out of the box, thanks to its
built-in WiFi. Its Virtual Console, which allows users to
download classic Nintendo games from the Web, has been a
stunning success with more than 1.5 million games downloaded by
the end of the holidays, according to the company.
But competitive online play is not among the many features
available to Wii gamers, even though more than 50 percent of
Wii consoles in the United States are connected online.
In early March, rumors began circulating on popular video
game Web sites that Nintendo was not allowing any third-party
video games to include online multiplayer features in 2007,
drawing the ire of some fans who want to break out of their
living rooms and take their Wii gaming prowess global.
"With every month, online multiplayer becomes more and more
important," said Bryan Intihar, an editor at Electronic Gaming
"As a Wii owner, I don't know what they're waiting for."
Intihar said game developers don't even have the tools to
create online multiplayer games right now. Considering the
proven success of online play, particularly for rival Microsoft
Corp.'s (MSFT.O) Xbox 360, Intihar thinks Nintendo isn't taking
advantage of its momentum.
"Developers are still waiting for Nintendo to tell them
what to do," said Intihar.
While Nintendo leaves fans of online play in the dark,
Microsoft continues to add services to its Xbox Live online
gaming service that has been the key differentiating feature
for its Xbox 360, attracting more than 6 million subscribers.
Sony Corp. (6758.T)(SNE.N) has said it will soon jump into
the ring with a new online service called Home for the
PlayStation Network on its new PlayStation 3.
Despite its lack of online multiplayer features, the Wii
remains the top-selling console on the market. Consumers bought
335,000 Wii units in February, according to market research
firm NPD, compared with 228,000 Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3
unit sales of 127,000.
Nintendo countered critics by saying the desire for online
multiplayer is much higher in Western markets than in Japan,
where the company is based. However, the company is committed
to bringing the online play experience to the Wii...eventually.
"I'm confident there will be third-party titles with online
game play by the end of the year," said George Harrison,
Nintendo's vice president of marketing.
"Our first online multiplayer title, 'Pokemon Battle
Revolution,' will be out this summer."
Jamil Moledina, director of the Game Developers Conference,
said Nintendo is successfully marching to the beat of its own
drummer, particularly with the Wii and its motion-sensitive
controller that has lured in new gamers both young and old.
"Nintendo's strategy has worked extremely well for them,
despite what we on the side might say," Moledina said.
He predicted that despite the importance of online play to
consoles like the Xbox 360, Nintendo can succeed without
following its competitors.
"Nintendo's concern is the individual player," he said.
"There's a danger when you try to match a trend. I think
Nintendo's strategy is a good one."