Over at The DCenters, D has a post up about how the success of the Wii gaming console and it’s ‘WiiMote’ could hurt the popularity of soccer in the US:

Video games are important to the context of modern soccer, and to sports in America. Many a US based fan played the FIFA or Winning Eleven series and got a taste of the broader world of soccer. Hell, I wouldn’t know for the first thing about Huddersfield if it weren’t for FIFA ’02. Video games are intrinsic to US youth culture, and to many of us adults.

The Wii vs. PS3 battle that played out last year demonstrated that the was a huge desire for the experience of full immersion. When confronted with a choice between a better looking game or one that allowed for a participatory user experience, the market went for the new experience. Games that had felt like third person games suddenly felt more first person. Boxing and tennis do not have a great deal of traction in this country, but they in the forefront of the Wii Sports package with Baseball and Golf. The Madden football series now supports Wii control, and certainly once can imagine that pretty much every game executive wants to see Wii type play in their games.

The problem is that this interface works very well for games that deal with the hands, but not the feet or the head. And that’s where soccer faces a problem. It’s a game where the hands and arms are verboten, thus removing most of the technology that the Wii exploits.

This is an interesting argument, which on the surface seems to be sound. However, I don’t believe we have much to fear from the popularity of the Wii.

The Wii vs PS3 debate has been going on forever. Yes, the Wii outsold the PS3, but the new mini PS2 console outsold both. The PS2 is still an amazing console in terms of graphical ability and speed and there have been almost 70 MILLION PS2 consoles sold worldwide. Many people who didn’t want to cough up the money for a PS3 or XBox 360, bought a PS2 or they had a PS2 and bought a Wii. I also think that given how popular the FIFA games are and how cheap a new PS2 console is, many would just buy/keep a PS2 – new PS2 units are fast approaching the $100 mark. PS3 sales will continue to grow – its a console in a class by itself – pure sales numbers don’t tell the entire story.

The key point is there will be plenty of people who have consoles that can play FIFA and the PS2 remains a powerful gaming platform. Another thing to consider is that the Wii does have a classic controller available for it. It’s relatively inexpensive ($20) and is similar to most gaming controllers. You could also easily develop FIFA to utilize the Wii Nunchuck for movement control. So the Wii is a viable platform for FIFA. EA Games thinks so too. Last week they announced that FIFA 08 will be released for multiple consoles including the PS2, PS3, and the Wii. So no worries – if a US gamer wants to play FIFA – they’ll likely have a console to do so – though the XBox was conspicuously absent from the console list in that announcement – I can’t imagine they’d leave it out just yet.

Sorry to throw cold water on your theory D :) One interesting thing will be to see what EA Sports does with the PS3 version of FIFA 08. Will they push the envelope to take advantage of it’s freakishly advanced graphics system or will the PS3 version be relatively indistinguishable from the XBox 360 and PS2 versions? If they decide to push the envelope – you may find FIFA fans sucking it up and buying a PS3 just for the experience.

One final thing caught my eye in D’s post, that given the niche of this blog, I couldn’t ignore:

I bring this up because I often see bloggers, soccer writers, and even sociologists write about keeping youth soccer players in the game. And we love our video games, and Goffblog indicates with the Drew Carey Invitational, and as Eskandarian reported in the (on haitus?) Esky’s world. Even when we’re not out on the field playing the game, we like to virtually experience it. It helps nurture our love for the game, and sometimes allows us to understand the game better. If soccer can’t match that interface while other sports can, I wonder if we can really keep everyone interested?

Most kids start playing soccer when they’re 4 or 5. Many won’t have experienced video games yet, at least not advanced ones like FIFA. We had a simpler ‘Backyard Soccer’ game for our PS2 and the kids even had trouble with that when they were 6 or 7 years old. Most kids who develop a love of the game in their youth do so on the pitch, not on a couch. While there may be some ‘tweens’ who might give soccer a go because they like playing FIFA, by that age if they’ve never touched a ball before, they will be WAY behind their peers. I doubt most would stick with it.

I think the point D may have been making above was keeping youth players into the game after they reach their teens, a time when many give up active sports like soccer. I think there is some truth to this and it may work in unexpected ways. Many kids who live and breath soccer, literally do. I’ve been to soccer tournaments where kids have played all day only to come back to the hotel, find a patch of grass, and play pickup while their parents lounge by the pool. When the sun goes down, you’ll often find them playing video games on console brought by some parents, and often they’ll be playing FIFA (though Nascar and Madden are also popular). So video games could be a transition from actively playing soccer to being a soccer fan. But that’s a long transition. Much ink has been spilled writing about why avid youth players don’t become soccer fans as adults. If playing soccer in person for 10+ years doesn’t make a fan, you have to wonder if a video game can. I wonder how many people just play FIFA ‘because its a great video game’ and still have no interest in watching soccer on TV or in person. That’s a whole other post…