Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Wii and The Unhandy Valley

With Pax in town, I went into the city last night and hooked up with Jane, Casey, Andre and some other folks for good ol' geeky conversation.

A particularly entertaining piece of the evening for me was watching (sometimes facilitating, sometimes instigating) an argument between Casey and a guy (forget his name) from Nintendo, about the Wii and more specifically about it's controller.

Casey was expressing a complaint about the Wii controller that he was having trouble articulating. His point was that while it may sense motion, and that may be useful, he was dissatisfied with it because it didn't do what it *promised*.

As of late, I've been finding myself often, in discussions with coworkers, developers, other industry folk, coming back to this point about what it is that you promise the customer. It's a kind of very high-standard, high-level litmus test that you can apply to any product offering you are working on and see if it passes a straight-face test.


Casey's point was that Nintendo was directly or indirectly promising something with the Wii controller that ultimately it didn't deliver. That users expect it to sense position AND motion, but because it's only the latter, then have to get 'trained' on the device. Wii tennis, while fun, has that moment for everyone where they say "oh, I get it, it's not really like a racquet".

Further underlining the point, I added that in Wii sports baseball, it expects motion, not position, and thus bunting isn't an option. I can't just hold up the bat in the right place and let the ball hit IT.

The Nintendo guy couldn't quite grok why this was an issue, which is when I made what I think is a clever analogy:

Similarly to how there is an "uncanny valley" that refers to how, as artificial representations of humans illicit an aversive response as the approach - but don't reach - realism; I beleive there is an "unhandy valley" that occurs as methods of input to a simulation approach their real-life equivalents - but don't quite reach it.

Anyone who's tried any of the VR simulations of the past decade can attest to this, only most of those are disconnected enough that they don't approach the valley. I think the Wii controller gets near enough (or to Casey's point, sets the expectation that it gets near enough) that people have this disconnect on their first try with it.

Now, don't get me wrong, the Wii and Wii sports is good ol' fun. But there is that training step, and within it, a little bit of disappointment that it wasn't really magic after all.

I do wonder, as these types of controllers improve (position + motion, lower latency, higher precision, etc, etc), will consumers grow more enthralled with them... or will we find that the valley runs deep and wide?

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