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Getting Families to Play Together

Nintendo's coming Wii console is aimed at audiences other than young men.
Nintendo's coming Wii console is aimed at audiences other than young men. (Nintendo Via Associated Press)

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By Mike Musgrove
Thursday, October 12, 2006

At a video game trade show last year, Microsoft practically screamed its ambition to reach a billion consumers with this generation of video game consoles, partly by broadening its appeal to the sisters, the girlfriends and the moms of the world.

Good thing the company's executives didn't mention just when they want to hit that target, because they're not even close -- Microsoft expects to have sold 10 million Xbox 360s by the end of 2006.

And I don't know if they'll move closer anytime soon, given that the coming lineup of games for the system features mostly the same old violent, guy-oriented titles that have long given the industry a bad rep.

Hey, I'm looking forward to Gears of War, the upcoming sci-fi action game where the trademark weapon is an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached -- but let's keep the kids downstairs and away from the TV, okay?

For a lesson in how to get the rest of the family interested in video games, Microsoft could take a cue from Nintendo. So adamant is the company about reaching families who don't consider themselves game fans that it has taken to showing up on doorstops with its new system, called the Wii (which rhymes with "me").

Seriously.

Last month, the game company rented a moving truck and drove to the home of a Southern California mother of two girls, ages 8 and 3. Inside the truck were large-screen televisions and four units of the new console, which is considered innovative because it lets people interact with games by waving their arms and hands, rather than just mashing buttons on a controller. For a day, the Clark family and a couple dozen of their friends got to try out the new system.

When the company first contacted Tracey Clark, a photographer and an author with a popular blog about motherhood, she thought they had the wrong person. The Clarks don't own any game consoles.

Now she's a Nintendo fan. And it doesn't hurt for the company that the story caused a nice little splash when she wrote about the experience on her blog ( http://maypapers.blogspot.com/ ).

"I think it's fantastic marketing," she said in a phone conversation this week. After all, "moms are who spend the money; moms are the ones who go shopping for their kids." Her family had such a good time playing with the thing that she's thinking about buying the Wii. The device hits retail stores next month, on her daughter's 9th birthday.

Broadening the market beyond teenage and 20-something guys is important stuff for the game industry. The budgets for video game development tend to double with every new generation of cutting-edge consoles -- and you don't have to be an economist to figure out that it's bad news if the audience isn't growing at the same rate.

And it isn't, just yet. As the Xbox 360 approaches its first anniversary, Microsoft is selling about 225,000 game consoles every month, said Michael Pachter, a game industry analyst at Wedbush Morgan. A few years ago, when the PlayStation 2 was nearing its first anniversary, Sony was selling about 350,000 of them every month.


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