Denki News

May 10, 2006

From “Revolution” to “Wii” — What happened?

Filed under: Video Games — icruise @ 11:19 am

Nintendo recently announced that its next-generation video game console (which it had been referring to by the codename "Revolution") would be called the "Wii" (pronounced "we"). Response from the gaming web has been somewhat tepid. How could Nintendo replace a perfectly good (and dare I say masculine?) name like "Revolution" with something like "Wii"? (More after the jump.)

Here is the text that Nintendo used to introduce the name for its new console:

Introducing… Wii. As in "we." While the code-name "Revolution" expressed our direction, Wii represents the answer. Wii will break down that wall that separates video game players from everybody else. Wii will put people more in touch with their games… and each other. But you're probably asking: What does the name mean?
Wii sounds like 'we,' which emphasizes this console is for everyone. Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they speak. No confusion. No need to abbreviate. Just Wii.
Wii has a distinctive "ii" spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the image of people gathering to play. And Wii, as a name and a console, brings something revolutionary to the world of video games that sets it apart from the crowd.
So that's Wii. But now Nintendo needs you. Because, it's really not about you or me. It's about Wii. And together, Wii will change everything.

You would think that a company the size of Nintendo would spend a huge amount of time and money researching something like the name of its console, arguably the most important branding element there is. And yet you can't escape the fact that they have chosen a name that not only means "tiny," it's also slang for "penis." Oh, and "pee" — you can't forget "pee." Yep, that's a stroke of marketing genius. Do you really want a name that people will be embarrassed to ask for in the store?

Customer (under his voice): "Um… I'd like a Nintendo Wii, please…"
Salesperson: "I'm sorry, sir? What was that?"
Customer: "N-Never mind. Just give me one of those Xbox 360s…"

My hunch is that the name "Wii" was created by a Japanese person or marketing firm who wasn't aware of the other meanings that the word might have (or at least they didn't think that they would overshadow the "we" meaning so much). Japan is full of products with absurd names, but for the most part they are only sold within Japan. When you're coming up with a name that will be used world-wide, you need to consider how it will be received by other people.

You may be thinking, "Sure, maybe a Japanese person came up with the name, but didn't any native English speakers in the company question the decision?" As a Japanese translator, I've been in the position of having to convince a client that a particular name or slogan would not convey the message that they want to convey. What might sound in Japanese like a cool name for a video game or anime character can come off sounding ludicrous in English. Some clients are responsive to this, but a surprising number will argue with you or ignore your advice all together. I can't help but wonder if the higher-ups at Nintendo didn't fall in love with the name "Wii" early on, which caused them to ignore any advice that they may have been given about possible problems with the name. The quote from Nintendo above is practically bending over backwards to get us to associate the name with the word "we." Should so much explanation really be necessary? It smacks of someone trying to make the most of a decision that was out of his or her hands.

I just hope that it doesn't hurt Nintendo's chances. I'm a fan of many of the company's game franchises, and it's been sad to see them fall behind the other systems in sales in the past few years. When you already have a reputation as a kids' console, the last thing you need is to pick a cutesy name that people are going to make fun of.


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