When we chatted with Sega of America President Simon Jeffery about the success of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, we also touched upon a couple other noteworthy topics – namely, mascots and Wii strategy.
Mario and Sonic are practically the very definition of video game mascots, but in this day and age the game industry seems to be abandoning the idea of mascots. Jeffery essentially agrees.
"It probably isn't relevant anymore, but I think there are probably a small number of companies that have some iconic intellectual property that most gamers would associate with the company. Obviously if you mention Nintendo people think of Mario and you mention Eidos and people think of Tomb Raider [Lara Croft], and obviously if you mention Sega people think of Sonic. I think it's just human nature for people to like to associate an icon or mascot with something they feel comfortable with. But I agree... that the video game industry has evolved to such a point whereby mascots are not really contemporarily relevant," he said.
"I do believe that a lot of Western publishers are only looking at the Wii for casual and family gaming, and I think that's a mistake."
During GDC we met with Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat (full interview still in the pipeline) and discussed his "Wii rules" for making games on Nintendo platforms. In light of Sega's success on the Wii and DS, we posed a similar question to Jeffery.
"I think really we look at the whole Nintendo demographic – Wii and DS – as a different market from the traditional video game market. I guess we are starting in a great place because we have Sonic and Sonic does translate really well onto the Nintendo platforms. But when it comes to other properties and other game development we just need to think about it in a completely different way than we would if we're building for PS3 and Xbox 360. I think we'll see more and more going into this year and beyond that games that are built for a number of systems just will not be successful on the Wii; the Wii audience is going to demand stuff that is built specifically for it," he explained.
That said, hardcore games on the Wii may not be getting enough traditional gaming to satisfy their needs as developers and publishers rush to flood the Wii market with more casual fare. Sega sees this as an opportunity, though, and believes the market dynamics on Wii will be changing.
"I think [the casual mindset has made it tough on hardcore gamers], especially from the Western publishers during the first year or so of the Wii's life. However, going forward I think that the Wii is going to be a very good place for hardcore gamers to be," Jeffery said. "If you think about Condemned for instance, in hindsight Condemned would be a great game to play with the Wii remote. [The game] is all about melee combat and brute force, and using the [motion controls] to [attack] would be awesome. Ironically, it could have translated very well. Condemned was built from the ground up as a very high-end audio-visual experience, though, so that's why it's appearing on the PS3 and 360 systems."
He continued, "But I do think going forward there is very much a place for the hardcore gamers on the Wii and there's a big opportunity for publishers to take advantage of that because we've seen the success of Resident Evil on Nintendo platforms, and I believe that will continue. But I do also believe that a lot of Western publishers are only looking at the Wii for casual and family gaming, and I think that's a mistake – I think there's a lot more opportunity there on the Wii. The Wii isn't just about Wii Tennis and Mario & Sonic; it's about so much more."
So will Sega try to lead on the hardcore front for Wii? "I do think Sega is in a good position to look at the Wii market because we've got this great relationship with Nintendo and some proven success on the Wii, so I think we are in a good position to look at the totality of the Wii market and not just the area that the mass, wide market media is talking about right now, which is this living room, family play stuff. So I think that the early years, the first 18 months or so on the Wii is all about that – mass market acceptance and adoption – but the Wii as a platform has way much more to offer than that, and hardcore gamers traditionally love Nintendo as well. There's no reason why they should be excluded or excommunicated from the Nintendo world," Jeffery concluded.