Core Crisis: Third-Party Wii Development

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Core Crisis: Third-Party Wii DevelopmentWhere were you when you discovered that Nintendo’s new console would be called ‘Wii’? It was one of those flashpoint moments, sparking intense debate and a broad spectrum of reactions, from disbelief to denial to barely contained laughter. Gamers didn’t so much question the wisdom of the decision as the sanity; Nintendo had given its riskiest venture since Virtual Boy a name that would surely confine it to the annals of history in double quick time.

Nearly four years later, it’s difficult to imagine a moment that the Wii’s success was ever in doubt. Even with the elevated threat from Kinect and Move, another Christmas dominated by Nintendo’s console seems inevitable. The Wii is now as synonymous with gaming in 2010 as PlayStation was at the turn of the century. Using almost every measure available, Wii appears to have righted all the wrongs Nintendo suffered after Sony appeared on the scene – its installed base is already more than three times the size of its predecessor, with 2009’s sales alone equalling what GameCube managed in its entire lifetime. ‘Revolution’ really is putting it lightly.

However, while it’s not uncommon to see Wii games at the top of the sales charts in the US, Europe and Japan, it’s rare to find any other logo than Nintendo’s on the box. A few releases have bucked the trend – Carnival Games, Just Dance, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games – but they tend to highlight an even greater discrepancy in the Wii back-catalogue: the near-total absence of successful third-party games made for the core audience.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory, or the bitter, impassioned ramblings of a PlayStation fanboy. When a console with a user-base of more than 75 million people provides third-party publishers with so little success, people tend to start asking questions. In an interview with Gamesindustry.biz last year, EA’s European vice president, Dr Jens Uwe Intat, pointed to Dead Space Extraction as a potential watershed in company’s stance on the issue. “If that’s not going to work,” he said, “then obviously the whole proposal from our point of view, at least of more mature games on the Wii, just does not work.”

Despite very positive reviews – not least in the pages of this very magazine – Dead Space Extraction performed well below expectations, selling only 9000 copies in its first five days on release. Since then, both John Riccitiello and the general manager of EA Montreal have expressed their disappointment with third-party and particularly core development on Wii, calling for either new solutions or the need to focus on other areas.

Few third-party publishers have invested as much in developing games for the Wii as EA, so it’s understandable that its employees would be the most vocal. However, it would be a mistake to assume that the failures of one company go unnoticed by its rivals. When Sega of America’s studio director, Constantine Hantzopoulos, appeared on the 4 Guys 1up podcast, he also called into the question the validity of continuing to create core titles for the Wii, citing the release of Dead Space Extraction as an important moment.

“That was my litmus test,” he said, before deducing that “anyone past 12 or 13 is playing 360 and PS3 shooters,” rather than marvelling at MadWorld, or The House of the Dead: Overkill. “Are we going to do more mature titles for the Wii? Probably not.”



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  • Declandixon15

    I’ve never understood why the failure of Dead Space: Extraction is held up as proof positive that core games are doomed to failure on the Wii. Extraction was one of a number of horror light gun games released over a relatively short period – on what system have such games been runaway hits? What system can sustain lots of entries into a niche genre? There must be better examples of genuinely core games that have flopped on the Wii. CoD, F1 2009, Resi 4… oh actually, no. Wonder what those games had that made them successes?

  • KrissB

    “With the hardware, it would be nice to at least draw alongside the other platforms in terms of power, so it doesn’t feel like such a gap,” concludes Barlow.

    This is unlikley to happen. Nintendo are supporters of the late Gunpei Yokoi’s “lateral thinking of withered technology” – using cheap, pre-existing technology in new and fun ways.

    Also, there are heaps of great 3rd party games on Wii.

    Dead Space: Extraction
    Trackmania
    House of the Dead: Overkill
    Disaster: Day of Crisis
    Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
    The Conduit
    Ghost Recon
    Cursed Mountain
    MadWorld
    No More Heroes 1& 2
    De Blob
    Tiger Woods 2011
    Tatsunoko vs. Capcom
    Deadly Creatures
    Boom Blox
    Little King’s Story
    Zak & Wiki
    Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
    Red Steel 1 & 2
    Scarface
    Call of Duty: World at War
    Monster Hunter Tri
    Resident Evil 4, Umbrella, & Darkside Chronicles
    Okami
    Rock Band & Guitar Hero

    These are all great 3rd party titles; not to mention upcoming games such as Force Unleashed 2, Conduit 2, Goldeneye, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Dragon Quest X and Aragorn’s Quest. All these titles, coupled with WiiWare and all the 1st and 2nd party titles, leave me mystified as to how the Wii gained the reputation as the console with no games. In fact, out of all the three major home consoles, I enjoy Nintendo’s the most. It’s such a shame that many developers are having trouble with awareness of their titles – and frustrating as well, considering the mystery of the situation. Who’s to blame? The developers? The publishers? The self-proclaimed ‘hardcore’ who clamour for these titles (only not to buy them)? It could be all of these, or none of them. If I was in a struggling developer’s shoes, I would look at the big sellers – Mario, Wii Sports/Fit/Party, etc. – and see what I could emulate. Brand recognition? Reputation for quality? Established characters? Original experiences? Advertising?

    Really, how do original games with zero recognition, such as BioShock and Assassin’s Creed, become big sellers, whilst others such as Okami and No More Heroes do not? I think this question needs to be adressed by the developers and publishers. Still, there is no magic spell that automatically guarantees game sales; I guess it all comes down to conviction, integrity, and a bit of luck. Personally, when I look for new game experiences, I look for interesting characters and story, a cool gameplay hook, and evidence of a passionate developer (Eg. I would easily buy something from Nintendo or Platinum Games, compared to say, Activision or Data Design).

    I reckon Nintendo could really help if they got behind 3rd parties more; as evidenced by Monster Hunter Tri and Dragon Quest IX.