In March this year, Nintendo will release it's much anticipated WiiWare service to Japan before rolling it out to the rest of the world, but exactly will it offer Wii owners? N-Europe's Adam "Flameboy" Ducker takes a look...
There is little doubt that WiiWare has the potential to revolutionize the way we look at gaming on the Wii just as much as the Wiimote has already opened our eyes. This is the first time Nintendo has openly embraced small indie developers and offered them the chance to deliver their games to owners of their consoles. WiiWare development kits, whilst hard to get hold of, are out there and are available, and this is a far cry from the days of the NES and even as recent as the N64 (to a lesser extent) where Nintendo would be very strict about who does and does not get these kits. Nintendo have forever been spoke of as a stubborn company and they should be praised for this new approach which bares all the trademarks of Satoru Iwata's more open approach to managing the company (very different from the days of the stubborn mule that was Hiroshi Yamauchi, for those old enough to remember). We have seen many titles announced and shown off by small/indie developers, many of which N-Europe has managed to hold Q & A articles for which can be found in the archives.
Along with smaller developers there has been interest from larger developers. Square-Enix are the most notable offering a Final Fantasy spin off that for all intents and purposes looks like a full game that could easily come on disc and be sold at full priced. This has not however been the case and it has been decided to release the game for a bargain 1500 points. This shows that bigger developers are standing up and taking notice that users do want downloadable games and that it is fast becoming a source of income to rival normal retail sales.
Downloadable content is without a doubt a major part of gaming's future, with companies such as Sony even releasing games on both disc and as DLC (Warhawk for example and the upcoming Little Big Planet). We are now in an era where people demand to have instant on demand access to all forms of entertainment be it Music, Movies or indeed Games. With this in mind there can be little doubt that low price points for WiiWare titles are crucial. People will not pay over the odds for little throw away titles but then the flip side is that they will pay for them in their hundreds, thousands and even millions if the pricepoints are correct. The Virtual Console service has often been blasted for it's high price points, it can however get away with it to a large extent as nostalgia plays into people's minds, as the chance to play that killer SNES title just one more time proves to hard to resist. WiiWare will not for the most part have this nostalgia to fall back on so in order to sell to the critical masses of Wii owners they need to be priced just perfectly. £3 or 4 Euros seems like this perfect point, it is the cheapest imaginable price (although if they make it cheaper then fantastic) for the games to sell well they cannot afford to be over £35 they simply will not sell enough. NES games on VC barely get away with being so much and surely only get bought for the nostalgia already mentioned as well and for mostly being hard as nails fully realized games (for their time). If Nintendo overprices the games they run the risk of people not bothering and instead plumping for free flash games playable through the Wii's Internet Channel.
One final problem WiiWare could help to solve is the vast amounts of shovelware that are currently on shop shelves. Wii has been unusual in that it has hit the homes of the casual critical mass much faster than any other consoles. It took much longer for example for Sony to get the Playstation brand to start appealing to previous non-gamers. The typical time for shovelware to start appearing is 2-3 years after a consoles launch, once developers get a taste of what people will buy, how much they spend and also what the technology is up to. This however has not been the case with Wii, this can largely be attributed to it's decidedly last generation approach to graphics, making it easier for ports and quicker to make a fast buck. With WiiWare though Nintendo is giving these companies a platform for cheaper games, with none of the risk of unsold inventories or even cost of producing discs. This coupled with a return to Nintendo's quality control regimes of the past would help eradicate this empedimic of awful games flooding the system, instead limiting to an online download service where cheaper games with lower production values would be deemed more acceptable.
So we have it all, small throwaway titles, still cheaper than retail more fully fletched titles and a great price point. Surely something has to give? There has to be one aspect of the grand WiiWare plan where the whole service could potentially hit a hiccup and derail? You guessed it somewhat predictably it's storage or the lack there of. Nintendo has forever delivered excuses and reasons for not offering a Wii HDD or even for allowing users to stream data off SD cards but with WiiWare they have a perfect opportunity to correct all these faults and problems and help to deliver. With the release of WiiWare we are likely to get these smaller cheaper titles that both the casual and the hardcore will easily spend money on, the 512MB of flash memory could easily fill up with in a short space of time. People who download a lot of VC games are already finding themselves having to empty the fridge that is the Wii's pultry storage space.
There is however a solution and the launch of WiiWare offers the perfect opportunity to give us some kind of storage. Be it an external HDD or even a USB stick (which seem to just be getting bigger and bigger with everyday that passes) there is way to package this all together and make it appeal to both the hardcore and casual. Release a HDD/USB Stick in a box called the WiiWare Starter Kit, preload the device with a free sample of a game or even a full game and why not chuck in some Wii Points whilst your there? Gamers would snap up such a package without a doubt and whats more bundle a game on it and it can towards the game sales charts and rival Wii Play as a best seller! Nintendo cannot continue kidding themselves that encouraging people to constantly delete and redownload games is the answer. Compared to the way both Microsoft and Sony work it makes Nintendo's next generation console look laughable. They may have dropped out of the graphics race for now but they should not lay back on practices that may well have worked in past generations before the ante was upped.
The future is without a doubt bright for the Wii, more third parties shifting focus to creating better quality Wii titles, Nintendo shifting focus from the DS to Wii, Virtual Console still selling titles by the millions and then the potential of the WiiWare service to round off the package as a whole. We all just have to hope that come March in Japan Nintendo comes up trumps and offers us all the service that we all long for.