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Can You Create A Must-Have Wii Game?

March 9, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Wii gamers are said to have shorter "must have" lists than do hardcore Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 fans. So what does it take to develop a Wii game that's on everybody's short list?

It could be that it's less about the quality of the game itself and more about meeting the audience's expectations.

According to industry analyst Michael Pachter, a successful Wii game often scores big because it has a great concept, has a high recognition factor, and does a good job of utilizing the Wii controllers. Pachter is senior VP, research, at LA-based Wedbush Morgan Securities.

"The Wii audience isn't sophisticated enough to know whether the game they're buying compares favorably to, say Gears of War or LittleBigPlanet, because they probably don't own an Xbox 360 or a PS3," Pachter explains.

"They buy the Wii games that they buy for the same reason that people go to McDonald's. McDonald's doesn't win a lot of restaurant critic awards but they are approachable, they're consistent, and you know what they're going to serve you."

"I mean, who sells more food -- McDonald's or Ruth's Chris Steak House, which certainly serves better meat? Nintendo has become the fast food machine. Sony is very much the high-end restaurant. And Microsoft is somewhere in between."

The executive producers of three successful Wii games -- Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip, Game Party, and Game Party 2 -- don't necessarily disagree, but have their own take on why their titles won over their audiences.   

At Midway Home Entertainment, Game Party -- a collection of seven mini-games -- has shipped over two million units since it was released on Nov. 27, 2007, while its sequel, Game Party 2 -- with 11 mini-games -- has shipped one million units since its release on Oct. 6 last year. On February 12th, Midway's Matt Booty noted that the franchise "has sold close to three million units in total."

Those are impressive sales, especially since critical reviews were less than stellar. gives the initial game a 25-out-of-100 score, the sequel a 29-out-of-100. And GameSpot opines that Game Party 2 is "a completely unoriginal minigame collection just waiting to take advantage of uninformed casual gamers."

But Joel Seider, the executive producer of both games, says that the public's interest in them stems from the developers giving them exactly what they crave.

"We leveraged one of Midway's historic strengths and the fact that I had been at Midway way back when it was making the old coin-op games," he explains. "When you design and build an arcade game, you're trying to get someone to have a lot of fun in a short period of time; you're not trying to make some big, open-world MMO."

"And that concept translates well to the type of person who is a Wii gamer, a large percentage of whom would call themselves casual gamers. They may play Game Party for an hour or so, but in fact they will probably play a few of the mini-games in the collection for just 10 or 15 minutes each. So we had to design for a very short gameplay experience."

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Rhodri Broadbent
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"For example, I thought THQ's de Blob was a really great Wii game but Ubisoft's The Price Is Right outsold it 3-to-1. So did THQ's Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader: Make The Grade. That's sad. But it tells you who the audience is."

There has for the longest time been a truth in the games industry that licensed products (games with instant brand recognition) can sell well despite poor quality, whilst many unknown or new properties fail to catch the public's interest. It's harder to market unknowns. I'm fairly sure this is established wisdom not new analyst insight.

Mr. Pachter's comments don't actually, despite his claims, 'tell [us] who the audience is' because none of the games he mentions sold to anything more than a small fraction of the Wii userbase - especially if you factor in the average number of potential users in a single household. 2 million sales is not at all indicative of 'the audience'.

Indeed, if as Mr. Pachter suggests sales are to tell us 'who the audience is' (a particularly short-sighted way to judge anyway), then Mario Kart Wii, Twilight Princess, Guitar Hero, and Super Smash Brothers should be our guiding lights. Hopefully quality games like de Blob can rise with the tide as more and more of us try to create compelling Wii software.

Erick Hermosillo
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I'm very disappointed with those poor people that programm/create game with poor quality, and I mean quality in the manner that anybody say 'enriched game'. I would like to refer a point of comparison, and this is Resident Evil 4 and Dead Rising, both for wii. In the first week RE4 outsells 4 times than DR in the same period of time just in Japan. Why this happens? Well, is simple, poeple seeks those games that really really really entertain. And for that reason, I haven't bought Dead Rising for wii, because it doesn't retain the very essential of the original, a mall infested of zombies and worst, the game doesn't have the camera feature, why? Because those behind the creation of a game don't consider the wii as a console that can give more and better results. I don't like those people, 'the console doesn't have enough storage and the re4's scheme doesn't fit as a camera sight', what about Smash Bros Brawl and it's camera and what about the sniper riffle sight on re4? For the love of God what they were thinking?

Ok, now look World of Goo, is simple, funny, perhaps it doesn't have the best graphics of the history, but the game fulfills with it's function, Megaman 9 uses the same key and lately konami released Gradius, and both are for wiiware and they are amazing, and look The Conduit, sega is making a new engine exclusively for this one, why? Because sega believes in investing time and efforts will reward greatly. That is what I was talking about.

I really take personally your question above, and I answer 'yes, I would create a-must-have wii game', with the necessary tools and time I can create it, because I believe in investing time and efforts will reward greatly.

Richard Cody
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I know they strip games down to what can work on Wii. But, to me, there's an appeal to a game that's deep or has room for strategy yet is very simple. Not all these Wii games are like that. But I don't think a budget game has to fall short on that level (this level is largely what makes a game "fun" to me. Which is also to say budget titles don't really have to fall short at all.)

But all of that said the Dead Rising camera thing doesn't make much sense. It's making you concentrate on the fact that there's less zombies than in 360..

Bob McIntyre
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The reason that nobody creates good games for the Wii is that Nintendo marketed (and sold hardware) to people who don't know anything about games and don't care. These people are buying based on brand recognition and box art. They aren't "into games," they don't know release dates off-hand, they don't read review sites, and they only buy things that are massively hyped, which they play for ten minutes a few times each week for about a month before they forget about it. Making a high-quality game for this crowd is a huge waste of effort. The reason you see high-quality games on other platforms is because the audience is far more educated about the product and will usually detect and avoid poor-quality games. However, those customers also buy a lot more games per year and play them for long enough that in-game advertising reaches them, so it is worthwhile to go the extra distance and make something decent for them. It's really simple, in the end. It's just a question of who your customer is and what your customer demands. The Wii gets shovelware because the customer doesn't discern, and it's easier to make.

John Paul Zahary
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Anonymous brings up a good point about "non-discerning" customers.

We have to remember that the Wii has attracted a slew of "new" gamers - adults, grandparents, people who never wanted anything to do with video games. This new market is driving up the Wii sales, while the so-called "hardcore" gamer complains that Nintendo is abandoning its roots.

Unfortunately, there are numerous games that come out that do not have the best physics or motion controls, but people will buy them for the party aspect or because they want to "bowl" in their living room.

However, Motion Plus is coming out, and I hope 3rd party developers can grasp the technology properly to create stellar titles.

Bob McIntyre
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John, I'm not sure of exactly what Wii Motion Plus will do to change anything. It's a piece of hardware that senses the angle at which the Wii Remote is held. That gives developers one more piece of input (although it does not make 1:1 motion possible), but I don't see how it can possibly address the issue that I mentioned. The issue stems from the level of education (and genuine interest in learning about the medium) of the customer base, not the quality of the input device.

E Zachary Knight
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It takes time for these new people to find their way around. When you got behind the wheel of a car for the first time did you know how to drive? No. It took you some time to learn. The same with buying a car. If you had never bought a car before, you do not know what exactly you should be looking for.

The same goes for every new experience. These new customers are far more discerning than you give them credit. Sure they are not as discerning as people who have been gaming since the Atari 2600. But they are discerning none the less. Tehy work through word of mouth a lot easier than the "hardcore" gamer. If one of them finds a game they really enjoy, they talk about it with their friends and their friends will buy it. If they find one that was absolutely horrid, they will warn their friends. Just because they live and die by Metacritic or other review sites, that does not mean they have no discernment.

Next these new gamers do not have the same needs and desires as the "hardcore" Gaming is not their primary entertainment. For most of them it is a second or third entertainment source. So they spend far less time playing than they do watching tv or movies or reading books. They do not want to play games that require 1-2 hours a day commitment. That eats into the time they have to watch their favorite shows.

If this industry really wants to expand into this new market, they need to shed this "hardcore" mindset and learn to make games that appeal to more than just the "hardcore" minority.

I have no doubts that more traditional games can succeed in this new market. But we need to rethink how we design them. If time constraints are one of the things holding people back from playing the game. Perhaps we need to avoid the grind found in most games. People who only have 30 minutes a day to play want to feel that they actually accomplished something in the game during that time. If all they were doing was killing monsters to level up but never advanced in story or game levels, they will feel like they wastd their time. Also, they need to be able to jump in and out of the game at anytime. We can no longer lock people into save points and check points. If these new gamers need to shut off the game system to either watch tv or eat dinner, the yshould not have to look around for some way to save their progress. They should just be able to click the option and pickup where they left off earlier.

I could go into accessibility right now but I have to go right now. My life doesn't revolve around gaming.

John Paul Zahary
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You bring up an excellent point.

When I brought up about the motion plus, which is supposed to get us as close to 1:1 motion as we can be at this point, I am referring to better fine tuning tool of games - especially in 1st person shooters, so possibly the seasoned gamer would be happier.

For example, the Wii launch title Red Steel. It was rushed out, and the sword controls were originally perceived as something close to 1:1 motion. However, the designers were compacted by their deadline and lack of better motion - as one might know, even though ambitious, the game was not well received.

Since, games such as Metroid Prime have fine tuned and games such as The Conduit are supposed to offer intricate motion sensitivity customization - Something that will get seasoned gamers something to talk about other than Mario or Zelda for the Wii.

I do believe that if this technology can be studied properly by a developer, they can make a better game with motion than your simple "slash left, slash right."

However, to the casual gamer or someone that just wants to play for 30 min. an evening, this might not be a matter of thought. They just want to sit down from a stressful day of work and play with their kids or just conquer 1/2 a level and quickly save. - Save points vs. instant saves is something that should be explored for every game.

As for the overall level of education of the casual gamer, some will eventually learn when they play better games - or if they just talk ones who are gamers. However, others will just be happy for playing a video game and continue to buy watered down titles from certain developers who either do not care or have a quick deadline.

Bob McIntyre
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I think you're making a serious false dichotomy here. You're pitting "casual" games against poorly-designed "core" games. As if all "core" games are level-grinding with no save points that require players to play for hours at a time in order to do anything.

Save anytime, anywhere? Quake featured that. Let's step back further: Wolfenstein 3D featured that. Wait, further still: Sierra and LucasArts adventure games featured that; you could do that in The Black Cauldron, and I'm pretty sure that game topped out at 16 colors. These features you're describing have nothing to do with whether a game is "core" or "casual" at all, they're just user interface features, and not even remotely new. And while we're at it, even well-designed games without "save anytime" functionality (e.g. Halo) generally place save points about five minutes apart, basically one checkpoint per battle. If you just shut the thing off, you lose at most five minutes of progress. Big deal.

Throwing in "my life doesn't revolve around video games" and "some people don't live and die by Metacritic" is nonsense, too. It's a half-step from just saying "if you care about this, you're a nerd, and you don't want to be a nerd, do you?" Let's drop the insinuated ad-hominem, and let's also stop with the false dichotomy. Let's also stop pretending that "core" games can't be played in half-hour chunks. I played MGS4 in half-hour chunks. I played Ninja Gaiden Sigma in half-hour chunks. I played Rainbow Six in half-hour chunks. And most online console games have matches that last five to ten minutes at most.

The "word of mouth" thing is true with all products, so of course it is true with the Wii. However, it seems much less true than with other consoles. If it were true, I'd hazard a guess that the platform would not be swamped with shovelware, which even Nintendo has more or less admitted. (Reggie's said something along those lines, and Miyamoto even gave a speech to developers saying "Hey, guys! Why are you all making cut-rate crap for the Wii? Stop doing it!")

E Zachary Knight
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Let me ask you something, when those games were designed with the frequent save points or auto saves, were they designed with the player playing in short infrequent sessions, or were they designed so when the player dies 2 hours into the play session they didn't have to start all over?

Most of those games are designed with the idea in mind that the player will be playing for several hours before stopping and they don't want 2 hours to be wasted because they died before reaching the next save point.

What I am talking about is people wanting to play for 15-30 minutes, accomplish something meaningful in the game, save and quit. The "accomplish something meaningful in the game" part is key right there. When you played those games for 30 minute bursts, did you really accomplish something meaningful in the game? Personally I wouldn't know as I have never played those games.

When I said my life does not revolve around games, I was building of fthe idea that Wii gamers are not gamers first. If you read the rest of my post, you will see that I said the majority of Wii gamers have gaming as their 2nd or 3rd entertainment choice. They play it when there is nothing available in their other entertainment choices.

When I said that they don't live and die by Metacritic, I was not i,plying that you were a nerd, only that the scores found on Metacritic and other gaming review sites do not reflect what they are looking for in a game. Look at any of the top selling games for the Wii and you will see a huge disproportionate comparison between the review score and the number sold. The reason that is is because those games were not designed with the hardcore gamer reviewers working for those sites. The games were designed with people who do not read gaming review sites in mind.

I don't know how you connected word of mouth with shovelware. The Wii is not flooded with shovelware because people are buying it, it is flooded with shovelware because publishers are peddling it. Very few of that shovelware sells anything worthwhile. Maybe a couple hundred thousand at most. But that is mostly the better stuff. Wii owners will tell each other if a game is crap. They talk to each other. The only reason you don't think they do is because they are not talking through the same channels as you do. They talk with people they talk to on a regular basis at work, or at PTA meetings or other gatherings. Just because they don't go to some website and give the game 5 stars or an A or whatever, does not mean that they don't rate it in a way. Their main form of rating is to tell their friend, "You should buy this game. It is a blast."

But back o shovelware, if you look carefully at Nintendo's comments they are not calling out customers for buying it, they are calling out publishers and developers for peddling it. Their complaint is that developers are making gutter trash for the Wii and making it more difficult for Wii owners to find the good games. That is the problem right there. It is not that there are no good games, it is that the good ones are being crowded out.

The Wii is taken seriously by those who own them, it is the developers and publishers who need to change their attitude toward it.

Darryl Nevels
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What wrong with this picture Xbox 360 Lovely,large libary, but RED RING OF DEATH. Playstation 3 Big and has couple of games in its library I want to play, but it cost 2 much and do not have large video game library. Wii ,perfect and controller are great but they don't want to take the chance of making it a adult but with the Wii they have this systems right where they want them on the in the stories collecting dust.

John Paul Zahary
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That is the point, Darryl. The Wii is winning in that category...without a price cut.

Bob McIntyre
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Does it matter who Halo's checkpoint system was created for? Does it matter who was in mind when older games put in "save anytime, anywhere" functionality? I would say that it doesn't, because either way someone can stop playing when dinner's ready and not lose more than a few minutes of progress. And even if it did matter, you and I didn't create all of those games.

I don't think that the Wii is taken seriously by people who own them. Maybe people who own them and read this site and thus are in the tiny minority of "core" gamers who own Wiis, but that's not Nintendo's target demographic. That's not the "expanded audience" of "non-gamers," and that's not who we're talking about.

If I look at the top-selling Wii games, as you suggest, I'm not seeing a huge, disproportionate difference between review score and copies sold. I'm seeing games that Nintendo made. Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Kart...these games sell well because of what I said. Brand recognition. I'm not saying that they're bad games, but I am saying that being Nintendo products with heavy hype is giving them an edge. My point also isn't that shovelware is selling and you can make tons of money with a crap title. My point is that the quality of the game doesn't really seem to matter. Games like No More Heroes, Zak & Wiki, and Boom Blox are all supposedly really cool games, but they can't sell as well as a good game deserves to.

I agree, Nintendo was calling out developers for making bad games, not customers for buying them. But why aren't developers putting in the effort (and money) to make good stuff? That's the real issue here. And I'm proposing that it's because the majority of Wii customers (the "non-gamer" demographic) are indiscriminate with regard to game quality, using brand recognition and box art as their primary guides. It simply doesn't pay to put in the extra effort. It's like you said; it's their third form of entertainment, for when the other two aren't working for them.

If I were an avid TV viewer, and I were up late at night, I'd pull out my DVDs or my DV-R selection and watch only the really good shows. If I were not an avid viewer, I wouldn't have a collection of good stuff ready to go, and I'd probably watch infomercials or just whatever is on my favorite channel without even glancing at the others...certainly I'm not going to break out my 500-channel listing and check the reviewer's scores and make sure I'm seeing whatever series I choose in the proper order. I think it's similar here.

I'm not trying to bash the Wii, I'm just saying that Nintendo purposely reached out to a demographic that doesn't know much about games and doesn't care to, so it's not a surprise that really good games aren't being made for the platform.

Bob McIntyre
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Darryl, how can you say that the 360 has a large library of good games, and the PS3 has too small a library? Have you checked Metacritic? Not that they're the be-all-end-all or that their ratings are handed down from on high, but the PS3 has more total good games (defined as 80% Metacritic rating and higher) than the 360 or the Wii. It has the smallest library of any console this generation, yet it has the most high-rated games.

In other words, if you ignore all games rated below 8.0, the PS3 actually has the largest library of the current console generation. Assuming that you want to play good games, complaining that the PS3 doesn't have enough games is absurd.

As for the Wii's controller being "perfect," that's just ridiculous. The Wiimote (without Wii Motion Plus) actually has weaker motion-sensing capabilities than the PS3's SixAxis. With Wii Motion Plus, it's approximately the same as what the SixAxis offers. But you know what's funny? Very few PS3 games use the SixAxis, and if I play a game with SixAxis support, I switch it use the right analog stick immediately. This is because motion control is almost always a cheap, clunky gimmick. Even when someone makes a whole game around motion control (Lair), it comes out clunky and awful.

What you're doing, Darryl, is reciting PR nonsense. Sony has made itself and its system look horrible and overpriced, despite that this isn't the case. Microsoft has made its product look decent and is selling it in good numbers. The Wii sells like mad without a price cut. These are just the results of marketing and advertising, though, not the result of actually having a good or bad console with a good or bad library of games and set of features.

Greg Wilcox
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Interesting enough, Nintendo really doesn't "need" the "hardcore" gamers that gripe endlessly about the system not having the games they want when they want them (and I hope all of these complainers ran out and bought titles like No More Heroes, Blast Works, MadWorld, HOTD:OK, Deadly Creatures and the few other great third party games). The fast food argument is certainly valid, HOWEVER, you're not going to turn granny or gramps into stone cold ninjas after a session or three of Wii Play. Say what you will, but Nintendo needs to keep that particular demographic happy and unfortunately, shovelware seems to be a door for them.

In a perfect world, for these "casual" folks (many of whom probably don't own a DS) Nintendo would simply do more quick, high quality ports of DS "evergreens" either in-house or by farming them out to developers who could do quick turnarounds. While that might sound awful, Brain Trianing isn't a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination, Warioware is goofy enough for anyone to enjoy it and so forth and so on. Yes, there are plenty of decent Wii games based on decent DS games, but I'd rather see more of those at retail than more awful ports of free PC puzzle games or "what-the-hell-is-that?" brand X platformer/action/shooter/kid's game.

I love Nintendo, but yeesh, some of these budget Wii titles actually beat the bad old days of the NES and GameBoy junk that filled retail shelves (and later, closeout bins) for ages. Now, Joe/Jane Newii Owner should explore other options beside crappy games galore (deluxe), but I'm guessing either these folks don't know any better, don't care or just love the Wii so much that they'll buy anything that catches their eye in the store. "Ooh, it's only twenny dollarz!" Help me, Jebus...

To me, "this system is underpowered" is a lazy developer's way of looking at a real challenge (I'm NOT calling you lazy, Bill!). Shouldn't it be possible for good developer to create a game with solid visuals and a well implemented physics engine? It's not as if one is working with DS limitations here (or PlayStation 1 limitations, for that matter). I'd say rather than "realistic" visuals with texture-hogging memory, a game with stylized art assets and realistic physics can probably be done on the platform if someone sits down and tries it. As far as upcoming releases go, The Conduit really shows off some skill - High Voltage Software has pretty much rewrote the book on what can be done with the system and HOPEFULLY, the game will sell amongst FPS fans (the customizable interface/control setup should be mandatory for every action game/shooter, imho).

The biggest issue I have with the Wii is it's hard to find a (non Virtual Console) game that doesn't overuse the Wiimote (as if developers are scared to let you actually sit down and enjoy what they worked hard on using an alternate control setup/different controller as opposed to fighting with the controller for half an hour or so before you actually enjoy the game). That said and done, No More Heroes and MadWorld rank way up there in terms of devs who nailed the overall wackiness of waving two pieces of plastic around like a conductor on speed.

Remember folks: there's NO such thing as a bad console - it's the games... it's always the games.