The Wii has had a remarkable run over the past year, uniting people together through videogames in ways that many gaming purists had never thought imaginable. Extending the marketing patterns already in place with the Nintendo DS, Nintendo aimed to create a home console that appealed to different generations and types of gamers. Through their emphasis on casual games that anyone could just “pick up and play,” the Nintendo Wii caught on instantly with people everywhere and became an overnight sensation that has continued on to this very day.
While the new emphasis on casual games has influenced a wider range of people to pick up a Wii, the dangers of being such as casual console are beginning to show. On a whole, casual gamers don’t tend to buy as many games as more core or “hardcore” gamers usually do, since the casual gamers generally aren’t the ones following gaming news and waiting for the latest title to come out. The attach rate (average amount of games sold per system) for the Nintendo Wii has been approximately 5.3 titles per console, which is rather strong for a system that has only been out for a little over a year, but is still trailing behind the more “hardcore” Xbox 360’s 7 titles per system.
What does this all mean? While it’s easy to jump the gun and point a finger while exclaiming that a casual system is a doomed system, it’s a bit too early (and absolutely ridiculous) to call the Wii an eventual failure. One thing that I hope was made clear enough yesterday was how necessary it is for the Wii to have solid third-party support in order for the it to appeal to the widest range of gamers possible. Going hand in hand with this is the importance of having more “hardcore” titles on the shelves in order to keep the core gamers, who will almost always support a system more faithfully than a purely casual gamer, happy and buying.
All of this begs the inevitable question: what makes a game “hardcore” or casual? Gamers may debate this until the end of time, but roughly stated, a casual game focuses on being as appealing and easy to pick up and play as possible. Casual games are games like Wii Sports, Mario Kart, WarioWare, etc. that take little practice to be able to play and enjoy. More hardcore games cannot be enjoyed fully unless a player puts the time into enjoy them by learning about the story, exploring environments, and working towards mastering the game. This does not mean that a casual title can’t be mastered or a hardcore title cannot have a widespread audience that enjoys the game (as is evident with Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and various other games that have sold millions of copies), but simply that hardcore games cannot be picked up at whim like a casual game could.
On a whole, it’s hard to deny how much casual titles are dominating the Wii at the moment. With simple minigame packages, ports, and other shovelware relatively cheap to churn out and make a quick buck from, many developers are using the casual emphasis of the Wii to flood it with the mindless crap that was described yesterday. The lack of emphasis on more hardcore titles will hurt the system in the long run, as gamers will eventually grow bored of the multitude of games with little to no substance. In order for Nintendo to truly appeal to all audiences and compete head to head with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the Wii needs to start focusing on developing more hardcore titles that will draw players in and make them want more.
The effects of the Wii’s stigma as a casual-only gaming machine are something that can be felt when walking down the aisles of practically any electronics store. GameStop has taken this a step further by outright eschewing more traditional core titles in favor of the casual shovelware that currently litters store shelves While this will undoubtedly have a pronounced effect on the Wii in the long run once the casual gamers stop biting, how is Nintendo supposed to manage their casual majority? Can the casual gamers become longtime hardcore fans? We think that it’s possible, and with a little bit of the work we suggest, Nintendo can be sure to remain a success for years to come.
Try to Strike a Balance Between “Casual” and “Hardcore” Titles
At the moment, the Wii is overrun with mediocre casual cash-ins that are discouraging publishers from making more hardcore titles. Much like our suggestion yesterday, Nintendo should start to become a more active part of the game approval process in order to focus the market on a smaller selection of worthwhile casual games and make room for more hardcore titles. Both are necessary when looking at the entirety of the system’s users, and striking a balance on the shelves will make the Wii seem like a more quality system instead of a trash receptacle.
As previously mentioned, much of the Wii’s current fan base are casual gamers that picked up the system due to its versatility and ease of use. For some of these owners, the Wii marks their first big gaming purchase, and as such, is a great way for them to get more into videogames. Creating “intro-hardcore” titles that include more “training wheels” for first time casual gamers, such as thorough tutorials, lowered difficulty, and casual options (like the on-rails arcade adventure option found in Medal of Honor: Heroes 2), would be a great way for Nintendo to tap their overflowing resource of casual gamers and help them grow into full blown gamers.
Balance Out Individual Titles More Effectively
Building off of the Medal of Honor example, Nintendo and third-party developers should focus on balancing out casual and hardcore elements of individual titles that are released for the Wii. Super Mario Galaxy is a great example of this. It effectively balances a main game that any casual gamer could make their way through and enjoy, while offering an extended adventure for any hardcore player that wants to collect every star in the game. Even though it isn’t quite as “pick up and play” as some might want a casual game to be, Mario Galaxy still strikes that delicate balance between being a core game that any novice can pick up, and a title that presents enough challenge for hardened players to enjoy.
Working on creating more core titles that appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers will be a challenge that Nintendo & Co. will have to work on in the coming year. Finding out the proper way to balance out individual titles will be the biggest hurdle for many developers, as finding out how to make your title appeal to both markets will obviously bring in the greatest revenue possible. More games with separate casual and hardcore elements, a la Medal of Honor’s separate arcade and story modes, will be an extremely valuable way for more casual gamers to start to see games as more than a casual diversion.
Truth be told, Nintendo’s upcoming 2008 release list looks extremely promising. With a pretty solid mix of hardcore and casual games setting the tone for the majority of 2008, gamers should have a lot to play through the year. It’s important to note that this list doesn’t include all of little titles mentioned, as further examination of the February release list uncovers a lot of the shovelware crap on the way as well. As long as Nintendo can work on focusing its resources on promoting the worthwhile casual and hardcore games, we can keep on hoping for the scene to get even brighter.
Looking back at the standout titles in past Nintendo generations, it’s hard to look past the utter dominance of Nintendo’s first party titles. From Super Mario Bros to Metroid, Zelda to Star Fox, all of these iconic videogame series have sold billions of games and are intellectual properties originally created by Nintendo. It’s almost unfathomable to think of someone owning a NES, Super Nintendo, GameCube, et al. without one of the many first party titles that are released every year.The success of Nintendo’s first party titles isn’t very surprising when you look at the games in question, and the amount of push that Nintendo has behind its titles. The overall quality of many of these games are hard to understate, as many of Nintendo’s top titles have gone on to become some of the most critically acclaimed titles ever made. In fact, at time of writing, almost half of the top ten rated videogames of all time are first party Nintendo titles, speaking to how well crafted and timeless many of these adventures are. While these ratings should of course be taken with a grain of salt, since it obviously favors games published within the last ten or so years which have been archived on the internet, it’s hard to deny Nintendo’s prowess when it comes to first-party titles
Historically, first party titles have traditionally been the best selling games for systems. Looking back at Sega’s Sonic, Turbo-Grafx’s Bonk, and (arguably) Microsoft’s Halo, it’s obvious that first party titles have always had a commanding position in the videogame market. Things started to slowly change with the last few generations of videogame consoles, as Sony and Microsoft started to buck the trend of first-party dominance and focus on exclusive third-party titles made by outside companies such as Square-Enix, Konami, Activision, Midway, Capcom, and a variety of other sources.
These companies have existed for years, but came to the forefront when Sony and Microsoft entered the gaming market. Without as many “in house” developers for their systems, Sony and Microsoft proceeded to purchase smaller publishers and independent game studios to put under their development wing (such as Sony Computer Entertainment’s subsidiaries like Naughty Dog and Microsoft’s Bungie Studios, which has since become independent again) and release many wonderful games alongside their actual first-party titles. While first-party titles still had a place on these systems, there was a gradual shift towards the importance of third-party exclusives (as was seen with Squaresoft with the original PlayStation) to drive console sales, rather than simply first-party titles, like Mario, that had previously defined the system.
The gradual shift of third-parties to the forefront of the videogame market is becoming more and more obvious on consoles across the board, with the one notable exception of Nintendo. With the majority of people picking up third-party titles like Madden, Guitar Hero, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy, and Call of Duty, a strong third-party line up presents more variation than first-party titles alone, and has become vital to the overall success of a console.
The unfortunate dearth of worthwhile third-party titles for the Wii has been disappointing over the past year, but the low sales of the few worthwhile titles that have been released are even more disheartening. With third-party titles bringing much needed diversity to the console, how can developers make sure that their titles stand out amongst the sea of ports and hold their own against the first party titles? We here at MyWiiNews have a few suggestions to help foster much needed third-party Wii support in 2008.
Third Parties Need to Produce Games With Better Overall Quality
All of us have our own personal tastes, and a game that I find to be the most boring thing ever compiled just might be your favorite adventure yet. However, when looking at the majority of games that have come out during the Wii’s lifespan so far, third-party developers have been responsible for the very worst of the worst out there. Escape From Bug Island? Eidos. Cruis’n? Midway. Chicken Shoot? *shudder* Zoo Digital. These games are just a very small sampling of the crap that the Wii has received over the past year, and, even more unfortunately, some of the third-party exclusives that the Wii was (un)lucky enough to score.
When games that are made like crap sell like crap, developers shouldn’t be too surprised. It takes money to make money, and unless developers are willing to put in the work to create a worthwhile game, they can’t expect a blockbuster. So instead, many third-parties seem to be either churning out ports or sloppily rushed titles in order to trick as many people into thinking that their pitiful titles are worth their $50.
Quite frankly, Nintendo needs to take charge and weed out the crap. Allowing all these shoddy ports to litter store shelves may allow more third-party titles to be released, but it worsens the third-party situation on a whole. In order to foster worthwhile third-party development, Nintendo needs to start being more selective with the titles that it releases. Instead of slapping the “Official Seal of Quality” onto everything that comes in the door, how about forcing third-parties to be more selective of the titles that they release? This would send a message to the developers that full-length extensions of flash games that use poultry as a projectile should not be common place, and that more quality titles need to be produced for Nintendo’s quality system.
Third-Party Games Need to be Adequately Advertised
Zack and Wiki. Have you heard of it? There’s a far too good of a chance that you haven’t, as it was one of the most criminally underpurchased titles of last year. Sporting beautiful cartoon graphics, an enjoyable storyline, and a wonderful mix of new and traditional gaming elements blended skillfully with the Wii’s motion controls, Zack and Wiki was everything that gamers (and reviewers) everywhere were looking for in a third-party Wii title. However it went largely unnoticed, largely due to the complete lack of advertising on Capcom’s behalf for their newest creation.
All of the viral buzz in the world won’t sell titles to the larger gaming population, who generally turn to TV, magazines, and larger media outlets to find out about their new games. Even with IGN’s grassroots Buy Zack and Wiki campaign, the duo only managed to sell a paltry 35,000 copies in its first month. Compared to the sales of heavily publicized titles like Super Mario Galaxy, WarioWare, and the handful of other titles highlighted in the “Wii Want To Play” TV commercials, Zack and Wiki’s sales were an abject failure.
With Nintendo having a vested interest in the success of third-party titles for the diversity of their gaming population, they should consider helping to pick up smaller titles and bring them to light much like they have done in the past with Elite Beat Agents and other games in the past. Likewise, third-party publishers need to understand the importance of getting their games known to the populace, and realize that the extra money spent on advertising will come back to them tenfold. Because it doesn’t matter how many reviewers think a game is the best thing since Zelda, if the general gaming populace doesn’t have a clue about the game, they probably won’t be picking it up.
In the end, third-party exclusive games should be exclusive to the Wii because they are phenomenal intellectual properties that are worthy of the Wii’s fanbase and the Wii’s revolutionary motion controls; not because Nintendo is the only place where publishers can unload their crap in hopes of making a quick $50. Changing the currently “quality” standards would help give third-party titles more credibility on the Wii, while increasing their advertisement would also bring in more revenue and entice publishers to keep taking chances on developing new titles for the innovative system. The first party titles alone cannot win this console war, and if Nintendo wants to come out on top, they need to start changing the way that they think about third-party titles right away.