At Nintendo's Q1 Media Summit in San Francisco, sales and marketing EVP Cammie Dunaway bragged about Nintendo's December 2009 performance, which saw Wii sell 3.81 million consoles in the U.S. alongside sales of 3.31 million units of the Nintendo DS platform.
Speaking to Gamasutra, Dunaway says credit is due to games like Wii Fit Plus, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the last of which has sold more than 4.5 million units to date. "Those kinds of products just drove Wii as well as DS...up to the top of people's wishlist for the holidays," she told Gamasutra.
Wii's price drop to $199 last year "made the product accessible to a whole new group of consumers," she said, as Nintendo had "the best inventory position that we had had going into a holiday." New retail outlets like The Sports Authority began stocking the system for the first time late last year. And the system's Wii Motion+ controller add-on has already sold through 10 million units.
Third parties, however, still find the situation a bit tough on the Wii. While Dunaway was quick to point out that four out of the top ten games on the Wii for December were third party, that means six were not. Overall, she said, ten third-party titles have exceeded sales of a million units on Wii.
What can Nintendo do to help third parties find Wii success? Dunaway says Nintendo will partner "very closely" with publishers on titles Nintendo thinks "make particularly good use for our hardware, represent great innovation, and are going to have appeal to the right audiences."
Based on Nintendo's current activity, that audience seems to be hardcore RPG fans for the time being. Nintendo is working closely with Capcom on the release of Monster Hunter Tri for Wii, and the manufacturer announced today that it plans to publish Square Enix's Dragon Quest IX in the U.S. Both games hail from series that are chart-topping hits in Japan but have never performed very well in the West.
But the biggest problem for third parties is making titles that appeal to the Wii's true audience. According to Dunaway, 43 percent of the self-identified "primary gamers" on the Wii are women -- and with almost 30 million Wii remotes sold on top of the units packaged with each system, Dunaway sees social experiences like Ubisoft's hit Just Dance as the key to the market.
"In Wii households, 69 percent of the people in the household are playing the Wii, which far exceeds similar numbers for Xbox 360 and PS3," she explained. When it comes to Just Dance (and, by implication, the company's own Wii Fit), "ideas that seem pretty simple can be incredibly innovative," Dunaway said.
The female audience is "a major focus for us," Dunaway said. "We've seen a shift over the past several years... It's really about having games that appeal to everyone." Of course, there's still a vital hardcore audience that demands games like Metroid: Other M, Dunaway added. As always, "it really is important to find that balance" between the two audiences, and some games manage that feat single-handedly. "If you have a game like New Super Mario Bros. Wii," she said, "that's appealing whether you're a guy, you're a gal, whether you've been playing games for decades, or if you picked up a Wii remote yesterday."
Despite perceived third-party challenges, Dunaway said Nintendo is "pleased with the number of titles that are coming out from third parties," with other publishers planning some 50 Wii games and 40 Nintendo DS games between now and July.
Nintendo is trying to improve its opportunities for third parties as well, she said, and initiatives like the company's downloadable game services are a big part of that.
"As an industry the more open we are to all kinds of people coming, the healthier our industry will be," Dunaway said. "That's one of the reasons we've been so committed to DSiWare and WiiWare. That enables small developers with small budgets but big ideas to find an audience."
Nintendo is "looking to constantly learn and improve" when it comes to those services, she said, and the company does "try and focus more on quality than quantity," meaning it is keeping WiiWare releases to one or two a week on top of its existing library of 189 games. "Discoverability is a challenge for all digital content," Dunaway said. "We're spending a lot of time thinking about [it], and...we're really committed to helping these great titles find an audience."
The company is holding firm on some longstanding principles though, including restricting the number of demos to a limited number of WiiWare games. "It's a balancing act," she explained. "You want to make sure you don't provide so much content in the form of demos that people don't need to purchase games. You've got to hit the sweet spot."
Still, Nintendo made a friend code exception for Monster Hunter Tri, allowing Capcom to bypass the famously cumbersome multiplayer system. "It's matter of figuring out what is the right approach for each title," Dunaway said. "We felt that this was the best way to deliver [Monster Hunter Tri]. ...With each title we'll make the right determination."
As for developers who aren't Capcom? "They can certainly make the case," she offered.