Monday, July 11, 2011


The Wii Problem

I guess it was nice, for a while, to imagine that Nintendo had thrown a monkey wrench in the system and that we were really going to see a game-changing revolution take place. But now we see an unprecedented phenomenon. Three short years later, despite a massive market share, developers were no longer interested in the Wii.

Sure, you can argue that it's a weaker system with less potential, but that didn't hurt the Playstation two generations in a row. No, this has mostly been a head game. And in a way, it's been kind of sad to see it play out like it has.

The Story So Far

"Oh god," groaned the Third Party Developers. "Look at Nintendo, getting ready to shoot themselves in the foot yet again, this time with underpowered hardware and silly controllers. The Playstation and X-Box will once again be the leaders in the industry."

And so, the Third Party Developers kept all of their resources focused on making Playstation and X-Box games. But they were in for a shock. Thanks to an appealing marketing campaign, Nintendo began selling Wiis faster than they could make them.

"Holy shit!" cried the Third Party Developers. "Nintendo's making asstons of cash by selling shitty video games! We need to start making our own shitty video games, pronto!"

Soon the store shelves were filled with shitty video games. But after a year or two, everyone already owned all of the shitty video games they wanted, so the rest of them just sat and rotted.

"I know!" said the Third Party Developers. "What everyone really wants on the Wii is hardcore video games!" And so they tried to come up with some ideas for things that hardcore video gamers like: games about scorpions, rail shooters, and inferior ports of games that they already bought two years ago on a better console. But unfortunately, these games didn't sell very well either.

"I give up!" the Third Party Developers declared. "It's impossible to sell games to the Wii's market!" And so they packed up and went home, where they lived happily ever after.

The moral of the story is that it's more difficult than you might think to sell a video game on a platform that everyone owns. But where is the difficulty? Let's consider three basic kinds of people who own a Wii: people who care too much about Nintendo, people who care too much about video games in general, and perfectly normal people.

Perfectly Normal People

Let's start with the easy one -- Nintendo's so-called "expanded audience". These people don't buy third-party video games because they don't buy video games. They're too damned expensive for one thing, and how many video games does one person need to own, anyway?

A perfectly normal person is at least somewhat likely to own a Monopoly set. It might even still have all the pieces. Maybe they pull it out and play it two or three times a year -- holiday gatherings and so on -- and that would be enough for them. They're not likely to collect several different versions of Monopoly, nor are they likely to want a new board game every week, nor are they going to search the internet to stay up to date on all the latest board game news.

This sort of person would buy a Wii for Wii Sports because hey, that looks fun. And then they might buy Wii Fit for the same reason you'd buy any crappy piece of exercise equipment. And that might be that, unless the kids want a game for Christmas.

One basic problem that third party developers are having is trying to reach out to this audience by doing the exact same thing Nintendo did. So we get their version of Wii Sports, we get their version of Wii Fit, but the consumer's already thinking, "No thanks, I've got something like that already."

People Who Care Too Much About Video Games in General

The so-called "hardcore". They've already dismissed the Wii, and for good reason. Since they are hardcore, they spend all of their time and money on video games, so they already own an X-Box and/or a Playstation. Most hardcore games aren't going to reach the Wii to begin with, and when they do, the Wii always has the weakest version. Even when the Wii has an exclusive title, there's no point -- there's no starving desperation for this kind of content when your other consoles have you covered.

It may be possible to regain this segment, but why would any third party bother when they can already get these people on another console? It's a lost cause at this point. It was a lost cause two years ago.

People Who Care Too Much About Nintendo

Finally, Nintendo's fans. Third party developers have been grumbling for some time now about competing against Nintendo on their own console. "Nintendo fans just want Nintendo games!" they pout. "How can we compete with that?"

But here's the thing. When did we start to hear this complaint?

Certainly not with the NES. Konami, Capcom, Square, Enix, and several other developers made huge names, if not for themselves, then for their properties.

And not really with the SNES. Games like Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, Final Fantasy III -- they all went on to success despite going toe to toe with Nintendo.

No one complained about competing against Nintendo on their own console when the Nintendo 64 was the big thing because, by and large, no one even really wanted to make N64 games. Everyone jumped ship to Sony.

Consider what that generation was like for the people who had a Nintendo 64 and no other home console.

Nintendo was the only name you knew because they were the only people really making games for your system. Maybe you were aware of Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil, and all the rest. Or maybe, like me, you weren't.

Nintendo fans are a segment of the game audience that effectively has no memory of a pretty important period in the evolution of games.

When developers try to come back to Nintendo consoles -- on the Gamecube and the Wii -- maybe they don't appreciate that they're dealing with a crowd that's never heard of them. A guy who was a Sony fan in the late 90s may see something and go, "Oh, that's a new game in that series I've been playing for ten years" or "Oh, this reminds me of this one game that was on the Playstation". A guy who was a Nintendo fan in the late 90s may see the same thing, shrug in unfamiliarity, and forget about it.

I mean, come on. My DS has plenty of third party games. Nintendo fans aren't as rigidly brand loyal as you think they are. If they're tougher to sell to, it's because you need to start rebuilding your inroads.

So What's the Wii Solution?

The way to sell games on the Wii is to make games that are worth buying and let people know they exist. The problem is, what's to motivate third party companies to bother with it? The hardcore audience is more active on other consoles, the expanded audience is basically useless, and it would take some serious investments to make the Nintendo audience care that they exist.

No, the real problem is this. How is Nintendo going to convince third parties to make games that are worth buying and then market them properly? How are they going to convince third party developers to bring their A games to Nintendo consoles instead of just the spinoffs, the also-rans, the quick cash-ins, and the day-late-dollar-short ports?

The Wii U is coming out next year, and developers are already promising to support it -- with ports of games coming out this year. Because if there's one thing that'll convince people to buy a new console, it's the promise of having to repurchase the games they bought and played to death last year.

I don't see this being resolved anytime soon.


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