Wow, talk about buzz and hype … the forthcoming Nintendo Wii console came away from last week’s E3 gaming summit with far more buzz than either of its two nextgen competitors, the Sony PS3 or Microsoft’s Xbox 360. The Wii’s motion-sensing controller really wowed the crowd with demos of Nintendo execs swinging the controller like a racquet in a tennis game that is part of the “Wii Sports” title for the new Nintendo console. The Wii controller looks like it’s a lot of fun and incredibly easy to use. Since the Nintendo Wii will cost far less (probably $250 or under) than it’s competitors (which are in the $400 to $600 range), it will also be a much easier sell.

Beyond price, the biggest difference is that the Wii is focused on revolutionizing the gaming experience and opening up video games to even more players, while Sony and Microsoft have been busing trying to turn their consoles into multimedia powerhouses that can stream music, play video clips, download movies, play HD discs, etc. So, as it turns out, Sony and Microsoft may have taken their eye off the ball, and Nintendo is coming in and eating their lunch. Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but you get the point.

As a testimony to the fact that the Wii may have the best gaming experience of the three nextgen consoles, both Microsoft and Sony execs reacted to the Wii’s E3 buzz by recommending that gamers buy the Wii – in addition to their respective consoles. Microsoft VP Pete Moore threw out the first volley by stating, “People are going to buy two [consoles]. They’re going to buy an Xbox and they’re going to buy a Wii … for the price of one PS3.”

Sony exec Phil Harrison shot back, “I think Peter Moore is exactly right. I think Nintendo will be the second system consumers purchase after PlayStation 3… Nintendo has a great history of innovation and has always done great things for gaming and long may they do so. But as it relates to our strategy they are very much in a different market.”

Harrison is pointing to the fact that the gaming market is essentially splitting into two main segments:
1.) Families
2.) Hard core adult gamers

Of course, plenty of families have bought Playstations and Xboxes in the past but with their price tags skyrocketing in the next generation of consoles, Sony and Microsoft might simply be giving a lot of the family market over to Nintendo. Plus, Nintendo is trying to expand the reach of the family market by making a console that is so intuitive and easy to use that moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas can join in the action.

And while it’s true that hard core adult gamers often have two consoles, Microsoft and Sony are expecting that most of them probably won’t buy both an Xbox 360 and a PS3 because of the hefty price tags. They’ve essentially decided to compete with each other on the high end and assume that the second console for most hard core gamers will be the Wii. Meanwhile, they are fighting competition for these hard core gamers from gaming PCs, which are getting much cheaper and much easier to hook up to TVs.

I’m starting to wonder if Nintendo is going to quietly swoop in and surprisingly sell more nextgen consoles than either of its two big competitors. I know that my family currently owns an original Xbox and a Nintendo GameCube and my son and I play the GameCube a lot more than the Xbox because it’s simply more fun – mostly because of the Mario games. If we buy any of the three nextgen consoles, it will be the Wii.