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Nintendo’s Wii games console has contributed in no small part to overhauling the video-games industry and capturing a new generation of gamers including women, toddlers and the elderly through a phenomenon that gathers together troops to competitively play interactive games, in Nintendo’s case called the ‘Wii party’, according to an article published by Advertising Age in the US.

The trend caught the media’s attention just after Christmas last year when Evite – an online-party-invite specialist – noticed the word ‘Wii’ popping up in search queries, idea forums and party themes. So much so, that Evite launched a dedicated Wii party-planning section on its website. Today, it has become so popular that Evite has added a section which includes Wii avatars, specific games and even themes.

“In the past, video gaming tended to be less mainstream, especially among adults. Today more games are rated ‘E’ for everyone and more parents are inclined to play these types of video games with their children. The Wii, in particular, is great for parties because of the level of activity and the multiplayer format – it’s fun to play and fun for others to watch,” said Evite VP-marketing and public relations, Lariayn Payne. 

Tearing it up with friends

‘Guitar Hero’ fests are becoming popular at homes and in bars and restaurants most notably in the US but also locally.

 

“The game parties pit wannabe rock stars against each other in ax duals,” said the article.

“Particularly popular with college kids and young couples, “Guitar Hero” (a next-generation version, “Guitar Hero 3,” is due out in October) parties spawn MySpace and Flickr pass-along ideas, photographs and brand mentions.”

But a concern plaguing industry experts is what’s stopping soft-drink-makers and beer-brewers from courting this audience?

“In terms of marketing, there’s a lot of opportunity just waiting to be hatched, especially on the local level,” said David Riley, analyst with the NPD Group, and an avid gamer who has hosted his own Guitar Hero parties.

 

Building communities

Nintendo has already begun striking up partnerships such as the Evite one, according to Advertising Age. Nintendo senior director – corporate communications, Beth Llewelyn, said the company has partnered with Norwegian Cruise Lines to put Wii and Wii parties onboard cruises, as well as the Erickson Retirement Communities to place Wiis in those group homes. They’re also in discussions with local libraries about how to use Wiis for community-building.

“The opportunities are almost unlimited in tapping into new ideas or working with new partners,” she said.

“We’re talking to a lot of people we haven’t before — from media outlets to partners to consumers. It’s really broadened our base.”

Nintendo is also giving away Wiis to consumers in certain influencer groups — mother/daughter, couples and active 50-plus leaders – so they can hold parties for family and friends.

 

“It’s all contributing to a booming video-game industry. NPD Group reported overall hardware sales are up 34 per cent with consoles alone up 69 per cent during the first half of 2007 versus the same time period during 2006. NPD also said the industry is on track to ring up US$16 billion to $18 billion in sales this year,” said the report.

Wii tops software sales

The rise of this social gaming is visible in the revenues from these gamers. Of the top-10-selling video-game items in June, seven were Wii software or accessories. ‘Guitar Hero 2’ for PS2 and Wii ranked Nos. 6 and 7 respectively, selling almost 400,000 guitars (and software) at average prices of US$80 to $90, according to NPD.

More social-party games such as ‘Boogie,’ the Wii dance game from Electronic Arts (which began running its own ad campaign last week with TV spots set to the tune ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’), and ‘Rock Band — MTV and EA’s make-your-own-band game with drums, guitar, vocals and downloadable tracks – will be launched this year too. ‘SingStar,’ a karaoke-type console game published by Sony is another potential hit social game in the US; it’s already huge in Europe, and just released here, but already garnering fans.

 

We’re having a party

Wii parties and ‘Guitar Hero’ get-togethers are played on video consoles, but the trend is also spilling over into traditional game play with a plethora of DVD games that are played on consumers’ TVs. They include crossover standard board games, such as Sorry, Family Feud, The Price is Right, Name That Tune and Deal or No Deal.

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