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Third-Party Publishers React To Deflating Wii Bubble

January 8, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Tumbling Wii hardware sales and analysts' comments about whether the Wii bubble is deflating have some third-party publishers re-examining and re-jiggering their strategies.

Wii console sales in the U.S. slid 27.5 percent from January to November 2008, when they were 8.0 million, to 5.8 million for the same period in 2009, according to the NPD Group. The tracking firm has yet to reveal full 2009 sales figures, but with an estimated 3 million Wiis sold during December, Nintendo sold about 8.8 million units in the U.S. last year, versus 10.2 million in 2008 -- a 14 percent year-on-year drop.

Some of the most troubling concerns about the possibility of waning enthusiasm for the Wii include whether there are too many Wii games on the market, whether gamers have had their fill of so-called Wii casual or party games, and whether publishers have a handle on the moving target that is the Wii audience.

Take the case of third-party publisher Capcom, whose stock rose to a five-year high in September, 2007 due to increased support for the Wii, according to the company.

At the time, its CFO spoke enthusiastically about Capcom's Wii portfolio -- which had doubled from three to six games -- and was poised to publish Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros' Treasure the next month.

But Chris Kramer, Capcom senior director of communications and community, said even though "it was one of the highest-rated Wii games and was beloved by the media, it sold abysmally -- about 120,000 units in 26 months -- for no apparent reason.

Similarly, Japanese publisher Marvelous Entertainment focused heavily on Wii and PSP releases in 2009, but the company found a considerable difference in its success on the two platforms. Four out of its five PSP games in its first fiscal half were profitable while three of its four Wii games during the same period lost money.

According to Kramer, "If you're not Nintendo, it does seem harder to make money on the Wii today compared to the PS3 and the Xbox 360. It's a very tough market to crack and is ever-shifting."

He recalls that when the Wii first launched in North America in November, 2006, simple casual or party games did so well that they soon saturated the market. "Now, I don't even know what the market is," he says. "

One thing's for sure -- the focus has changed. Stores like Target and Best Buy have reportedly told game publishers not to even bother approaching them with collections of mini games, which they will no longer pick up.

"Third-party publishers are having a hard time determining who the Wii audience is," Kramer adds. "You can no longer say it is solely casual gamers or that only E-rated games own the space. For any sort of solid statement you want to make about the platform or the audience, there are enough opposite proofs to show that it is extremely scattered and chaotic."

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Chad Metrick
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'"Wii publishers need to concentrate on fewer games but games of higher quality," he says.'


Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Interesting article. I agree that the wii market is somewhat chaotic.

Nintendo's casual games are reasonably innovative and satisfy the needs of the users. I think their main competitors are board games. They sell because they are very effectively advertised.

Nintendo's "hardcore" games are just of exceedingly high quality and are not sold on other systems, so seasoned gamers buy them and they also sell well.

I'm not sure why games designers shooting for the non-casual market always water down their wii experiences. I find it hard to believe it is solely due to technical limitations. It seems like they do something different to other platforms just because it's the Wii.

Take Capcom for example. They try to sell Wii games on the back of the Resident Evil brand. But the people attracted by the brand aren't interested in ports and rail shooters. No wonder they have sold below expectations. I don't know if any big developer apart from Nintendo has made a game built around the Wii without compromising their usual design principles in some way to simplify for Wii users. Actually, the Pro Evolution Soccer series is one example I can think of. I don't know if its sales would be considered satisfactory. Anyone have more?

Rafael Vazquez
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I believe the problem arises when we think of casuals as if they were dedicated gamers. With them, we don't compete agianst other gaming systems, but with movies, books, Tv, etc.... They see games as one of a bundle of entertainment options. So if they buy a game they like, they don't need to buy a second game that is just like the first one. That's why so many sequels are flopping, the user base just doesn't see any added value to them. We need more variety of games to keep the Wii players happy.

Adam Flutie
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Kramer: "it was one of the highest-rated Wii games and was beloved by the media, it sold abysmally -- about 120,000 units in 26 months -- for no apparent reason."

I'm I the only one that can see the box art? Am I the only one that played it? There were repeat animations (chocolate eating, etc) in the second cut scene. What is 'Wiki?' Oh, it is also a point and click adventure where you have to think a lot about how to progress.

You couldn't blame these things on the art style back then, but now we have had more examples of the same type of work failing (Little King Story, MBL Power Pros, etc) with the only consistent features between the two being art style and 3rd party.

My real hunch on why 3rd parties have a hard time breaking in is Nintendo markets the ***** out of their games. I'm getting emails, in case ads, reminders of what is coming out that is similar to other games they have, a points system for buying their stuff... For the install base, one that probably only spends limited money on gaming, there isn't much room for 3rd party after you get the titles that you have heard about and were remotely interested in that were spammed to you from Nintendo.

Joseph Jezak
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If Zack and Wiki was to be sold on the 360 or PS3, (certainly an option with the new motion controls which are to be released this year) would anyone expect better sales? If not, why then should we take Zack and Wiki as a barometer of the direction the Wii market is headed? If so, what makes the game more appealing on 360 or PS3? I'm not aware of similar games for these consoles and suspect that if they do exist, they've done no better than Zack and Wiki.

To be clear, I suspect that the game itself is just not appealing to any large user base, for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

1. The childish graphics contrast sharply with the difficult nature of the puzzles. What demographic is Capcom targeting?

2. "Adventure Puzzles" like this game have declined in popularity. Does anyone think that a modern "Myst" would sell well today? How about a "Myst" with cartoon graphics?

3. What kind of marketing push did this game receive? I suspect that again, if it got one at all, it was directed at the wrong demographic.

4. While I thought the game was a fun throwback to older adventure/puzzle titles, the constant death resulting in a reset of the entire level made my girlfriend not want to play the game at all. Perhaps this game mechanic reduced the acceptance of the game into the expanded audiences that the Wii favors and limited word of mouth sales.

In the same light, Dead Space Extraction also failed to find a market. Why? After the game's announcement, there where howls of protest from many message boards filled with the "hardcore" gamer this game was supposed to target. Many were expecting a 3rd person game similar to RE4, or perhaps an FPS tailored to the Wii controls. Instead, we got a light gun game, a good one, but still a light gun game. Interest amongst the *core audience* palpably dropped. Did EA focus test this game at all? Even a casual focus test would have revealed the disinterest in the core demographic for a game like the one we got. Is anyone really surprised that this game did poorly?

So why are 3rd parties under performing on the Wii? I suspect there's a few reasons:

1. The audience has been taught over the past few years to distrust games that have not been produced by Nintendo. Through the process of flinging poo at the wall and seeing what sticks, the 3rd parties have poisoned the well.

2. Comparing 3rd parties output on PS2 versus the Wii, or even the PSP versus the Wii shows that there has been a distinct lack of effort on their part to improve this situation. Related to this is the distinct lack of advertising for 3rd party Wii games when compared to PS3/360.

3. The gaming press has ignored minor Wii releases and discounted them compared with minor PS3/360 releases. Whether this is a result of 3rd parties not releasing information about their games or the gaming press reacting in the same manor as the general Wii audience is debatable. In any case, there is rarely the hype seen around even higher profile 3rd party Wii releases as compared to minor 3rd party PS3/360 releases.

In any case, I don't have any solutions. 3rd parties have acted extremely irrationally this generation and will now reap what they have sown. Hopefully better decisions will be made in the next generation.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Good points about the box art and general art style. High ratings are one thing but the ability to publicly buy it or play it without feeling any embarassment (even if you realise that the embarassment is unnecessary) would help things.

It seems as though some developers are trying to straddle the market by appealing to dedicated gamers with mechanics and aiming for extra sales from mothers who see the box art and decide to get it as a gift. But instead they fail in both areas.

Ian Fisch
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I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you want to target hardcore gamers on the Wii, you need to make games that they can't find ANYWHERE else.

Why would I play Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles on the Wii when I could play Resident Evil 5 on X360? Why would I play Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii when I could play Bayonetta on the PS3. Why would I try to play Tatsunoko vs. Capcom on the awkward Wii controller when I could play Street Fighter 4 on a stardard PS3 or X360 gamepad.

Look at what Nintendo does. They release games that are BEST in their class. There's no 2d platformer on ANY system as good as New Super Mario Bros Wii. There's no 4 player fighter on ANY system as good as Super Smash Bros. There's no 3d platformer on ANY system that's as good as Super Mario Galaxy. 3rd party publishers need to learn from Nintendo.

Joseph DiFrancisco
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E Zachary Knight
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Perhaps I am just uninformed about the gameplay and objective of Bayonetta, but how is that a substitute for Monster Hunter Tri?

Monster Hunter has a dedicated Fan base that will buy it because they loved the first two and want to play it. Bayonetta is a new IP that has yet to be proven.

Jonathan Hall
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Ian Fisch is absolutely right. Wii owners want a unique experience suited for the system.

The unique experience that has catapulted Wii games to the top has nearly universally involved motion control and multiplayer. Apart from Nintendo's Mario/Zelda/Metroid franchise, the hottest games for the system have been ones that people can play as a group and not solo. Multiplayer is absolutely essential.

Third-party developers: the key to the success of your games is not a secret, it's right there in the name of the system.


Samuel Fish
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I believe that saying third parties have essentially poisoned the well at this point is very accurate.

After several years now of often enjoyable but far from GREAT budget titles, ports and substandard party game releases, third parties have basically dug themselves into a hole at this point.

The more general core audience is either in the process of leaving or has already left. I'm sure Nintendo's hardcore fanbase is still there, though.

At this point, it's probably pointless to bother with the Wii now. The next generation starts probably next year of 2012 at the latest. Any meaningful software from third parties is going to come out at the very end of the Wii's lifecycle now.

If it really isn't too late in the Wii's life cycle to take corrective measures, I think third parties would be smart to:

A) Start releasing higher quality casual /exercise / party games that are more unique and give them special marketing and promotional budgets, and

B) Target the core Nintendo audience with software that appeals directly to them — Mario-esque platformers, games with strong character design, Zelda-like adventure games and full-fledged 2D games of classic franchises. Games that have a greater emphasis on gameplay than story elements. Somewhat ironically that Capcom is actually one of the companies best in the position to do this. Sega would be, too.

Unfortunately, I think the ship has really sailed at this point and it's probably too late even for that.

Curt Perry
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if TargetPlatform == Wii AND Publisher != Nintendo then FAIL

John Gordon
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This is what I've seen this week on gamasutra:

Jan. 5 Most anticipated games on PS3/Xbox 360

Jan. 6 Most anticipated games on DS and PSP

Jan. 7 Most anticipated games PC and MMO

Jan. 8 Third party games don't sell on Wii, so why bother

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Russell Carroll
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"Zack & Wiki was one of the highest-rated Wii games and was beloved by the media, it sold abysmally -- about 120,000 units in 26 months -- for no apparent reason."

Wow! I agree that there is a challenging market to figure out, but are you even trying.

120K units for this game seems like a lot.

For starters, it's an adventure game. I doubt TellTale is selling anywhere near those numbers with their adventure games on any console (the XBLA numbers for Wallace & Grommit appear abysmal in the 4 digit range). In 2010 (as in 2007) point-and-click adventure games are not "The hot ticket." When was the last time you saw an adventure game in the top 10 of NPD numbers.

This is a niche title...

...which has a box and art-style that initially makes it look like a kids game...

...and which did not receive a sequel to bolster it's market awareness.

There is plenty of apparent reason it didn't become a million unit seller, and it doesn't take that long to figure it out.

Zach & Wiki is not the poster child of the challenging Wii market. (a good question would be what is? On-rail shooters? Madden sales? Boom Blox? I think the struggles of Rune Factory, Tales of Graces, and Murasama are all likely better candidates than Z&W)

Jeremy Reaban
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People hold up Monster Hunter 3 as a big hit for the Wii in Japan. But how much money did Capcom lose by putting it on the Wii instead of the PSP, where Monster Hunter 2G sold almost 3x that on the Wii? 1 million sales vs 3 million on the PSP?

While they eventually may port it to the PSP, it's quite possible that they've damaged the IP, not to mention the genre has seem a lot of copycats as other publishers have rushed to fill the void left by the lack of a new MH on the PSP.

Unless it's a huge hit in the west, Capcom really shot themselves in the foot.

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Ken Masters
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I don't think the Wii bubble "deflating" has anything to do with these company's game sales. There's enough installed base out there right now for any game to be successful. Gamasutra has really been the "Wii bubble burst" cheerleader this past year - get off it guys! It's getting too redundant.

Anyways, there are some errors in the story I believe.

1). TatsuCap is NOT the first fighting game on the Wii. Not hardly. There is already a market. Do some research!

2). Pointing to Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles as proof that the RE brand doesn't work on Wii while ignoring RE4 and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is just plain... trolling.

Otherwise, I think Pachter made sense. And I really like Kramer's approach of releasing less but higher quality, event-scale games. Developers need to start having respect for the platform and stop expecting Wii gamers to support whatever spin-off and/or half-assed port they offer.

Some really good comments above too.

Jamie Mann
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The debate on Wii economics is starting to sound like a debate down t'pub about the local football team: everyone has their own strident theory on where the manager is going wrong and what needs to lead the team to win the league.

I have to admit, I'm not sure there is a solution - or at least, not a solution that traditional developers will enjoy. The standard "13-30 male" demographic seems to be virtually non-existent (at least when it comes to non-Nintendo IP): as far as I can see, they've generally moved onto the PS3 or Xbox 360. This leaves the pre-teen, female and middle-aged demographics, all of which are firmly entrenched in the casual market.

Admittedly, I'm making some wild generalisations and simplifications there, but my general perception of the Wii demographic is that it's heavily fragmented and generally focused on games which focus on phsyical movement (Wii Sports) and/or hardware gimmicks (Wii Fit, Mario Kart).

John Petersen
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We played a Wii for the first time tonite, and we weren't impressed at all. Had we of been somewhat happy with the way it played we would have bought one.

It does have the heathly gaming and exercise thing going for it, but that's about it.

Bowling was the best and most fun game we played, the air hockey was hokey, the darts were inaccurate, and the trivia made using the controller, well, trivial at best.

Seems as though we were trying to figure out how to use the controller accurately more than we were playing games.

As far as a solution goes, we have no clue. It's a "no buy" for us.

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Matt Ponton
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Bob, Soul Calibur 2 sold really well for the Gamecube due to its guest character. Just throwing that out there.

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Iwata asked third parties to put some of their "A" teams on making Wii titles because Nintendo don't use their "B" and "C" strings to make game for their consoles. Rather than taking his advice to heart and doing just that, Third Parties saw success of the Wii and thought, "We need to get a game on this thing and ride the train" then as they always think tank, "we can just develop on the cheap and the people on the Wii will buy anything because they are causal and casual means stupid." Now they are bellyaching. It's their fault! Had they had listen to what Iwata told them back 2 years ago, they would see some success. But instead they saw the simplicity of a game like Wii sports, and they didn't stop to study the mechanics of what made that game appealing. No, no instead they just focused on the content. The point is, treat the Wii gamer like you treated the PS2 gamers in the past. Give them some good content to work with, and turn those casuals into hardcore. The motion controller is just there to make the dynamic more interesting.

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Jordan Ackerman
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The Wii is fundamentally broken as a console because of it's reliance on a novelty controller to distinguish it. All those old Nintendo accessories that got really old really fast (The Powerglove, The Powerpad), well Nintendo designed a whole console around them.

I think it's fairly obvious that hardcore gamers who want a Wii want it for a couple reasons; they love the Nintendo name and all the great titles associated with that (Super Mario, Zelda, etc...), they want to play classic titles on a new console (NES, SNES, Genesis titles that you can download), or possibly they have kids and Nintendo is probably better suited for very young gamers. I think it's safe to say that hardcore gamers only enjoy the novelty of the new controller and other Wii accessories for social gaming or for short periods of time. I know many casual gamers (who own a Wii) who play less video games now because they are tired of the Wii controller or no longer get into games like bowling and tennis that force you to use the new controller motion sensing functions (just barely flicking the controller with your wrist while sitting on the couch instead of using your whole arm and body for "the motion").

Nintendo has actually done a commendable job adapting their games to this new controller interface, but this is changing the fundamentals of their games. There was a reason that the Powerglove and Powerpad only worked with a few titles. Now programmers have to make all their games function with this new accessory, or they might as well release the title for Gameboy Advance.

Third-party companies are years behind in R & D with this specialized controller interface, and frankly it seems like FPS titles are really the only hardcore games that might flourish on the console.

As the novelty of the Wii controller wears thin (which it arguably already has), there's gonna be less incentive for any non-Nintendo title to come out for Wii and there's arguably no incentive for a gamer to play any title on a Wii that is also availiable on another non-Nintendo system. I think developers would better spend their time porting to iPhone.

On a side note, it would be interesting to see how much pressure Nintendo is putting on 3rd parties to develop stuff that centers around the "nunchuk" or other aspects of motion/pressure sensing, versus how much they just want a solid overall title.

Robert Weidner
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Very good article! I will say the one thing this article did not mention is advertisement. When you are dealing with new demographics of gamers you need to reach them differently.

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