Analysis: On The Wii And DS, Game Ratings Matter

Gamasutra's Matt Matthews looks at Wii and DS game sales, suggesting that -- 'long tail' or not -- there's "a limited audience" for Mature-rated titles on Nintendo's systems.
[As part of his March NPD analysis, Gamasutra's Matt Matthews looks at Wii and DS U.S. game sales, suggesting that -- 'long tail' or not -- there's "a limited audience" for Mature-rated titles on Nintendo's systems.] Industry watchers know that first-month sales don't always determine a game's final sell-through. Both Madden NFL 08 and Wii Music serve as examples of this phenomenon on that platform. The Wii version of Madden NFL 08 started 220,000 units behind the PlayStation 3 version during the launch month, but ended 2007 behind by only 160,000. More recently Wii Music sold 65,000 units in the U.S. during its October 2008 launch, but leapt to 4.5 times that number during November. Some Nintendo DS software follows a similar pattern. Denise Kaigler, Nintendo of America's vice president of corporate affairs, revealed to Kotaku on Friday that Call of Duty 4 for the Nintendo DS launched in November 2007 with only 36,000 units by had now reached LTD sales of 500,000. Regardless, it is natural to be concerned when several high-profile Wii games fail to crack into that platform's monthly top 10 lists. Looking over the past two months, Capcom's Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop wasn't a top 10 game on the Wii in February 2009, while Sega's House of the Dead: Overkill and MadWorld fell short in February and sneaked in at #9 in March, respectively. (House of the Dead: Overkill did 45,000 in February. According to figures given to Gamasutra, March sales for MadWorld totalled 66,000. Even the updated Mario tennis game, ported from the GameCube to work with the Wii motion controls, moved more units.) On the Nintendo DS we can now add Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars to the list of big names that stumbled out the gate. Compared to analyst expectations and online buzz, the paltry 89,000 units sold in March was shocking. While Mario Kart for the Wii continues to sell a couple hundred thousand month after month, new third-party Wii games – even well-known and heavily promoted ones – can't manage to break 75,000. On the Nintendo DS we've seen several recent months of 100,000 units of Mario Kart DS, originally launched in November 2005, yet the biggest third-party game for the system doesn't break 90,000. Of course, what unifies the third-party games mentioned here is the M (for Mature) rating assigned to them by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). While Call of Duty 4 was a also rated Mature on other platforms, the Nintendo DS version cited by Nintendo for its enduring sales was rated T (for Teen). And the games that populate the Nintendo DS and Wii top 10 lists month after month are typically rated E (for Everyone) for E10+ (for Everyone 10 and older). While M-rated software can make a tremendous amount of money (the Halo trilogy, for example) the writing is on the wall right now for publishers and developers: there is a limited audience for these games on the Wii. Publishers are likely to concentrate on genres and franchises that guarantee solid sales, and those will more than likely be E-rated. Electronic Arts appears to quietly be doing precisely this, as it managed to hit #8 on the Wii top 10 in February 2009 with its own spin of the Mario Kart genre, NASCAR Kart Racing.

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