Rick Powers comes out of his months-long siesta to wax poetic about The Console Formerly Known As Revolution.
I haven’t seen this many people with their heads buried in the sand since the “Cartoon Wars" episode of South Park.
Of course, I’m talking about Nintendo’s Public Relations team, who were tasked with the unenviable duty of not only justifying the new name of their next console, but stretching their Jedi mind powers in every conceivable way. Unsurprisingly, they’ve been less than convincing, largely because it seems that they themselves are not yet convinced, reduced to spouting the company line and waving their hands like Alec Guinness. Yes, a lot of product names sound silly when you first hear them, and I see where Nintendo is coming from on that front. TiVo and Google are nonsensical, but there are so many differences that it’s hard to begin explaining them. But that’s my job, so here goes.
Product naming is known as a bit of a black art, but like most art, people know a good name when they hear it. I have yet to come across anyone who understands “Wii" when they hear it. For most people, it’s not spelled how it sounds, and it doesn’t sound how it’s spelled. The Japanese don’t even have that sound in their vocabulary! When you’re asking people to buy a product, confusion is not something you want to contend with. The pronunciation needs to be instant and unambiguous, and Wii fails that test. Google gets lucky because they aren’t asking you to buy anything … the cost of a trial is nothing except your time, and that allows the name to get out of the way. Not to mention that Google does fun things with their logo, which helped endear people to the brand.
For all of the wonderful things that the name is supposed to evoke, you lose all of them as soon as you have to explain them. The mere fact that Nintendo needed to explain the name to its most ardent fans is a sign that the decision needed more refinement. You want the first image in someone’s head to be the right one, but more often than not, the first image in the minds of most Americans is not flattering. Urine and penis jokes aside, the images Nintendo wants to convey don’t come across until you’re told what they are, and you take time to ruminate (I won’t use the word “marinate" as Nintendo PR suggested, lest another joke surface) on the name. That’s a major issue, since a good product name, while it might sound curious at first, shouldn’t take more than a few moments to truly sink in. While Nintendo’s fans are fine with sitting back and thinking about what their favorite brand has done, the very people Nintendo are trying to cater to won’t give them the chance. It has already begun, as opinion on the name is starting to soften a mere day later … but then again, we’re the ones who really care. Will the casual gamer give Nintendo a day before making a purchase decision?
Those “mainstream gamers" that Nintendo is trying to bring under their wing will not be caught dead “playing Wii". They are far more image-conscious, and what’s baffling is that Nintendo knows this. Game Boy Micro was the device designed for exactly this segment. DS Lite was designed to appeal more to the image-conscious than the more toy-ish look of the original DS. That’s what makes this decision all the more perplexing; for a device that people have to pick up to understand, you’ve just ensured that it’s unlikely that they will give it a chance, for fear their friends will hear that they’ve been “playing with their Wii all weekend". Nintendo’s supporters and other “hardcore" gamers learned to get over the image issues long ago; we handled the GameCube handle, and we can handle this name. But Nintendo has just risked losing all the ground they gained with the DS. It’s almost as if they got lucky with all of their previous decisions.
We haven’t even gotten to the place where the TiVo and Google brands truly excel, and where Wii falls completely flat. Those names achieved the holy grail; they became verbs. Even on other recording devices, people now say that they “TiVo’ed" a program; when you search for information on the internet, you Google it, even if you’re not using Google as your search engine. Wii can’t become a verb without becoming “Wii’d", which brings up entirely different negative connotations and joke potential.
So, to sum up Nintendo’s challenges:
That brings up an interesting bit of history. In the 1980’s, Nintendo was synonymous with video games; irrespective of the system you played games on, you were “playing Nintendo". Nintendo has some small opportunity in that gamers may simply refuse to use the name, a trend we’re already seeing on some websites. Unfortunately, Nintendo might have squandered even that possibility by dropping the Nintendo name from the product, leaving people to simply call it … nothing. And when you can’t bring yourself to utter the name of a product, how are you going to buy it?