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.”